What is really in black pudding, apart from the bleeding obvious?
While this tasty fry-up staple can be nutritious some additives give cause for concern
Traditional black pudding is a blend of meat, oatmeal or barley, herbs and spices and the quintessential fresh blood
Black pudding is an unusual food in that it is a key ingredient of a greasy fry-up for many, yet it is just as likely to appear with delicate scallops on a five-star restaurant menu. If the number of brands available on supermarket shelves is anything to go by, though, it is very popular. It’s really just a sausage made with blood but the surprise is how different brands seem to be.
The award-winning Clonakilty black pudding has just about eight ingredients while other brands have closer to 20 ingredients, many of which are unappealing additives, preservatives and flavourings not deemed necessary in the Cork product.
One ingredient that is common to most of these puddings, but may look odd to the average consumer, is blood powder.
Traditional black pudding, which has been part of the Irish diet for generations, is a blend of meat, oatmeal or barley, herbs and spices and the quintessential fresh blood. In the past, pudding was often made at home immediately after an animal had been slaughtered and sold through the local butcher. Fresh blood is difficult to collect without contaminating it and has a limited shelf life. Therefore blood is gathered at abattoirs these days and dried. It is easier to handle and to store.
What is noticeable about the food labels on these puddings, however, is that while they usually note that the meat or the fat is Irish, there is no mention of where the blood comes from. Industry sources say most of it is imported. This doesn’t mean it is not of the highest standard, but it would be good for consumers to know where it is from, in the name of transparency. But that’s not on any label I came across.
What is on the label goes from the simple to the elaborate. Clonakilty black pudding, which is made in Cork, is a favourite with many and that’s not just because of the taste. It contains just oatmeal, onions, Irish beef fat (25 per cent), water, beef blood powder, salt, potato starch and natural spices. This pudding won an Irish food award from Blas na hÉireann in 2017.
Compare that to the black pudding from Denny, an Irish brand owned by giant Kerry Foods, which recently reported after-tax profits of €540 million. The brand may be Irish, but it does not seem that any of the mish-mash of unappealing ingredients in its pudding are. When food companies use Irish ingredients they usually trumpet that fact, knowing it is good for business.
The main ingredient in this pudding is pork rind, which is the skin of the pig. It also has pork and turkey, but with no mention of source. The blood is listed as haemoglobin powder. There is also sugar, spice and cereals.
Then there are the additives and preservatives that help to keep costs down and profits up including sodium triphosphate, sodium polyphosphate, disodium diphosphate, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite and sodium ascorbate. Those phosphates help the products to retain water, so expect a lot of spitting if cooking this. Phosphates are fine to have in moderation but concerns have been raised about their effects on heart health. Nitrates and nitrites are another matter as the World Health Organisation has listed meats treated with these as carcinogenic. So it’s advisable not to have them too often.
Discounters, such as Aldi, serve up a similar product. Its “Traditional Recipe Irish Black Pudding” notes that it is produced in Ireland and that it uses Irish pork and beef. The code number 551 in a circle on the packet under the letters IE is a Bord Bia mark and indicates it was processed in a Quality Assured plant in Galway. Interestingly, Aldi’s Brannans Irish Black Pudding says “Made in Co Galway”on the front. Aldi also has a product from McCarthy’s of Kanturk. The encircled number IE 800 on the back indicates the bacon inside went through Rudd’s in Birr. This number is reassuring but I’d be surprised if many people knew what it meant. Check out Bord Bia’s listing of Quality Assured members online to crack these codes.
The Glenmor brand, which is sold in convenience stores such as Londis, has a similarly long list of ingredients. It also points out on the front of the packet that it is uses “guaranteed Irish pork that is fully traceable to Irish farms”.
Black pudding can be nutritious as it tends to have plenty of protein, zinc and iron, thanks to the blood. It is striking how different the brands are, however, and how many are filled with unnecessary additives.