I can’t tell you how many times I have seen moms staring and staring at the supermarket shelf. Looking the baby food aisle up and down, wondering what is the best possible baby food to give their baby. There are more flavors of baby food available than there are cereals but there is one thing they all have in common - the way the baby pouches are made.
But wait, they’re fruit right? They don’t list “sugar” as an ingredient… They are “organic”, brain smart, super smart, filled with fiber. How can these squeeze pouches be bad for your little one?
It’s something you already intuitively know, something inside of you knows that giving your baby pouches or jars just isn’t quite right. But let’s be real, between housework, homework, and work work, you barely have time to think, let alone cook, peel and chop your homemade baby food. Of the 50 homemade baby food recipes you’ve pinned, you’ve made 3. And let me tell you, you’re not alone.
When we started Amara, we knew that no one was getting more time anytime soon. So we searched high and low for the best way to bring fresh food to super market shelves, without sacrificing the essential nutrients and vitamins. We stumbled across a technique that was used centuries ago by the Incans to preserve food. The Incans didn’t just store their food where they lived. They would climb up to the highest mountains, several feet above where they lived and store their food there. Now, why on earth would you store your food so far away from where you cooked? Turns out those Incans were not just trying to get exercise, they were actually on to something. The pressure and cold of the high mountains actually preserved the food, maintaining the taste, texture and nutrients of the real fruits and vegetables.
Crazy right? Well, we started researching more to see how we could use this ancient wisdom. That’s when we found the technique we use today. At Amara, we minimally process the fruits, veggies and grains so you can get the closest thing to homemade when you don’t have time to make it yourself. We just take out the water so you can take homemade with you, anytime, anywhere.
Now that’s what we do. But what do other baby food companies do? Why are those pouches so high in sugars? Why do they all have the same texture and consistency? All kind of taste like apples?
Shelf-stable means that the food can sit on a shelf without refrigeration or spoilage for quite some time. Jarred shelf-stable baby food lasts for about two years. Pouch-stored shelf-stored baby food lasts for one year. This lets supermarkets and baby food companies take their time in selling the product because they don’t have to worry about spoilage.
Unfortunately, the way they create shelf-stable food isn’t exactly good for its nutritional value. They have to use processes that remove the causes of spoilage (the bad stuff), but these same processes also reduce nutrition (the good stuff).
The extraordinary high levels of heat the traditional jars and pouches are using is the major culprit. Heat breaks down vitamins and destroys enzymes that are needed for proper digestion. Now, after so much heat – you are left with a syrupy jam that is closer to a can of soda than real food.
So let’s follow how traditional baby foods are made….
First, most shelf-stable baby food companies don’t process raw vegetables and fruits themselves. They buy them from other companies in the form of a puree or a concentrate. These purees and concentrates start by chopping and washing vegetables and grinding them down (which heats up the puree.) Next, stones, skins, and seeds are removed, but along with these, the fiber is also removed. This creates a smooth consistency, but babies need fiber!
So far, it’s like making homemade baby food, only maybe not so much heat because you’re not using industrial equipment (you don’t normally heat your food over 185 degrees F for a long period of time)…. But that’s not it mamas.
Then, the puree is “deareated” to remove oxygen (which causes food to spoil) and then pasteurized. As we all know, pasteurization requires high heat for a long time to kill bacteria. This now-high heat processed puree is sent to the baby food companies. If a concentrate is called for, the puree goes through an evaporator to draw out water before shipping. If you’ve ever tasted frozen juice concentrate, you know it’s like swallowing a spoonful of sugar.
Now, enter baby food companies:
Baby food companies buy these pureed (can we still call them fruits and vegetables?) and blend them to create their flavors. They sometimes add water for consistency, and they can also add other things. Acids (e.g. citric acid) is added for further bacterial control as well as to prevent browning of the product over time. Nutrient powders may also be added to make up for the lost nutritional value caused by the earlier processes.
So let’s go over that….
- Company X grinds fruit or vegetable down to a puree. Heat step to keep it shelf stable and ready to ship to Baby Company.
- Baby Company blends said purees with their recipes. May add nutrient powders, emulsifiers or acids to keep it lookin’ pretty.
- Usually another heat step here to make sure nothing is alive (remember, we gotta kill the bad stuff….oops. there goes the good stuff too..)
Ok, so now we have that pureed recipe of baby food company X. What next?
Then the puree has to get packaged. If it’s in a jar, it’s the same process used for home canning, which requires high levels of heat. But did you know that pouches also have to be heated as well? This has to be done to kill any bacteria in the pouch, but again, it raises the temperature of the food. These pouches, while convenient, do contain compounds that might leach into the food under high heat such as BPA and aluminum.
So now you have your pureed heated mix according to the recipe for baby food company X, then it’s put in a pouch. Then said pouch is heated AGAIN at high levels to make sure that there is no bacteria or mold in the pouch.
…. Pausing. We’re pretty far from those fresh fruits and veggies you pinned right?
So. Shelf-stability may help consumers know they’re getting unspoiled baby food, but by the end of it, fruits and vegetables have been turned into a kind of jam with no texture and not the best nutrition. (Ever wonder why your baby loves the pouches but doesn’t like the real veggies when you make them?)
Now, I want to pause here. We are all feeling pretty bad about those pouches and jars right? I mean, we didn’t paint the prettiest picture here. Because it’s not. BUT. I do want to stress here, there are moments that your baby is screaming or you’re in the car and the pouch really is the easiest option. And THAT’S OKAY. We don’t walk around in a perfect white onesy all the time do we? We know there are times for the pouch, but just treat it as a special treat or dessert, not an everyday kind of thing.
How Amara differs
We look carefully at every single ingredient and source it the best possible way. That’s right, we don’t just use one co packer that hands us a finished product. We look at every ingredient and find the best process and combination for your little one. We don’t use additives; we don’t use emulsifiers or any of those funny fillers. We just do real food, real ingredients. We bring you the best possible baby food, without you having to chop and cook everything yourself. It's a difference you can see:
Imagine the fruits and veggies just without the water, now that's a pouch you can actually feel proud of. Plus, we take out the water so you can have that same homemade taste, texture and nutrients. Anytime, anywhere. At Amara, baby food is made better to taste better.
Click here to find out more about the Amara advantage.
Find out why the Bump voted Amara "Best Baby Food of 2018."
For a limited time, get 15% off your first order of Amara. Code: ONLYTHEBEST
USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors
Gupta et al 2013, Retention of nutrients in green leafy vegetables on dehydration; J Food Sci Technol 50 (5), 918-925.