A meatball company in Finland has been forced to rebrand its product thanks to a low-meat content
Anyone for a bowl of spaghetti and balls? Or how about a hot ball sub? Didn't think so. It's only when a vague but surprisingly comforting word such as "meat"' is cleaved from the food it prefixes that we realise how suspect a mere "ball" can be. Nevertheless, this is what a food giant in Finland has decided to do.
The wholesaler Kesko has renamed its meatballs "pyryokoita" online, which translates in English, simply and unforgettably, as balls. According to Finnish news service YLE, the decision was made as the balls contain "only machine-recovered meat, essentially scraps", which though constituting meat in the US, is not defined as such in Finnish or indeed British law. So can you expect a supermarket near you to soon be stocking pink slime nuggets and 75% pork digits, formerly known as sausages? Or better still, a future in which the names ascribed to your food actually match their contents?
Meatballs are not the first product to undergo a name change. The history of food, not unlike the history of pop, is awash with legal wrangles, pointless reinventions, and embarrassing comebacks. The Big Daddy of these (or should I say Puff Daddy?) is KFC. In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken decided to drop the detail and go by its initials, J-lo styley. The name change has been attributed to everything from Kentucky state forcing companies to pay licensing fees for using its name and KFC's desire to distance itself from the unhealthy connotations of "fried", to governmental pressure on KFC to drop the word "chicken" due to its controversial livestock practices.
Distancing from a product or practice seems to be a popular though rarely stated reason for changing name. Last year, for example, Sugar Puffs turned into the considerably less catchy Honey Monster Puffsafter sales of the cereal slumped by 16%. The message? Though we all know a bowl of cereal contains roughly as much sugar as the Great British Bake Off store cupboard, if the word is replaced with a lovable monster we can pretend to forget.
And so it goes on. The hamburger re-emerging, at some contested point in recent history, as the burger. French fries revamped as skinny fries, apart from in 2003 when they had a brief star turn as freedom fries. Opal Fruits into Starburst. Dime Bars to, erm, Daim Bars. Aldi forced to drop "Beluga" from its caviar when a newspaper investigation revealed it originated not from the Caspian and Black Seas, but from China. Gregg's forced to drop "Cornish" from its best-selling pasties because they contain peas and carrots. The United States instructed by the EU to come up with its own names for locally made gruyere, brie and parmesan.
Which brings us to the humble fish finger. Initially called a "herring savoury", "cod stick", or the brilliantly innuendo-laden "battered cod piece", it was introduced to Britain in 1955 by Clarence Birdseye, an American scientist. He tested out prototypes in South Wales and Southampton but none of the names stuck. Thankfully, the curiously more appetising "fish finger" came top in a poll of female Birds Eye factory workers. A warning note, though: remove the "fish" and a finger sandwich starts to sound like something Sweeney Todd would cook up.
Balls, anyone? Photograph: Matilda Lindeblad