To find out how much meat is actually in the pies, we sent them to a laboratory to be analysed. We also dissected the pies to examine the quality of the filling and found detection of gristle difficult. Most brands contain predominantly mince, so there’s no way of telling what kind of meat it is by observing the filling as we did. Of the pies that claimed to have chunks of meat, our tester found that there weren’t many chunks and the filling was predominantly mince. Gristle was detected in all the pies, but only in relatively small amounts. While unpleasant, gristle, generally connective tissue and blood vessels attached to the meat, is allowed by the Food Standards Code. The only standout observation was a splinter of bone in the Black & Gold pie.
All of the pies tested are ok to eat occasionally in terms of total fat and sodium. While 13 of the pies have too much saturated fat, following our traffic light system the rest are only amber traffic lights for total and saturated fat as well as sodium. Four’N Twenty Lite meat pies have the Heart Foundation Tick of approval, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they have the least amount of saturated fat. That honour goes to Patties Gluten-free meat pies - unfortunately the most expensive pies on test, but suitable if you have a gluten intolerance. The Heart Foundation’s Tick program follows nutrition criteria to represent choices that are lower in certain nutrients (saturated fat, sodium) than other foods in the same category. However, manufacturers need to pay to participate in the program, and in many cases, even when their products comply, manufacturers may choose not to (see Food Endorsement Programs). Always use the nutrition information panel to help you choose the healthiest pie.
Our analysis found You’ll Love Coles to be the only pie on test that fails to meet the minimum 25% requirement of the Food Standards Code, containing just 22.7% meat. However, the manufacturer disputes our results, and provided their own independent analysis showing the pie meets the standard. When we tested a second batch of Coles pies, our original findings were confirmed. It's puzzling that the You'll Love Coles pie has almost 10% lower meat content than Coles Smart Buy which is less than half the price. The manufacturer says this variation relates to the different species of meat used. Smart Buy uses a combination of beef and mutton meat, which is of cheaper cost and higher in fat content whereas You'll Love Coles contains all beef.
Mrs Mac's, Sargents Premium Chunky Beef Royale and Herbert Adams Pepper Steak Chunky pies barely make the minimum requirement, all containing just over 25% meat as required by the Food Standards Code. In our last test of meat pies in 2006, Big Ben Extra Tasty, Sargents Traditional and Black & Gold pies failed to meet the standard. We're pleased to see these manufacturers have since lifted their game to meet the 25% requirement.
Since our last review of meat pies in 2006 Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have improved the definition of a meat pie. Previously, a meat pie had to contain 25% 'meat', which could include parts of the animal such as snouts, ears, tongue roots, tendons and blood vessels.
Now, under the Food Standards Code, a meat pie must contain a minimum of 25% 'meat flesh'. Meat flesh includes the skeletal muscle of any slaughtered animal as well as any 'attached' animal rind, fat, connective tissue, nerve, blood and blood vessels. But it doesn't have to be beef, muscle meat from buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry or sheep can be used to manufacture meat pies and doesn't need to be specified on the label. When it comes to offal however, the presence of brain, heart, kidney, liver, tongue or trip must be declared on the label. Offal can also include parts of the carcass such as blood, pancreas, spleen and thymus. Thankfully none of the pies on test declared the presence of offal.
How we analyse
Laboratory analysis We send the pies to an external laboratory to analyse their meat content. Three samples of each pie are tested and the results averaged. This test determines if the pies meet the FSANZ standard.
Nutritional analysis Using the information on the label, we record the energy, total fat, saturated fat, sodium and weight of the pies.
Physical analysis (for gristle) Our tester, Fiona Mair, puts the contents of the pie in a sieve, washes away the gravy with water and then makes observations of gristle in the meat. Unfortunately, this is a difficult test - the meat is usually minced so finely it makes detection tricky.
Taste test A panel of 20 CHOICE staff members taste-tests 11 of the 22 pies. All 22 pies couldn't be tested as we simply couldn't get enough tasters. We select the pies to be taste-tested by type - we choose the 'traditional' style pies available frozen from the supermarket. We also try to cover all the major brands. The pies are prepared according to packet instructions; half a pie is presented to each panellist on a plain plate, with no brand identification. Panellists individually consider the appearance and taste of the pies filling and pastry, and give it an overall rating based on whether or not they would buy the pie.