OPINION: Turkey Twizzler relaunch has put Norfolk’s food reputation on a downward spiral

Bernard Matthews unveiled a three-metre high statue of a Turkey Twizzler at Great Witchingham Hall a

Bernard Matthews unveiled a three-metre high statue of a Turkey Twizzler at Great Witchingham Hall as it made a comeback after 15 years in August - Credit: Archant

Food-loving Andy Newman is shocked that Norfolk’s proud culinary history seems to have been dwarfed by the rebirth of the Turkey Twizzler

It is a sad demonstration of what our national taste buds have become that the biggest food and drink media story of the summer was the relaunch of Bernard Matthews’ infamous Turkey Twizzler – followed by inevitable tabloid stories about how the product disappeared from the shelves quicker than a turkey which has seen a farmer in a Santa hat.

Forget Cromer crabs, or Norfolk asparagus, or Fenland celery. The only foodstuff that the rest of the world associates with Norfolk is the Turkey Twizzler. Given how much wonderful food and drink we produce in our county, that is a monumental failure in marketing, if nothing else.

The Twizzler was, of course, made (in)famous by cheeky chappie chef Jamie Oliver, who in 2005 used them to highlight the rubbish which was being fed to our children in schools. To be fair, it’s not that they were the only, or even the worst, example of over-processed, unhealthy, gimmicky food to end up in school dinners, but they made a convenient and appropriate scapegoat.

Back then, the meat content of a Turkey Twizzler was just 34 per cent. As Oliver said at the time: “The prospect of what else is in them isn’t particularly good.” Eventually Bernard Matthews bowed to public pressure and axed the Twizzler, and it seemed we would from that day forward be spared the shame of it being part of Norfolk’s food offering.

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But we spoke too soon. This summer the Twizzler is back. To be fair, it has had something of a nutritional makeover, and now boasts 70 per cent turkey meat, and no e-numbers It does, however, contain a whopping 26 other ingredients, including white and brown sugar (and in case that’s not sweet enough, caramelised sugar as well), salt and smoked salt, the delicious-sounding ‘Diphosphates’ and sodium nitrate (a metal nitrate salt similar to saltpetre).

On balance, then, it probably won’t be winning too many prizes in the Natural Food Awards.

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A Bernard Matthews spokesperson has been widely quoted as pointing out that the Twizzler contains less saturated fat than your average pork sausage. That is true – and an inevitable function of using turkey as its primary ingredient – but the processed, sugar-laden nature of the Twizzler doesn’t qualify it as healthy eating.

My gripe here is not so much with Bernard Matthews, which is a commercial company which to survive has to produce what people will buy. It is not even the depressing inevitability that the Twizzler will once again be snapped up by consumers who either are not able to, or don’t want to, think about what they are putting into their bodies.

No, the worst part of this whole sorry saga is that Norfolk’s food industry will once again be best known beyond the county’s borders for a novelty processed turkey-flavoured corkscrew. A big budget marketing campaign will in just a few weeks undo all of the effort that has been put into promoting Norfolk as a source of top quality food and drink (which we know in reality it is).

Talk about a downward spiral.

Meanwhile, congratulations on another Norfolk product which is finding national fame – and for all the right reasons this time. Wild Knight Vodka, which is made by Beachamwell-based Founding Drinks (they are also behind the range of Boadicea gins) was named the best varietal vodka in the UK at the 2020 World Vodka Awards.

Wild Knight is a proper Norfolk product, made from the county’s famous barley, and the accolade is a real feather in the cap for couple Matt and Steph Brown, who came up with the idea of a Norfolk vodka back in 2016. Unlike the infamous Turkey Twizzlers, there is no controversy about Wild Knight; it’s billed as a premium vodka, and the award proves it.

We need to shout about more food and drink products like these to prove to the rest of the world that Norfolk’s best effort is not a twisted piece of processed meat.

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