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Secret ingredients of food - anyone know where I can get info about which products have dodgy (or not v appealing!) stuff that isn't advertised as an ingredient?

(52 Posts)
sipper Sun 16-Dec-12 21:52:24

Oops....long title...sorry about that!

I'm after a website (or book?) that can tell me about the stuff that goes into or onto food during its production but which isn't advertised as an ingredient.

For instance, regarding the lawsuit that Jamie Oliver is facing over 'pink slime' comments, the news reports say : Lean finely textured beef is made from beef heated and spun in a centrifuge to separate the meat from the fat, before the final product is treated with a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas to kill any bacteria.

Or, another example, the shellac 'wax' coating on lemons is from a resin secreted by the female lac bug.

Bit obscure but wondered if anyone might know.


Lamazeroo Sun 16-Dec-12 22:03:51

Read 'Not on the Label' by Felicity Lawrence.

sipper Sun 16-Dec-12 23:21:27

Thank you Lamazeroo. That's great. I've just done a search and see she also wrote a book called Eat Your Heart. Will check them both out. Thanks for the info, much appreciated.

Lamazeroo Mon 17-Dec-12 00:21:06

Eat Your Heart Out is also good; it's more about the tactics used by big food business to sell us crap. Highly recommend both books.

sashh Mon 17-Dec-12 02:00:55

try researching halal - A colleague used to check brands on a website to see if she could eat / drink something.

Obviously this will not be the full story so use alongside the books.

Lamazeroo Mon 17-Dec-12 04:02:30

Can you explain a little more about researching halal?

CogitOCrapNotMoreSprouts Mon 17-Dec-12 10:32:02

All ingredients are shown on the label of prepacked foods. It's a question of researching what they mean. The famous 'pink slime' has been known here for decades as MRM - Mechanically Recovered Meat. Various colourings are abbreviated to an E number but there are tables you can find. Any ingredient ending in 'ose'... lactose, glucose, sucrose... is basically 'sugar'. Wax used on citrus fruit, apples and so on is no secret.

Personally, I find it's easier to simply avoid eating too many things that are ready-made, processed or in a packet and stick to primary/natural foodstuffs that I prepare myself. For that reason I like the book 'In Defence of Food' by Michael Pollan where he suggests (amongs other things) eating nothing with more than five ingredients, anything making health claims or anything with ingredients that you can neither recognise nor pronounce

Battlefront Mon 17-Dec-12 10:41:29

CogitO, isn't the issue though that the listed ingredients are not what they seem e.g the MRM might be listed as "beef" which it is, but...

Wax is no secret, but it is surely a surprise to most to learn exactly what kind of wax it is. (although is wax secreted by the lac bug different/worse than that from bees OP?)

I agree wholeheartedly about not using processed foods. Another sound bite I like is not to eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't have recognised as food.

CogitOCrapNotMoreSprouts Mon 17-Dec-12 11:08:53

MRM may be listed as beef but the product it appears in is going to be highly processed by definition..... cheap burgers, nuggets, sausages etc. If you only ever buy whole muscle meat or good quality mince you will never encounter MRM

MoreBeta Mon 17-Dec-12 11:23:31

I have been doing some research into bread and make my own bread.

I read a fantastic book called Bread Matters which talks about modern bread making and was shocked to discover how many chemical components are included in bread but not listed on the packaging. The reason they are not listed is because the bread industry is quite legally allowed to use certain chemicals that are a 'component of the cooking process' which leave a residue but they are not ingredients.

I urge you to get the book from the library and have a read of the front chapters. The author (Andrew Whitley) also does give some fantastic real bread recipes from his own bakery. His website for the Real Bread Campaign has some summary information about a wide range of bread additives.

sipper Mon 17-Dec-12 14:51:04

MoreBeta and Battlefront that's exactly it and it sends shivers down my seems there's so much that's allowed to be added to foods or used during the 'process' but doesn't need to be declared. Hopefully some food manufacturers are evolving their processes and might be improving things but I wish there was more transparency in what happens behind the scenes. I'll read all the books recommended. Would love to find a growing source that's constantly updating - with the good (improvements) and bad (the undeclared stuff).

I don't know the pros and cons of beeswax versus that secreted by the lac bug and scraped off the tree - I just googled it and all I could find was details of how to use each kind of wax in the preservation of wooden furniture! I did though come across the following info - is this right do you know??!! "Shellac is processed and sold as dry flakes, which are dissolved in ethyl alcohol to make liquid shellac, which is used as a brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish. Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. A psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs known, ethanol produces a state known as alcohol intoxication when consumed. Best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, it is also used in thermometers, as a solvent, and as a fuel. In common usage, it is often referred to simply as alcohol or spirits." This does worry me as my middle DD currently has a health prob that means anything with even a trace of ethyl alcohol would be bad news. I also saw that loads of places, including the Tesco website, recommend cleaning the wax of lemons before using. Hmmmm.....

MulledPinot Mon 17-Dec-12 14:57:01

Oh what a great thread. I've been thinking about this issue alot recently (health problems prompting it).

Great thread and agree (sorry Cogito) it's not enough to read labels thoroughly - there are massive loopholes still. (I also wonder why loopholes are allowed?)

MoreBeta Mon 17-Dec-12 15:01:10

sipper - problem is that fresh food generally decays quickly and we now have a food manufacturing and food retail industry that is massive in scale. It needs to be massive to deliver food at lowest cost to an increasingly urban population that is time poor and does not shop every day. As a result we have very long supply chains from field to plate and food must stay 'fresh' for several weeks. To meet this need we need to add these chemicals.

The only TRUE way to avoid it is to buy fresh, local, unprocessed food and cook it all yourself. Time consuming and difficult to do if you live in a town and work long hours.

sipper Mon 17-Dec-12 15:19:08

Hi MoreBeta thanks for the info; yes, totally understand that and generally try and buy in exactly that way.

But I would like to know what's what so I can decide whether I do or don't want to buy something. Regardless of food industry's reasons, I feel they ought to be obliged to tell us what's been sprayed on, even if they way it's been washed off again, or what's been added and is invisible in the ingredients list.

There's so much talk about traffic light systems and clear labelling, but it all misses the point that there's so much more in or on our food than we get to know about.

Forgetting pesticides at point of growing, or what's done to the soil, would organic mean we are buying something that's free of these secret chemical processes?? I hope this question is as stupid as it seems and that organic is free of all these added nasties!! That would at least mean one option that's above board...???


MousyMouse Mon 17-Dec-12 15:31:06

pinot it's a bit like with medicines, if something is used during manufacturing (ethanol for example) that then is not found in finished product it isn't declared. similar things: sugar coated chocolate buttons/tablets. in both cases the coating is treated with wax/shellac to make them easier to swallowand to stop them sticking together. in order for the coating to stick, it's dissolved in ethanol (or similar) which later evaporates =not in finished product=not on the label.
the difference is that with medicines the quality control is extensive (and expensive).

sipper Mon 17-Dec-12 15:56:05

MousyMouse are choc buttons really coated in shellac???

MousyMouse Mon 17-Dec-12 16:04:12

no, usually beeswax or carnauba wax (which comes from a tree).
shellac is quite expensive and has certain properties, it can withstand stomach acid.

sipper Mon 17-Dec-12 16:39:25

Thanks MousyMouse. I'm not surprised it can withstand stomach acid, it's pretty yukky when trying to get it off a lemon.

Has anyone found a website that has all this info and is frequently updated?

MoreBeta Mon 17-Dec-12 18:23:17

"...would organic mean we are buying something that's free of these secret chemical processes?? I hope this question is as stupid as it seems and that organic is free of all these added nasties!!"

Well it might and it might not. Organic food has to be certified but there are different certifying bodies and each may have different rules.

It really is an obstacle course understanding what is introduced into food during processing let alone how it was reared/grown/produced, welfare standards, food miles and ethical considerations about whether the original food producer was treated fairly all add complexity to the food buying decision.

MoreBeta Mon 17-Dec-12 18:26:17

Is bread made with organic flour still organic if you put certain types of flour enhancers and raising agents in?

Its a difficult question and it depends who you ask.

TickledOnion Mon 17-Dec-12 19:44:13

Unless you eat the lemon peel why does it matter what is on the skin? You can buy unwaxed lemons for zesting.

sipper Mon 17-Dec-12 21:07:26

MoreBeta do you know if some organic standards allow for chemicals in the production process? Seems a bit bonkers to buy something like organic chicken in order to reduce the chance of eating meat that's been fed antibiotics, only to have had it blasted with some toxic chemical instead. Think I might start a website and anyone who has info can just add their bit to it. Like a wiki-notonthelabel...!

MoreBeta Mon 17-Dec-12 21:14:29

sipper - I dont know but obviously I would like to think not.

Slightly off topic but some organic meat produced outside UK is raised with poor welfare standards. I personally have significant misgivings about the welfare of outdoor reared pigs.

It really is a minefield. If you buy organic you automatically assume that means good welfare too. It does not always necessarily mean it is.

In the end 'organic' has become yet another marketing tool often run by and for big food manufacturing and big retail. I'm not sure what it really means anymore.

sipper Mon 17-Dec-12 21:44:48

Re. the original question - anyone got any other suggestions? Three v interesting sounding books so far. Thanks a mill for any info.

sipper Mon 17-Dec-12 22:40:53

And another thing........!

Are there any natural/organic/chemical-free perfumes? (Oh, and which smell nice smile)? I've been reading these:

Anyone fancy getting together to set up a 'not on the label' website where people can share info? A sort of not on the label directory?? Would anyone use it/contribute info to it?

Or are there any organic farmers reading this thread who can put me right on the purity of organic food (and other products?).


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