Misled by Vaalia labelling

I think the labelling on this Vaalia yoghurt is misleading.

I have been eating natural yoghurt all of my natural life, and I am used to it tasting tangy. I have been drinking kefir, which I think is just the North African/Middle Eastern name for drinking yoghurt, off and on over the last 50 years, and it usually tastes even tangier (and I apologise to anyone from the Maghreb for that terrible pun).

This is the first kefir I have ever met that is the consistency of regular yoghurt, so perhaps that should have been an alert to me – the first spoonful was sickly sweet, like some grossly over-sweetened unnatural yoghurt, and, worse still, it left that metallic aftertaste I associate with artificial sweeteners. I swiftly rechecked the lid which reads “NO SUGAR ADDED” and underneath that “ALL NATURAL”.

I swiftly checked the ingredients with the aid of a powerful magnifying glass, and sure enough, in three-point type, the last ingredient is “natural sweetener (steviol glycosides)”.

Now I don’t want to get into an argument with food chemists about whether or not it is technically correct to describe this sweetener as “natural” – I just think it should be declared prominently on the labelling, which I think is calculated to deceive a regular natural yoghurt consumer like me.

I intended writing to the Vaalia company in these terms but before I did, I thought I should check in with my fellow consumer advocates to see whether they think I am going out on a limb here.


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There is no simple agreed useful definition of “natural” so it becomes the plaything of the advertisers. There is also the question; is applying the label “natural” to a product just employing the naturalistic fallacy or does it have some real significance. Advertisers seem to be agreed that most people view “natural” as positive so they slather it on whatever they can.

One way to look at it is to examine the processes used to produce the substance in question. If it is chemically altered to a different chemical substance from the starting substrate it is synthetic even if the substrate is direct from a plant, animal or mineral. If it is chemically unaltered but extracted, as honey is spun from a comb, salt mined is from underground or the juice crushed from sugar cane then it is natural. You don’t need to suck the honey out of the comb personally.

What about white cane sugar? It goes though several processes of concentrating and purifying to produce the product. It may be boiled, washed or treated with substances that remove the colour and flavour of the impurities. The final result is quite chemically pure sucrose. The sucrose was made by the sugar cane plants and is chemically unaltered. You could say it was released from a more complex mixture. So does that make the sugar natural even if the processes used to purify it are not found in nature?

I accept the starting assumption that chemical changes are not acceptable but physical ones like purifying are, so I say sugar is natural. I don’t say that makes it good. Natural does not mean, imply or infer goodness.

How about stevia glycosides? It is made by the stevia plant and is extracted from the stevia leaf in water solution and then filtered, purified and dried, fairly like cane sugar. It is still the substance that the plant made, therefore I accept that it is natural. That doesn’t mean it is good, or bad or anything else. Calling this product natural is not a lie, that doesn’t mean it is useful.

Others my agree or disagree with my definition but I doubt very much it matters at all. If you don’t like very sweet yogurt or the taste of stevia then don’t buy the product and ignore whether the word “natural” is on the label.

My conclusion is forget “natural” on all labels and buy what you like regardless because that label is of no value. If choosing what you like means tasting or reading the fine print, or both, that is up to you.

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The labelling is correct in relation to ‘all natural’ and ‘no added sugar’ if the steviol glycosides are sourced from methods 1 and 2 on the Food Standards Australia website…

https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/additives/Pages/Steviol-glycosides-(960)-(intense-sweetener)%20(stevia).aspx

If it was from method three, it could be argued either way to whether the statement ‘no added sugar’ has veracity.

FSA also describes sugars as being monosaccharides and disaccharides and the following information which is useful for reference and shows the Vaalia product meets its labelled claims in relation to ‘no added sugar’…

About prominent display on labelling that sweeteners other than sugar (inc. glucose or fructose) are used, whether from natural or artificial sources, many products which claim to be sugar free contain alternative sweeteners. One worth looking at are toothpastes which claim are sugar free but often contain natural or artificial sweetener alternatives. There are many other similar products.

If one expects a label must prominently display that a product has an alternative sweetener, one could also argue that colouring, flavouring, preservatives etc etc should also be prominently displayed. Labels would become very busy. This is why ingredient lists are required for packaged/processed foods, so consumers can check ingredients before purchase.

The current label isn’t misleading with the claims of being ‘natural’ and ‘no added sugar’. If it said ‘no added sweeteners’, then this definitely would be misleading.

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I did say I didn’t want to get into an argument over whether it was correct to call steviol glycosides “natural” or not, because my point was that regular consumers of “natural yoghurt” expect it to be unsweetened.

I felt misled. This is not a case of an “alternative sweetener”; it’s a case of having an awful lot of a sweetener where one can rightly expect there to be no sweetener at all, and where the very prominent words NO ADDED SUGAR encourage this expectation.

But I take your point that colourings, flavourings, preservatives et cetera can also radically alter the consumer experience, and that once we start down the path of expecting a prominent display of the addition of an alternative sweetener, it is not obvious where you would stop.

And I thank you for that very interesting link to what FSA has to say on the arguably-irrelevant issue of whether the label is technically correct.

Both you and syncretic have certainly helped me to refine (no pun intended) whatever complaint I might yet choose to make directly to the manufacturer, and I thank you both for that.

And I’m sure your learned expositions will have been as much an education for other readers as they have been for me.

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It states it is Vanilla not Natural/Plain and they have made no claim that it is unsweetened, they only claim there is no added sugar (Stevia is not a sugar). The addition of lactase will alter the sweetness of the product as the lactose sugar of the milk is converted to glucose and galactose. It does state the ingredients are “all natural”. They also provide an unsweetened natural Kefir in this product range. That unsweetened product may be more to your liking, it may still be a little sweeter than you might expect as the lactose has been converted to glucose and galactose.

These two sugars while not as sweet to us as sucrose, are relatively sweeter than lactose. For comparison; we experience that glucose is 0.6 to 0.75 as sweet as sucrose and galactose being similarly 0.65 as sweet as sucrose, compared to lactose rated as 0.4.

As it does contain Kefir cultures (so noted on the ingredients) it will also have a small amount of alcohol present, the culture is a symbiotic mix of bacteria and yeast, the yeast will use the sugar content to feed itself and a by-product of that will be ethanol plus some CO2 which adds a “fizzy” tongue feel and will also longer term reduce the sugar content. Most Kefir products contain between 0.2% to about 2% alcohol, keeping the product cool will inhibit the growth of the cultures and reduce the production of alcohol to a minimum.

I keep my spare water kefir and milk kefir cultures in the fridge to allow me to use them without having to provide them “food”.while stored. I know that they last months doing it this way. As the product from Vaalia is to be maintained at dairy goods cold levels the cultures will be inactive or almost inactive until the product warms up.

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But the labelling doesn’t say ‘natural yoghurt’. It says 'Kefir (Vanilla) Yogurt, No Added Sugar, All Natural. The ‘All Natural’ indicates the ingredients in the yoghurt are ‘all natural’.

I can’t find any references that Kefir or Kefir Yogurt can’t have steviol glycosides or any other sweetener as an ingredient. Other kefir products available which aren’t Vaalia also have Stevia/steviol glycosides or other sweeteners as an added ingredient.

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Hopefully not about to become one of those difficult discussions where westernisation has changed the nature of the original to be appealing to the masses.

Perhaps the “Vaalia” branded product could be better labelled as kefir inspired or styled thickened and sweetened yogurt. Hopefully the brand product is produced as the following suggests it should be?
https://thedairyalliance.com/blog/kefir-vs-yogurt-whats-the-difference/

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Part of the reason to add steviosides (e.g. Rebaudioside A and Rebaudioside B) is that the kefir cultures do not use them for a food source, it allows the product to remain sweeter and have less alcohol than if made purely with sugars.

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Isn’t kefir made without sugar relying solely on the natural milk fats to feed the fermentation?

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No, the yeast and bacteria are sugar hungry, water kefir is made using fruit juices (I like pineapple), sugar or other sugary items e.g. lemonade to allow the colonies to grow. Milk kefir uses mostly the lactose to feed the colonies, but they will use the other sugars e.g.fructose and sucrose to grow. Lactobacillus also “eat” the sugars. Interestingly you can convert milk kefir colonies to water kefir ones but you can’t convert water kefir colonies to milk kefir ones. To do the conversion you add the milk kefir colonies/grains (after they are fully active) to a very sugary water solution and leave it ferment for about 4 days, then you remove the colonies and you repeat this process reducing the fermentation time by about 12-24 hours each time until they are fermenting properly at around 48 hours a batch (taste dependent…what you like). They often can die in this process, so if trying to convert always have plenty of spare colonies to try again.

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Like yoghurt, there isn’t any defined recipes or restrictions on what can be called kefir.

Yoghurt can have sugar added as seen with many available products-especially flavoured ones. Some Kefir recipes suggest adding sugar for a sweeter kefir. There is also kefir which is water rather than milk based. Water kefir ingredients seems to he even broader than that for kefir.

Kefir is a must have ‘fashionable’ product at the moment and there are many companies like Vaalia hopping onto the band wagon to capitalise on its popularity.

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Sounds a bit like how Hoover came to be both a brand name and universal name for a vacuum cleaner. Kafir is both a product of specific origin and a broad term for a type of fermentation of anything the bugs can be coaxed to convert? Or is it more like how we use ‘curry’, a rather vaguely defined western word that now extends well beyond it’s origins,

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As i understand it, these days to be named a kefir it must contain Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens and/or Kazachstania turicensis (both are lactic acid producing bacteria) as well as yeasts. These are certainly found in the colonies of kefir grains that I have as they were originally purchased commercially to have that content. The grains will have other lactobacillius and other bacteria not of the lacto family.

The grains look a little like a rice grain, and if you are getting good production of kefir you will have plenty of spare grains to experiment with on other milks e.g. sheep, or goat and on many juices, and other sugar laden drinks. When used in one type of milk the milk kefir will prefer that variety but over time will happily convert to a new milk, just takes them longer to ferment the milk until they are used to the new milk type.

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I bought it to try because it was on special at my local Woolies, who do not appear to carry the Plain alternative, but you’re right, Vanilla Yoghurts are usually sweetened.

I first identified the pot by the yellow tag advertising the special price, but because I was looking down on it from my great height I essentially assessed it by what was written on the lid, which makes no mention of the vanilla flavouring (which must also be made from real vanilla pods to keep within the ALL NATURAL claim on both the lid and the side label).

I still reckon that lid is misleading, albeit not legally so. All the bush lawyers on here can relax – I am not talking about getting the ACCC to prosecute Vaalia, just asking the company to consider putting something on the lid and the label to say they are adding the equivalent of a dozen teaspoons of sugar per kilo in the form of steviol glycosides.

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Many products have limited information on their lids. Some products have nothing on lids to only the manufacturer/product name to a full product information. This is why it is important to look for the nutritional information and ingredients lists. This is particularly important if one plans to buy a new product or an old favourite which has new packaging/labels (and this might mean a reformulation of the product).

It is also worth noting that looking online, most yoghurts available in supermarkets have similar simplified labelling on their lids and don’t give much of an indication of the flavours, what the yoghurts contain etc. I expect that your usual yoghurt would also be one of these which had simplified lid labelling.

The lid of the Vaalia product still doesn’t indicate it is a natural yoghurt. It only indicates the product is ‘all natural’.

Steviol glycosides aren’t sugar or contain the same energy/kilojoules as sugar. It is a sweetener which has a sweetness significantly greater than sugar and at the levels used, are unlikely to significantly impact on the energy/kilojoules of the yoghurt.

In relation to vanilla, the ingredients list you posted indicate the yoghurt contain 0.1% vanilla bean. It also contains natural flavours but doesn’t say what these are.

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Stevia is a very sweet, non-toxic herb. It’s said to have a liquorice flavour and somewhat bitter aftertaste. If they put too much of it in, there can be side-effects e.g. bloating, nausea, and gas.

I’d like to go broader on sweeteners. On recent research, the sweetener group I will most avoid in food products are sugar alcohols, particularly Erythritol. This has just been proven to make your blood stickier, which has with it a higher risk of blood clots, heart attacks and stroke. Look out for additive E968 on your ingredient list. Erythritol Sugar Substitute Uses and Risks – Cleveland Clinic .

Bit ironic for heart patients that Erythritol, when paired with Stevia, is said to be common in low-carb baked goods!

I’ve asked Choice staff to remove the reference to it as being one of the best sweeteners in an article on the site. Articles on sweeteners need to be reviewed to keep up with the science.

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If you can read the ingredients list on that Vaalia tub with the naked eye your eyesight is better than that of anyone I know who is over 50! :wink:

Perhaps you take a magnifying glass with you when you go shopping.

I don’t have a problem with the information on the lid being inadequate, I have a problem with the information on the lid being misleading. Or at least it misled me.

I reckon if they replaced “NO ADDED SUGAR”, both on the lid and on the side label, with “Super-sweetened with Stevia”, they will still attract the low-calorie crowd, while warning regular yoghurt/kefir eaters/drinkers like me not to waste their hard-earned.

Without establishing what “natural” means in this context you have no argument as then you cannot insist that it means unsweetened. You are effectively saying that it means unsweetened because you say it does and you won’t hear any discussion.

I think it is much clearer to say that you don’t like their recipe. That is not an arguable point as it is subjective but also not one where complaining will make a difference.

A little OT, but similar in prospect.
What about “traditional”, “original”, “authentic” or using a place name as a prefix to more reliably describe a product? We have ‘Greek’ for a style of yogurt and ‘Swiss’ for a style of cheese and whimsically “French” for champagne and other things.

Can we trust the brand labelling of any product, “snake oil” included? :wink:

This topic seems to me to be similar to the ‘Lounge slip cover’. As consumers we have expectations i.e. a fabric described as Pistachio we expect it to be of a pale yellow/greenish shade. But, as @phb has indicated it is only a description concocted by marketing.
Natural Yogurt has lactose which is a natural milk sugar and we expect it to have no added sweetening ingredients. Maybe calling it ‘Plain’ would be more appropriate because as the sour taste is not liked by all, manufacturers have taken to add various sweetening ingredients making ‘Natural’ just a vague description. The ‘Vanilla flavour’ (which is usually associated with a sweetish flavour) on the container should have been a red flag?
If the ingredients label is too small to read without a magnifying glass, that’s a good objection point IMO.
It certainly looks like we need to step up in our awareness as consumers because advertisers are certainly stepping up in their craftiness.

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