Forman & Field MD Lance Forman questions the use of sugar in our food


- Credit: Carmen Valino - on shift

Obesity has become so bad in certain parts of the UK that three out of five people have now become four out of five people! Recent revelations about a spoonful of sugar no longer helping the medicine go down, but instead being a speedy route to the hospital wards, raises some interesting questions.

Being in the food industry does give me some insight into this issue. So, by way of example, let me explain why sugar is used in our industry and you can decide for yourself. My company, H Forman & Son, is the oldest producer of smoked salmon in the world. It was started here in east London by my great-grandfather in 1905. The reason he smoked salmon all those years ago was originally to preserve fish, as refrigeration was very basic. By dry curing the fish in salt and then smoking it, it would draw out the moisture and preserve it. It later became a delicacy when he switched from Baltic salmon,to Scottish salmon with the raw fish being so much fresher. He had discovered a way to preserve the king of fish so it could be enjoyed all year round.

For much of the 20th century smoked salmon was Britain’s number one home- grown gourmet food and it all started here in the East End. However, in recent years, industrial production and salmon farming has changed everything and in some respects devalued this luxury food product.

Mass production has ensued and now it’s all about producing the product as cheaply as possible – and the introduction of sugar has been part of that process. So why do producers add it? There are three reasons, and all bad reasons in our view, which is why we don’t do it.

First, sugar is hydrophilic which means it retains moisture. If you sell smoked salmon by the kilo or pound, and you can sell water for the price of salmon, this is seen by some as good business. Secondly, sugar is added to counter-balance too much salt, which is itself added to extend the shelf life of the product. Too much salt and sugar? Not a wholesome combination.

Finally, sugar is added because too much smoke flavour can be quite bitter and sugar helps overcome it. But if the raw ingredient is the freshest quality fish why would you want to smother it with smoke so the fish can’t be tasted? The question answers itself.

For each of these reasons, sugar is added to make the economics taste better, not for flavour, nor health.

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The smoked salmon industry will be typical across the food industry. Consumers should be alert to what they are eating and should ask questions, without this happening there is fat chance of change.