The Chef Test
In previous weeks Asian Express has delved deep into the curry industry, looking at keeping it alive by teaching a new generation of chefs authentic techniques.
It is believed that the first appearance of curry on a menu was at the Coffee House in Norris Street, Haymarket, London in 1773, but things have changed dramatically since then.
We have found that some rogue chefs were ruining the reputation of South Asian cuisine in the UK, using excessive amounts of salt and food colouring that had direct links to poor health for the consumer.
Government authorities like Trading Standards and the Food Standards Agency have tried to monitor unhealthy ingredients, but chefs are asked to “voluntarily” remove dangerous food dyes from their dishes rather than being forced by law.
Now we are talking to a range of restaurants and takeaways from different schools of cookery and comparing their approaches to preparing the same dish.
Furthermore, we have looked at what television chefs are promoting on websites and in their cookery books, and whether their lists of ingredients are any more authentic or healthy than a takeaway.
We have been asking Yorkshire cooks and chefs to anonymously reveal their chicken tikka masala so you can compare and decide for yourself. Perhaps their might even be a recipe that looks familiar. There is also a recipe by a television chef thrown in there for good measure.
Our findings have been very positive. Exhibit A and C have no traces of red colouring and the chefs assured us that they use entirely fresh ingredients.
However Exhibit B features a tikka paste which the chef admitted he didn’t know its contents. It is these types of pastes that contain harmful dyes such as tartrazine.
It is important to recognise the fact that some businesses need to buy produce that is affordable and will allow them to continue trading, and food colouring is one way of sourcing cheaper ingredients.
The other factor to consider is the expectations of the customer – if they are used to seeing a bright sauce then the chef has to keep producing it.
Emer Timmins, a spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said: “All food additives, including colours such as tartrazine, are thoroughly tested for safety prior to approval by independent expert bodies, in particular the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
“An Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) is established for each food additive. This is an estimate of the amount of an additive that could be routinely consumed every day over a lifetime with no appreciable health risk.
EU legislation restricts the use of additives to certain categories of foods and specified levels. These limits ensure that the amount consumed does not exceed safe levels, and that the level in food is the minimum necessary to achieve the intended purpose.
“As part of its programme of systematic re-evaluations of all food additives, EFSA has recently re-evaluated tartrazine, and confirmed its safety at currently permitted levels.”
The FSA has asked the UK food industry for a voluntary withdrawal on the use of the following six colours; Tartrazine (E102), Ponceau 4 R (E124), Sunset yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), Quinoline yellow (E104) and Allura Red (E129).This followed a study commissioned by the FSA, and conducted by Southampton University (between 2004 and 2007) to see if these colours had any effect on children’s behaviour. From July 2010 foods containing the six colours, all need to be labelled with the following ‘additional’ information; ‘name or E number of the colour(s)’: may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’.
Ghee is also on the FSA’s hit list as it is considered to be extremely unhealthy and high in cholesterol. They urge people to use vegetable or olive oil as a substitute.
The findings have been both enlightening and worrying, but overall it has cancelled out the stigma that all chefs use a bright red dye to create their chicken tikka masala and they take great pride in making something that is authentic.