03.How many additives?
Using information on the labels, we estimated the number of additives you wouldn’t use to make a cake at home. We didn’t count “raising agents”, as you’d probably use these in home baking in the form of baking powder or self-raising flour (see ABC of Additives).
CHOICE recommends the following eight brands, as they average fewer than 10 additives – and these are also the brands that don’t use food colours linked to hyperactivity in children (see Running Riot).
Some of the small brands might be hard to find, but Dan Cake, Big Sister, Mr Kipling and Weight Watchers are available in most supermarkets.
Top Taste and Country Delight take the wooden spoon for more additives than other brands – with the big supermarkets’ own brands not far behind (see Results table).
Top Taste and Country Delight both told us that additives prolong the life of their products. But this explanation doesn’t really stack up. Some additives certainly give the convenience of a longer-lasting product, less likely to go mouldy or grow hazardous microbes that could make you sick, but others, most notably food colours (see Colours of the Rainbow), appear to be included to enable manufacturers to use cheaper ingredients.
And it’s not just in the cheaper cakes where you find a large number of additives; some of the more expensive brands were among the heaviest users of additives.
Do they need additives?
You expect fruit cake to last a long time, but we found other cakes containing relatively few additives with impressively long shelf lives. On the day of purchase a Dan Cake Marble cake (a Madeira cake) still had 237 days to go before its best before date, and Livwell Double Chocolate Cake Bars still had 132 days to go. The Livwell cakes are packed in a modified atmosphere, which protects them from oxidation and mould; the Dan Cake product contains alcohol, a natural preservative, and also has foil packaging which helps prevent mould. If some manufacturers can use better packaging to reduce their dependence on additives, why can’t they all?