Coca-Cola paying diet experts to counter obesity claims? I’m not surprised – what I saw there horrified me.


This is a reproduction of an article written by Chris Hemmings and published by the Independent on 12th October 2015. Disgruntled former employee or exposé? You decide!

“Like an over-shaken can, outrage is spilling everywhere today. An investigation by The Times has outlined how Coca-Cola spends millions of dollars every year trying to disprove the undisprovable.

Frankly, anyone gullible enough to believe any ‘research’ suggesting cans of fizzy sugar don’t make you fat is an idiot, but that’s not the real problem here. The real problem is what Coca-Cola do day in day out, and nobody bats an eyelid.
When I was offered my first ‘proper job’ in 2009 it was, for my sins, with Coca-Cola Enterprises (the then UK arm of the Coca-Cola Company). I was a territory sales rep. With a van full of all the drinks I used to guzzle as a kid (Fanta, Sprite, Capri Sun, and, of course, the rainbow of Coke varieties) I set off with joy to my ‘patch’ to sell, sell, sell.
It took all of two days for my enthusiasm to be completely annihilated.

In my branded transit I approached my third store of day two. My objective was clear: get to know my customer, get to know their customers, sell them everything they need and then sell them everything they don’t. On arrival at the petrol station forecourt, to my utter dismay, I spotted a young boy, probably no older than fourteen. Fourteen years old, and about fourteen stone. Dressed in his repulsive fluorescent school uniform, his face was flushed red from the almost impossible task of standing upright. In his hand? A two litre bottle of Sprite. The sugar content of which is 136 grams. That’s 144 per cent of his daily recommended amount – and there were numerous 4 packs of those on my ‘for sale’ list.
I had become the conduit for obesity, and it felt awful.

So this went on – day after day, month after month. Each month a new target, new product or new initiative to ‘sell in’ to my 144 customers. Each individual drink noted, tallied and scored by the great Coke computer back at base. Any drink went off sale and there were investigations to be made. Any non-Coke products in a Coke fridge and the company could send threatening letters to a struggling corner shop owner. It doesn’t matter that a product may not be selling; they are contractually obliged to fill their fridge with, basically, whatever Coke tells them to.

Then came the new golden boy of pop: the energy drink. Since the advent of Red Bull, the sector was growing by hundreds of percentage points year on year and showed no signs of slowing down.

In meeting after meeting we were told of all the new varieties of caffeine-filled sugar bombs we were to peddle: four Relentless flavours, three Monster, three Powerade and, for a brief time, the energy shot. Our targets had to be met, so our targets were kids. “Find out where the big schools are in your area,” we were told. “Show the shops these graphs, charts, figures… Kids love these products.”

A 500ml can of Monster Ripper not only contains 47 per cent of our recommended sugar intake, it also has 160mg of caffeine. That’s the equivalent of having a cup and a half of coffee, with ten sugars. Try giving that to your teenage daughter.

Teachers started complaining about their pupils being high on energy drinks during class, only to crash later in the day. So lots of schools banned fizzy drinks from their premises. Coke had to start removing vending machines up and down the land. Their reaction was simple: sell it to them off-site instead. And lo and behold! In came the era of the ‘meal deal’.

This was the new baby of the bosses. In every newsagent, sandwich shop and cafe, we were told to link our products with everything from newspapers to crisps. We offered our branding in return for discounted rates or for product placement within the stores. Coke will tell you a 500ml bottle only contains two servings. Confusing, then, that we should link them with a single serving of sandwich.

During the Olympics our brand ‘activation’ was scary. As an official sponsor, we completely hijacked the Olympic torch relay. Internally it became less about the torch, but more about how much product was available on the route it took through the UK. I was working in supermarkets by then, and was told I should have been ‘embarrassed’ by the paltry offering I made in my Tesco Extra store. We were supposed to be celebrating an Olympic flame passing through, but all Coke wanted to do was piss their product all over those in attendance.

I started to challenge our ethics from within, but the response was often a passive aggressive ‘We’re simply offering the customer a choice’. I dispute that to this day. With the levels of advertising, sponsorship and branding they achieve it becomes less a choice, more a subconscious trigger.

We worked with the big four supermarkets to offer deals on Coke with pizza, Coke with cooked chickens, Coke with curries and, of course, Coke with more Coke. We had to fight for as much display space as possible within every store and colleagues were hailed as heroes for building a mock-stadium out of 6-pack cans during the football World Cup. We were even told to get Capri Sun put on the ‘back-to-school’ aisle. The more we succeeded, the more we were paid. Because Coke don’t care about their customers; they just care that they have them.

As people take issue with a bit of research, hidden away in some journal nobody will ever read, they sit silently as they’re slapped in the face by branding. We allow companies like Coca-Cola to sponsor FIFA, the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup without so much as questioning the ethics behind such a decision. By pouring millions of our diabetic dollars in to these events, we start to associate physical activity with fizzy drinks. It’s ludicrous, and yet remains unchallenged. Their marketing is a juggernaut, riding roughshod over decency and our health, in the search for profits.

Money talks, and Coca-Cola have it all. Our only defence is stop giving it to them.

Oh – and if you drink Vitamin Water thinking it’s good for you, you deserve that triple bypass.”

Mexican Puy Lentil Chilli

Mexican Puy Lentil Chilli low res

Serves 4

This recipe gives vegetarians and vegans a delicious, fresh and spicy Mexican chilli that’s full of protein. But meat eaters love it too; it’s every bit as good as chilli con carne. It’s easy and quick to prepare and it can be made ahead and stored in the fridge or freezer until needed. It has quite strong flavours so I like to serve it with plain white rice.

250g dried Puy lentils
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Mexican chilli seasoning mix made up of: 1 tsp ancho chilli powder, 1 tsp chipotle chilli powder, 1 tsp mulato chilli powder, 1 tsp pasilla chilli powder, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tablespoon dried oregano and ½ tsp ground black pepper
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes (use Mutti tomato pulp if you can get it)
150ml stock made with vegan stock powder
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 green peppers, deseeded and cut into bite sized pieces
1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained

Bring a large pan of unsalted water to a boil, add the lentils, cover and simmer until cooked, approx. 30 to 40 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the chilli sauce. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and sauté the onion until softened and starting to brown at the edges. This will take about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for a further minute. Add the Mexican chilli seasoning mix and stir fry for 1 minute. Add a splash of stock if it starts to catch.

Add the tinned tomatoes, stock, salt, vinegar and sugar, stir to mix well and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the peppers and kidney beans, cover and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes.

Taste to check the seasoning, adding salt if needs be. Stir in the lentils and check the seasoning again. Lentils seem to devour salt!

The dish can now be cooled and stored in the fridge for a couple of days or frozen until needed. To serve, return the chilli to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Sudan Red Scandal

Paprika on plate


Here is an infamous example of adulteration of spices.

In 2005 an effort by some unscrupulous spice producers in India to cheapen their processed spices led to the largest food product recall in the world.

These producers were adulterating their red chilli powders by bulking them up with stems, mouldy pods, seeds and ghost pods (light coloured pods where the pigments have not developed). The problem was that by doing this, the chilli powders they produced no longer had a typical red colour. The answer they came up with was to add a collection of dyes generally referred to as Sudan Red (Sudan 1, 11, 111 and 1V). The results were chilli powders with a more authentic colour. Sudan Red dyes are commonly used in India to dye leather and fabric. The European Food Safety Authority considers Sudan Red to be genotoxic and carcinogenic; that’s why it is banned.

The reason these unethical producers went to all this trouble is because they ended up with faux red chilli powders that they could sell for less than cost of corresponding whole red chillies. In other words, it was much more profitable than producing an authentic product.

Fortunately they came unstuck. One of the producers used an excess of Sudan I, which is yellow in colour. In an effort to correct that colour, he then had to add more of the redder Sudan dyes. This ended up making the final red chilli powder look very unnatural which in turn led to the identification of the problem.

The contaminated red chilli powders were recalled and further supplies of them were cut off. However, the problem was hugely exacerbated by the use of red chilli powder as an ingredient in Worcestershire Sauce. In February 2005 it was discovered that the red chilli powders contaminated by Sudan Red had been used in the production of Worcestershire Sauce. Worcestershire Sauce is itself used as an ingredient in dozens other food products, not least ready meals. The recall of Worcestershire Sauce and other products in which it was used is the largest in history.

Salmon with Spices and Honey

Raw Salmon Fillet On White Background , Close Up


Serves 2

Kids and adults alike love this recipe. The salmon is crisp and caramelised on the outside but soft and moist on the inside. The spicing is mild but turns an everyday fish into an exotic dish. It is easy and quick to prepare. I like to serve it with rice pilaf.

1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 boneless, skinless salmon fillets, cut into medallions
1 to 2 tablespoons runny honey

Mix together the spices, salt and vegetable oil to make a loose paste. Toss the salmon in the paste, making sure each piece is evenly coated. Cover and store in the fridge until needed, for up to one hour.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. The pan should be large enough to fit all the salmon pieces in it in a single layer with space in between them. When the pan is hot add the salmon and sauté gently until coloured on all sides and almost cooked through. This will only take a few short minutes and you don’t want to overcook it. Drizzle the salmon with the honey and continue to sauté for a minute or two, turning regularly. The salmon should be a rich brown caramelised colour but make sure it doesn’t burn as that can happen with honey quite suddenly.

Serve immediately!

The Black and White Pepper Scam!

black and white peppers LOW RES

This post follows on from my recent article about adulteration of herbs and spices.  Pepper accounts for about a quarter of the world’s spice trade and not surprisingly has attracted some pretty unsavoury producers over the years.

Black pepper and white pepper are harvested from the same plant. Black pepper is harvested when the berries are immature and still green. As they dry in the sun, they turn black.

Berries left on the vine turn from green to red as they mature. White pepper is harvested when the mature berries begin to turn red. They are soaked in water for a few weeks which softens the red outer skin. The berries are then rubbed together to rub off the soft outer skin. When the berries are washed and dried in the sun, the berries dry to a light buff colour. The characteristic odour of white pepper is slightly musty and mouldy due to the period of soaking. This characteristic odour is descriptive of true white pepper.

An alternative unscrupulous method of producing a ground pepper that is white in colour is to start with black pepper. Certain varieties of black pepper can have their black outer shells mechanically abraded. In essence the idea is to scrape off the black outer shell and leave the whiter coloured inner part of the berry intact. This decorticated black pepper can then be ground and sold as white pepper.

Typically, true white pepper sells for about a 50% premium over black pepper because true white pepper is lower yielding and costs more to produce as it requires more processing. However, the production of a white decorticated black pepper is typically not financially advantageous unless the processor also has an outlet for the left over black pepper shells. The obvious outlet for these shells is to put them into ground black pepper. The spice processor willing to do this ends up both supplying a mislabeled white pepper and dilutes the flavour of the black pepper since the shells contain nearly no black pepper flavour.

We all invariably use a lot more black pepper than white pepper.  My advice, therefore, is to always buy whole black peppercorns and grind them yourself and, if you do use white pepper, buy organic to make sure you are getting the real deal.


Marsala low res

Serves 6 hungry people

Most days LW and I don’t bother with desserts but on high days and holidays or when we are entertaining we like to roll the boat out. Tiramisu, or Italian trifle, is a star dessert. It is rich and indulgent without being too heavy, and a real crowd pleaser. As a big bonus it is quite simple to make. There is no cooking involved, just whisking and mixing and layering. Also, you make it 24 hours before you plan to eat it to let the flavours develop so there’s nothing to do at the last minute except to take it out of the fridge and eat it!

Tiramisu is flavoured with Marsala which is a Sicilian fortified wine. The Marsala you find in supermarkets is invariably sweet Marsala which is exactly what you want for this recipe. Once opened it will keep for ages in a dark cupboard and is also delicious in savoury dishes like saltimbocca and for making sauces for chicken and pasta.

1 egg yolk
1 ½ tsp caster sugar
1 good splash vanilla extract
250g marscapone
50ml single cream
100ml cold strong black coffee
1 ½ tablespoons Marsala
12 sponge fingers
75ml sherry
12 Amaretti biscuits
250ml double cream, lightly whipped
Cocoa powder for dusting

In a medium-to-large bowl whisk by hand the egg yolk, sugar and vanilla essence until light and creamy. Add the marscapone and single cream and continue to whip by hand until well mixed and smooth.

Mix together the coffee and Marsala. Briefly dip and roll the sponge fingers in the coffee and Marsala mixture and put in a single layer in the base of a large bowl. Cover with the marscapone mixture and lightly level the surface with the back of a tablespoon. Sprinkle with a generous helping of cocoa powder.

Dip the Amaretti biscuits in the sherry and use them to evenly cover the marscapone layer. Cover with the lightly whipped double cream and level the surface with the back of a tablespoon. Sprinkle with a generous helping of cocoa powder.

Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 24 hours. Serve straight from the fridge.

Jamaican Jerk Seasoning

paprika low res

Like my Blackening Spice, my recipe for Jamaican Jerk Seasoning is one of my first blends and is still one of my favourites. Everyone loves this delicious recipe. It works on any meat, fish or poultry but is particularly good on chicken and pork.

This spice mix has a medium heat.

Simply mix the seasoning with a little oil to make a loose paste, rub it onto your chicken, steak, lamb chops, pork chops, sausages, fish – whatever you fancy – then leave it to marinate for up to an hour. Then cook in the usual way – roast, grill, barbecue or fry. Allow 1 teaspoon of the spice mix per portion.

If you’re cooking chicken wings, thighs or legs, it’s always worth cooking more than you need because they taste so good cold – perfect for picnics!

1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¾ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp cumin powder
¾ tsp cayenne
½ tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
¼ tsp salt

Mix all of the ingredients together and store in a spice jar until needed.

Chilli Con Carne

Chilli con carne low res

Serves 4

All meat eaters seem to love chilli con carne. It is often one of the first dishes that people learn to cook, not least students. I guess that’s because it is easy to cook and you can get a pretty decent result without slavishly following a recipe.

However, if you get the recipe just right, forget pretty decent – chilli con carne can be divine! The secret is in getting the spice mixture right. The dish should be packed full of flavours that come to you in layers; think 3D rather than 2D. And you need the level of chilli heat to be spot on. Not enough and you just have a glorified beef stew. Too much and the burning masks the flavours.

Oftentimes people make chilli con carne using minced beef. I find you get a quite different and much richer result using cubes of beef rather than mince. It’s more refined too, good dinner party fare.

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1.2kg beef knuckle or beef shin, trimmed and cubed (your butcher will do this for you, just ask)
2 large onions, roughly chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Spice mixture made up with: 1 ½ tsp Pasilla chilli powder, 1 ½ tsp Mulato chilli powder, 1 ½ tsp Ancho chilli powder, 1 tsp Chipotle chilli powder, 1 rounded tablespoon ground cumin, 1 rounded tablespoon dried oregano and ½ tsp finely ground black pepper
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes (preferably Mutti tomato pulp)
400ml beef stock
4 sundried tomatoes in oil, finely chopped
2 tsp sugar
2 medium green peppers, stalks removed, deseeded and chopped into bite size pieces
2 x 400g tins red kidney beans, drained
Optional: a ladle or two of real tomato sauce or passata

Heat the oil in an oven proof casserole dish and brown the meat in batches, removing each batch to a bowl as soon as it is browned using a slotted spoon. Once all the meat has been browned add a little more oil to the pan if needs be and sauté the onions until soft and golden, approximately 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir fry for one minute.   Add the spice mixture and stir constantly for one minute to heat through and mix thoroughly with the onions. If it starts to catch, add a splash of stock.

Add the tomatoes, stock, sundried tomatoes and sugar and season with a generous pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, return the beef to the pan and bring it to a simmer again. Cover and braise in the oven at 160° for two hours. Stir every 20 minutes or so, making sure the sauce isn’t sticking to the sides of the pan. Add a splash of boiling water if the mixture starts to dry out but make sure the sauce isn’t too runny.

After the two hours is up taste the dish and check the seasoning, adding salt if you think it needs it. If you find the dish too spicy for your palate, stir in a ladle or two of real tomato sauce (you can get the recipe here) or passata.

At this stage the dish can be chilled and stored in the fridge for up to three days or frozen until needed.

To finish the dish, slowly return it to a gentle simmer then add the green peppers and red kidney beans. Stir to mix well, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

I like to serve this with plain white rice but it is also good with potato wedges, baked potatoes, chips, various breads and even pasta. And of course everyone loves tortilla chips and grated cheddar cheese with chilli con carne!

Hungry Gaucho Beef Rub

Thyme low resThis is one of LW’s top three seasoning blends. She loves to griddle a well-seasoned, juicy rib eye steak, cooking it to just about medium.

First she seasons the steak with my Hungry Gaucho Beef Rub, then allows it to stand out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature. This takes about 20 to 30 minutes. She heats up the griddle pan before placing the steak in it. She cooks the steak for several minutes, turning it occasionally. The idea is to get the steak nicely seared on the outside but still juicy on the inside. Once it is cooked, she takes the pan off the heat and lets the steak rest in it for several minutes. All she needs to go with it is a green salad or some fries.

This spice mix has a mild-to-medium heat and is easy to use. Simply mix the seasoning with a little oil to make a loose paste, rub it onto your beef – a steak, joint or burger, whatever you fancy – then leave it to marinate for up to an hour. Cook it in the usual way – griddle, grill, barbecue or roast. Allow 1 teaspoon of the spice mix per portion.

1 tsp dried thyme
¾ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp mustard seed powder
1 ½ tsp paprika
¾ tsp salt

Mix all of the ingredients together and store in a spice jar until needed.

(P.S. Although I created this spice mix to season beef, the mix itself is vegan and vegetarian and can be used to season vegetables for frying, roasting, grilling or barbequing.)