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Health Food of the month - Mincemeat

December 2017


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Diet & Supplements Index

Waitrose Recipes

Everyone at some point in their lives must have wondered why mincemeat has its name. After all, this fabulous concoction of sweet dried fruits and spices isn’t based around minced beef or any other meat.

But the name is accurate because modern mince pies are simply a development from early pies that did contain meat. They are thought to have originated in the Middle East when meat was mixed with local spices to make it tastier, and the idea gradually spread across Europe to the UK.

In the 17th century meat pies enlivened by spices were popular with the wealthy. A book written by Elinor Fettiplace, an Oxfordshire aristocrat, in the early 17th century gave a recipe for a mince pie containing cooked mutton, beef suet, currants, raisins, ginger, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange rind, salt and a very small quantity of sugar.  Many of these ingredients at the time were very expensive and not available to many people, so the mince pies became recognised as a real luxury.

In the 18th century, as sugar and other ingredients became more readily available, the pies started to become sweeter. Too much meat spoilt the exotic taste of the pies and gradually larger quantities of fruit including apples started replacing the meat entirely.

Today traditional mincemeat is based around the dried fruits sultanas, raisins and currants, often combined with apples, sugar, spices, an orange and sometimes brandy. There are many variations but dried fruit usually plays an important part in most modern mincemeats.

Dried fruit is what is says...fruit that has its water content removed. Dried fruit can still be highly nutritious and contain the main benefits found in the same fruit when fresh, but in a very condensed form.

This of course can be good news. Grapes contain powerful antioxidants or polyphenols which are thought to help slow many types of cancer. Grapes also contain calcium, potassium, phosphorus and small levels of iron, zinc and magnesium. A range of key vitamins including A, C and K plus folate, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin from the B vitamins are also present.

These benefits should not be lost in the dried fruit found in mincemeat. However, there is a downside and that is the sugar levels.  The sugar in dried fruit is also the same amount as found in the fresh fruit but in a condensed form. This means it is easy to snack on a handful of raisins which in value is the same as a cup or more of fresh grapes, so you can be taking in a lot of sugar in one easy burst.

Another problem with mincemeat is that it often has added sugar or other sweeteners. Add this to the sugar already in the fruit and suddenly mincemeat can become a high sugar item.

At the end of the day though, mincemeat, used in traditional mince pies and other recipes, is not a mainstay of most diets, even at Christmas time. It can taste wonderful and will give lots of nutritional benefits. Just be aware there can be significant sugar content as well.



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