Turkey Twizzlers

In these days of post-Christmas limbo, many British households contemplate what to do with the leftover turkey. Soup? Sandwiches? Fritters? Then someone will inevitably ponder the Turkey Twizzler.

Back in 2005, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver was on a campaign to improve the quality of food served to children in UK schools. His television series Jamie’s School Dinners put a particular focus on one spiralised strip of processed meat: the Twizzler. He could have looked at nuggets, burgers or pizza, but the Twizzler became emblematic of the mass-produced, processed food routinely served to youngsters in Britain’s state school system.

Let’s be fair. The Twizzler did contain some turkey. Around 34% of each Twizzler was turkey.

Which rather prompted the question: What’s in the other 66%?

Well, water, obviously. Pork fat. Rusk. Hydrogenated vegetable oil. Potassium chloride. Dextrose.

Twizzlers were cheap and thousands of pupils got served them every year. But how nutritious were those curls of grey meat? Was processed junk food the best we could do for our children’s health and well-being? Nobody — from head teachers to local authorities — seemed inclined to ask the question, never mind care about the answer.

Until along came Jamie. He met the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who admitted things needed to change. The government promised to revise its nutritional standards. Upwards. (They could hardly go downwards. The budget at the time for providing each school meal was 35 pence per child.)

Twizzlers soon vanished from school dinners and, later, from supermarket shelves. Plates of chips mysteriously morphed into bowls of tomato pasta, while vending machines full of chocolate and fizzy drinks disappeared from school corridors.

Doing something good to raise standards for children, helping to fight the obesity epidemic and improve health outcomes for all? Of course some people weren’t happy. Children liked the cheap products, they said, while muttering about the nanny state. People even organised petitions to bring the corkscrew-sausage product back.

Sometimes, dreams come true. In 2020 — just as we were reeling from the shocks of the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic — the manufacturer of the Twizzler, Bernard Matthews, decided to gladden our hearts by announcing the relaunch of the now nostalgically remembered spirals.

The product, the company proclaimed, would be “healthier and tastier than ever before”.

The product is certainly less alarming. The Christmas Turkey Twizzlers contain actual herbs, for instance: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Still, for old times’ sake, you’ve always got your diphosphates, xanthan gum and ascorbic acid.

Look at the reviews, though.

I think it’s fair to say that not many of us will be turning to our families over the turkey leftovers and saying: “We’ve got some diphosphates. Do you fancy making a twizzler?”

I’ll stick to the soup.

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