Many people might consume chicken essence products as an energy booster when pulling an all-nighter. Such products are categorised as a health food supplement which claims to contain a number of nutrients, boasting functions such as enhancing the immune system and reinvigoration. The Consumer Council conducted tests of food safety and nutrient contents of 15 samples of commonly found prepackaged chicken essence products, including traditional chicken essence, distilled chicken essence, boiled chicken essence and vegan chicken essence. The results showed that most of the samples met their claims as “high-protein food”, yet the protein content of whole foods, such as chicken meat, eggs and milk, are much higher than that in chicken essence products. With its small serving size, the protein intake is lower for chicken essence products. When comparing the price per 20g protein intake, the highest cost among all chicken essence samples would be around $1,300, while the lowest cost among whole food was only $4.44, a difference of over 290 times. The Council reminds that for normal consumers, a balanced diet should provide sufficient nutrients.
The Council sourced 15 common prepackaged samples of chicken essence products from key retail outlets. The samples included 1 traditional chicken essence, 10 distilled chicken essence, 3 boiled chicken essence and 1 vegan chicken essence ranging from $188 to $990 per box, equivalent to a cost per serving of $11.75 to $133, a 10-fold difference. For food safety, the samples were tested for the contents of preservatives, antioxidants, hormones and aflatoxins, while the nutrient content test covered total fat, saturated fatty acids, cholesterol, iron, sodium, protein and amino acids. The samples with the highest and lowest cost per serving both received an overall score of 5 points, reflecting that the price and quality and nutritional value of a product are not necessarily correlated. Consumers are reminded to compare and choose wisely.
The key difference between traditional/distilled/boiled chicken essence is the manufacturing method. To produce traditional chicken essence, the whole chicken is steamed in a water bath under high temperature and pressure over a prolonged period; distilled chicken essence uses a steamer to heat up the chicken, extracting its essence without adding any water during the whole process; the production of boiled chicken essence is similar to boiling chicken soup, as a whole chicken is placed in a pot and boiled at a high temperature for a long time. These chicken essence products will also undergo a degreasing process to remove most of the fat content. As for vegan chicken essence, a newly emerged product in recent years, it claims to use the essence extracted from plants as the ingredients.
Chicken Essence Products High in Protein with Amino Acids, Low-sodium and Nearly No Fat; Yet Fat Intake Should Not Be Too Low
Chicken essence products claim to contain various nutrients such as protein and amino acids, which help build muscles, repair cells and tissues and reduce muscle fatigue. The results showed that among the 14 samples in liquid formula, over 90% (13 samples) were high-protein foods, i.e., containing no less than 6g of protein per 100ml liquid food. The sample with the lowest protein content was found to contain 5.3g of protein per 100ml, a difference of over 1.4 times compared with the sample with the highest protein content (12.9g protein per 100ml). The only vegan sample was in solid form and contained 14.7g protein per 100g, which was also considered to be a high-protein food (containing no less than 12g of protein per 100g solid food). The high-pressure and high-temperature manufacturing process of traditional chicken essence, distilled chicken essence and boiled chicken essence products replaces the digestion process by protein digestive enzymes in the human body, which could ease the burden on the digestive system of individuals with abnormal secretion of protein digestive enzymes. Nevertheless, consumers with special needs, for example patients, individuals recovering from surgery, etc., should seek professional advice from doctors or registered dietitians if it is suitable for them to consume chicken essence.
Proteins are made of amino acids. Many chicken essence products claim to contain different types of amino acids, of which branched-chain amino acids are essential amino acids which help reduce muscle fatigue and ease post-exercise muscle pains, making them one of the most used supplements by athletes. Based on per 100ml sample, the results showed that the total branched-chain amino acid contents of the liquid formula samples ranged from 0.275g to 0.939g, a difference of 2.4 times, while that for the vegan chicken essence sample in solid form was 2.03g per 100g. Consumers are reminded to pay extra heed to the serving size of chicken essence products as it may vary across different types and brands. Taking the solid sample as an example, the serving size per bag was only 4g, which would amount to a total branched-chain amino intake of only 0.081g. The average total branched-chain amino acid content for the liquid formula samples was 0.450g per 100ml. With the average serving size being 58ml, each serving would provide a total branched-chain amino acid intake of 0.261g. However, consumers should be aware that the 9 essential amino acids for the human body can be absorbed from different foods including fish, eggs, beef, pork, dairy products, soybean and its products.
The test also revealed that all samples were not high-sodium foods, while 80% of the samples (12 samples) were low in sodium (containing no more than 120mg of sodium per 100g solid food or 100ml liquid food). 1 sample claimed to be “salt free” yet its sodium content did not comply with the standard of a “sodium (or salt) free” food (containing no more than 5mg of sodium per 100g solid food or 100ml liquid food). The relevant information has been submitted to the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) for follow-up.
Consumers with overweight concerns might be attracted by “zero fat” claim in chicken essence products. 7 samples were not detected with fat while 7 samples only contained 0.1g to 0.3g fat per 100ml/100g, which complied with the criteria to be claimed as “no fat” or “zero fat” or “fat free” on the labelling (containing no more than 5g of total fat per 100g solid food or 100ml liquid food). However, consumers should note that fat is an important nutrient just like proteins and carbohydrates. It is also the major source of energy to support physical activities. Insufficient fat intake might affect the production of cholesterol, vitamin D and hormones in the body and secretion of bile acids. The immunity might also be reduced.
Whole Foods Have Higher Protein Content but Cost Much Less
Although chicken essence products are protein-rich, if consumers are only aiming for protein intake, they could consider consuming whole foods such as chicken, milk or eggs, etc. as they contain an even higher protein content. Taking skinless chicken thighs for instance, consuming 100g could provide 26.3g protein intake and would only cost around $5.83. To gain the same protein intake by consuming chicken essence, it would cost around $51.94 for traditional chicken essence, a difference of almost 8 times, and $1,710 for vegan chicken essence, a staggering 290-fold difference. Besides skinless chicken, other foods also provide rich protein intake and cost much less. Taking for example an adult requiring a daily diet of 2,000 kcal and 60g protein, based on a 20g protein intake per meal, if boiled eggs were the protein source, it would only cost $9.27, while chicken thighs would only cost $4.82, much lower than that of vegan chicken essence, which would cost $1,301. Therefore, consumers who use chicken essence products for protein intake should pay attention to the price and serving size, and further decide if it is worth paying extra on such products, or whether they could simply achieve the necessary protein intake through maintaining a balanced diet instead.
3 Samples Did Not Comply with Nutrition Labelling Guidelines Nutrition Claim of 1 Sample Not in Compliance with the Regulation
According to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (“Labelling Regulations”), except for those exempted products, prepackaged foods must be labelled with the energy and content of 7 core nutrients. According to the Technical Guidance Noteson Nutrition Labelling and Nutrition Claims (“Guidance Notes”), the discrepancy between the declared and actual nutrient content of all prepackaged foods should be within the tolerance limit set out in the regulations. Comparing the nutrition labels and the test results of all samples, 3 samples did not comply with the requirements set out in the Guidance Notes. The actual protein content for 1 sample was 22.9% lower than its declared amount. The actual sodium content for 2 samples were 22.5% and 29.9% higher than the declared amount. Also, according to the Labelling Regulations, as there is no reference value for amino acids, prepackaged foods should not carry any related nutritional claims, yet the package of 1 sample was labelled with “rich in amino acids needed by the human body” which violated the regulations. The Council stresses that it is a fundamental consumer right to receive accurate product information. As supplements, nutrition labels are one of the important sources for consumers to judge if the product fits their health condition, not to mention chicken essence products might not be suitable for everyone. The Council urges agents or importers to add information on contraindications and instructions for consumption on the package.
In the test, only 1 sample was found to have 1.7g cholesterol per 100ml while the remaining samples were not detected with cholesterols. However, according to the Labelling Regulations, if a prepackaged food has on its label, or in its advertisement, a nutrition claim which is made in relation to any type of fat contained in the food, the content of cholesterol contained in the food shall also be set out in the list of nutrients. Out of the 10 samples with “no cholesterol” or “zero cholesterol” claims on their labels, 2 did not show the cholesterol content. Relevant information has been passed to the CFS for follow-up.
Beside checking the list of ingredients and instructions for consumption, consumers should note the following before purchasing:
- Chicken essence is considered as health supplements, consumers are advised to pay attention to whether these products meet their nutritional needs. Healthy people including the elderly, pregnant women or postpartum women can have enough nutrients as long as they maintain a balanced diet. It should not be used to replace regular meals;
- Individuals with hypertension, gout, chronic kidney disease with weaker kidney function, and maple syrup urine disease who are unable to metabolise branched-chain amino acids properly, digestive system disorder, malnutrition, or have special nutritional needs, as well as patients or post-surgical patients, should consult doctors or registered dietitians on their suitability to consume chicken essence;
- Infants and toddlers can gain necessary nutrition for growth from breast milk and a variety of foods. Parents should not give such products on their own to their infants and toddlers. If their child has any special nutritional needs, parents should consult with a medical professional first;
- According to the “Healthy Eating Food Pyramid”, it is recommended that adults aged 18 to 64 should have 5 to 8 taels of meat, fish, eggs and substitutes per day for protein intake as part of a balanced diet. The serving size of meat and its substitutes should be controlled to avoid excessive protein intake. Prolonged excessive protein intake might affect the body such as kidney functions;
- It is recommended that chicken essence products be consumed during the day as they may have a stimulating effect and cause difficulty falling asleep at night after consumption.
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