Sloppy Joes are an iconic American family meal dating back to the 1930′s. They are comprised of ground beef, tomato sauce, onions, and seasoning, all inside a hamburger bun. In this era of minimum preparation at the kitchen, most consumers forgo a full blown preparation and opt to mix cooked ground beef with a ready made everything-else. ConAgra’s Hunt’s division introduced its Manwich line of sauces exactly 40 years ago and has been very successful through good marketing (“A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal.”) and palatable products.
At 40, the Manwich brand must be having a mid life crisis, so Hunt’s marketers decided to change the advertising strategy from “family fun” to “nutritional value”. The new tag line, seen in commercials – “There’s a full serving of vegetables in every Manwich.”
Our nutrition investigation team decided to take a look inside the label to uncover the real story. We took a look at the Manwich Original Sloppy Joe Sauce.
What you need to know:
Here is the ingredient list:
Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Corn Syrup, Less than 2% of: Salt, Sugar, Dehydrated Onions, Dehydrated Red and Green Bell Peppers, Chile Pepper, Tomato Fiber, Spices, Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Dehydrated Garlic, Carob Bean Gum, Natural Flavors.
Tomato Puree as a first ingredient is to be expected. But why is it composed mostly of water? The reason is that tomato paste is highly concentrated (they take the water out when manufacturing paste).
Next – why sweetener in the #2 position? Chefs know that adding a spoon of sugar to round out the flavor of the slightly acidic tomatoes is fine, but come on folks, we were first expecting to see some more veggies.
Ingredient #3 is vinegar, not something you would add to a homemade tomato sauce. and then at #4, another sweetener. Seems like a lot of liquids for the first 4 ingredients. That’s where the gums come in later on in the list (guar gum, xantham gum, carob bean gum – all natural). They all serve as thickeners, so you’ll feel like you’re getting less water, more tomato.
The nutrition facts are as follows: a serving is a quarter cup of sauce (not including the beef) which seems quite small. Mixing a 15.5 oz can with 1 lb of beef and then dividing to 7 portions as suggested will yield much less “joe” than is pictured in the images on the product label and in the commercials. The “mini-serving” has 40 calories, 6 grams of sugar (1.5 teaspoons) and 2 grams of fiber (good, but comes from added ingredient called tomato fiber…). The sauce is not a substantial source of vitamins A or C, but cooked tomatoes are a great source of lycopenes, a kind of antioxidant that is supposed to help ward of cancer. The little serving has 410 mg of sodium, about 16% of the daily maximum value. A real manwich serving would be double the sodium though – upping sodium to a third of your daily max.
So is this a nutritious product? Yes and No. You can’t argue with tomatoes, although they are heavily watered down in this product. And all the added sugars / high fructose corn syrup seems superfluous. And if you eat a portion as pictured in the label – you’ll be getting a hefty amount of sodium. On the other hand, there are no artificial preservatives here and the calorie count is low (lots of water…). There are worse things you could add to lean ground beef.
What to do at the supermarket:
If you’re going to be sauteeing the beef anyhow, why not start off with a tablespoon of canola or olive oil, a diced onion, 2 bell peppers and some spices? When the veggies get soft, add the beef, and when it loses all its pink, add a can of crushed or diced tomatoes and simmer for 15-30 minutes. Salt to taste. If required, a single teaspoon of sugar will round out the flavor of the entire skillet.
So much better, not much harder. Can keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Here’s the shopping list: lean ground beef, can of diced tomatoes, 2 bell peppers, one onion, (oil, spices)
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