What sort of mincemeat do you buy? Lean, extra lean? Do you know what those descriptors actually mean?
Two readers wrote to me recently about this issue, having noted that while “lean” beef mince may indeed be low in fat, the same label on a pack of mince at another store could be very fatty indeed.
Peter Jaquire of Joburg asked: “Is there a regulation to the standard of mince, or does each butcher decide what to call the mince they sell? It appears to vary greatly from place to place – and you pay a premium for the leaner meat.”
Jaquire said he’d bought a bulk pack of mince from a butcher near Florida Lake, enticed by its dark red colour.
“But once I started cooking it, it was very full of fat and had a distinct taste of liver.
“Is a butcher allowed to add liver to the meat mix or to colour it to fool you into thinking it is lean or even extra lean meat?”
Rose Shephard wanted to know if the new food-labelling regulations stipulated how much fat could be in mince labelled “lean”.
“I usually buy lean beef mince from Woolworths and it is superb quality and has full nutritional info on the label, including that the fat content is 10 percent.
“When I brown the mince, no liquid fat is produced.
“Last week I had to buy some mince from another retailer, and it was not good – so-called lean beef mince, but when I browned it, I poured off more than 50ml of fat from 550g meat, and it still looked fatty.
“The fat which I poured off turned to a solid lump of lard in the fridge.”
So I went looking for answers, and found them at the SA Meat Industry Company.
Executive director Rudi van der Westhuizen confirmed that there was no regulation on fat content in minced meat. In other words, the descriptions are totally subjective.
Mincemeat does not have to have a prescribed minimum percentage of fat to be called “lean”, or “extra lean”.
“So we deal here with perceptions of what extra lean, lean, ground mince, etc, really means,” Van der Westhuizen said.
“With regard to the dark-looking beef mince which turned out to be very fatty when cooked, I tend to think that colouring was used in this case, which is legal provided it complies with the Health Act.
“Liver is not allowed in any mincemeat, but you will never know before a sample is analysed.”
I intend to get a sample of the mince in question and get it analysed.
So there you have it – those descriptions are entirely subjective, and you don’t really know how lean a pack of mince is until you cook it.