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What’s in Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce?

All 15 ingredients in this canned slop, explained (yep, even xanthan gum)

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.

This edition: Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce, which is made from 15 separate ingredients that we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on their website.

The Ingredients

1) Tomato Puree: A central ingredient in many Sloppy Joe recipes, tomato puree is a combination of tomato paste — tomatoes that have been cooked down, had the seeds and skins removed and then cooked down even more until it turns into a concentrated paste — and water. It provides a deep tomato flavor.

2) High-Fructose Corn Syrup: In simple terms, high-fructose corn syrup is an artificial sugar made from the starch of corn. In complex terms, high-fructose corn syrup is the result of corn syrup that has had some of its glucose converted to fructose enzymatically. Sadly, high-fructose corn syrup has been linked to obesity and diabetes by many, many studies. It might as well be identical to regular table sugar, and it comes with all of the same adverse effects.

3) Distilled Vinegar: Distilled vinegar is simply vinegar produced from the fermentation of distilled alcohol. The extra acidity it provides helps the numerous ingredients in this Sloppy sauce mix together, enhancing the flavor while also acting as a preservative. Furthermore, vinegar adds a slight tartness to the sauce, which helps balance the sweetness of the high-fructose corn syrup.

4) Corn Syrup: Corn syrup is a liquid sweetener made of glucose. It gets less negative publicity than high-fructose corn syrup, but regular corn syrup can also be debilitating and basically equates to liquid sugar.

5) Salt: A quarter cup (one serving) of this Sloppy Joe sauce contains 310 milligrams of sodium, which is a reasonable amount — unless you end up demolishing several large Manwiches.  

6) Sugar: There are six grams of sugar in each serving of this Sloppy Joe sauce, which, while not an outrageous amount, is still probably more sugar than you want in a sandwich. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends men consume no more than 36 grams and women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day.

7) Carrot Fiber: Carrot fiber has several uses: It can add flavor, color and may even be used to thicken certain food products, like perhaps this Sloppy sauce. In theory, carrot fiber should also provide some nutritional benefits, but according to the label, this Sloppy Joe sauce delivers virtually nothing in the way of vitamins and minerals beyond a speck of potassium.

8) Dried Green and Red Bell Peppers: Similar to carrot fiber, these dried (for the sake of longevity and ease of shipping) vegetables might provide the illusion of varying tastes and textures. In reality, though, the amount in this Sloppy Joe sauce is teeny at best.

9) Chili Pepper: This simply adds some heat.

10) Guar Gum: Derived from guar beans, this acts as a stabilizer and thickener to improve texture, which is extra important when it comes to Sloppy Joes.

11) Spices: This is exactly what it sounds like: Concentrated spices added for flavor. What these spices are, however, remains a mystery, because the FDA refuses to require that food labelers list each spice by their specific name (as a means of protecting their recipes) so long as it follows their definition of the word “spice”:

“The term spice means any aromatic vegetable substance in the whole, broken or ground form, except for those substances which have been traditionally regarded as foods, such as onions, garlic and celery; whose significant function in food is seasoning rather than nutritional; that is true to name; and from which no portion of any volatile oil or other flavoring principle has been removed.”

12) Xanthan Gum: Xanthan gum is yet another thickening agent. While generally harmless, those with bowel issues should be wary when consuming it, as a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found it to be a highly efficient laxative. But if you have bowel issues, you probably want to steer clear of Sloppy Joes, anyway.

13) Dried Garlic: This adds more flavor.

14) Natural Flavors: Natural flavors are flavors derived from an actual food source, like tomato flavoring taken from actual tomatoes.

15) Citric Acid: Citric acid naturally occurs in citrus fruits and is frequently added to foods to extend their shelf life.

The Takeaway

My only complaints about this Manwich sauce are the inclusion of high-fructose corn syrup and the lack of real, substantial vegetables. Sloppy Joe sauce is one of the easiest things to make yourself and can turn out surprisingly healthy if you do, so I suggest going that route if possible.

However, if you absolutely hate cooking, you could do much, much worse than cracking open a can of Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce.