Homemade mincemeat: is it healthier?
So much so that I vowed to make my own mincemeat this year.
I want to make it clear that I’ve never made it before. Nor have I ever made jam or marmalade or chutney. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to try. Rather that somehow I’ve never quite got round to it.
But this year, I thought, why not? After all, my kids like mince pies – rather surprisingly as they don’t like any other dried fruit pudding or cake – and for years, it’s been a tradition that I make my own. Except, of course, normally I fill the home-made pastry cases with mincemeat plucked off a supermarket shelf.
This time, I decided, we would be using homemade mincemeat.
I opted for this recipe for Traditional Mincemeat from the BBC Good Food website – mainly because it looked simple and fast, as well as tasty. I like recipes to be quick as they fit in better with the chaos of family life.
So last weekend saw me scrubbed and wearing an apron, busily Googling how to sterilise jam jars, while weighing out dried fruit and suet.
I thought homemade mincemeat must be healthier than the shop-bought variety. But I wasn’t so sure as I weighed out the 250g of dark brown sugar stipulated in my recipe. It did seem rather a lot.
On the other hand, I could see the healthy side: making it at home meant I could choose top quality ingredients, and would forgo the extra preservatives found in shop-bought jars.
Plus working en famille in the kitchen would surely be a bonding and problem-solving experience for the kids. That was the plan anyway.
Of course, despite my intentions for the perfect family moment, the kids weren’t that fussed about making mincemeat. Problem-solving together? Nope. Bonding? Not so fast, Mummy. However, they did turn up when it was time to stir the mixture. And they also helped with what they saw as the most important part – filling four (hopefully well-sterilised) jam jars.
Once we’d cleaned up the kitchen, I decided to find out whether homemade mincemeat really is healthier by speaking to Alana MacDonald, a dietitian with the British Dietetic Association.
She agreed that there was a lot of sugar in my recipe. ‘However, because mincemeat is classed as a pudding, and the sugar is spread out over so many portions, it evens out in the end,’ she says.
However, she warned that we should watch out for suet, one of mincemeat’s main ingredients. ‘Suet is an animal fat, and the amount in shop-bought mincemeat is worrying,’ she said. ‘While vegetable suet is lower in saturated fat, it’s still high in calories.’ She advises readers to look out for suet-free mincemeat recipes, and in particular ones which replace some of the sugar with pureed apple or extra quantities of dried fruit, such as prunes.
On the plus side, my mincemeat still beats shop-bought jars hands down in terms of E-numbers and preservatives. ‘Anything that’s processed will have an awful lot of artificial additives, for example preservatives, flavouring and colour,’ says Alana.
She says that if you’re opting for shop-bought mincemeat, make sure you read the label carefully. Choose one with fewer E-numbers and additives.
We’re not sure yet how the mincemeat tastes as it has got to sit around for a few more weeks before we can crack on with our baking. So in the meantime, here’s my verdict: while it might not be the healthiest batch in the world, I still think that making homemade mincemeat is a fun new tradition and I hope it will be tasty. Next year, I’ll be more careful in my recipe selection. But this Christmas, I’m just proud that I made it at all.