The food industry is full of innovative processing and manufacturing methods that enable it to mass produce food products to feed the world. But with all its technological advances and amazing output, the food industry is still marred by sometimes using questionable ingredients that may be harmful to public health.
Here are 8 surprising (with a few startling) food facts you may not be aware of:
Food Facts #1: Frying potatoes in high heat to make potato chips and French fries produces high levels of acrylamide, a potent carcinogen. We all know that chips and fries are bad for us due to their high fat content, but now we’re learning that the way they are cooked could make them bad for us too. The truth is that all starchy foods that are baked, roasted or fried at high temperatures cause the sugars to combine with amino acids, and this produces high levels of acrylamide carcinogens. A healthy diet should limit or eliminate chips, fries, and other fried starchy foods. To minimize the acrylamide content in your homemade potato chips or fries, store potatoes in a cool, dry place (NOT in the refrigerator). Slice potatoes thin for chips or cut into fries, soak them in water for 15 to 30 minutes, and pat them dry. Then, fry at a lower temperature until they are golden yellow (not brown).
Food Facts #2: The gelatin in desserts is made by boiling the skins, cartilage and bones of cows and pigs. You probably never would have guessed that boiled cow and pig skins and byproducts are what make those delicious, jiggly gelatin desserts that we all love. Gelatin is also a major ingredient in gummy bears, marshmallows and candies. Primarily consisting of amino acids, gelatin is derived from the protein collagen that is found in the connective tissues of animals. To make gelatin, skin and bone byproducts of meat and leather production are treated either with acid or hot water to remove mineral salts. They are then treated again in acid or boiling water to break down the collagen. Extensive processing including filtration, drying, grinding and sifting eventually separates the collagen and creates a white powder that is sold as gelatin.
Food Facts #3: Most sausage and hot dog casings are made of dissolved, homogenized cowhides that were reformed into casings. Originally, sausages were made by stuffing pureed animal parts into the animal’s actual intestines. When sausages began to be mass-produced, it was impossible to continue using intestine casings. Today, some sausages use synthetic casings, but consumers prefer more natural-looking sausages with edible casings. So the food industry now uses collagen—the primary protein in connective tissues of animals—to make sausage casings. They are made with the cow hides that are chopped up and processed with water, lactic acid and cellulose fiber to form a slurry. Then, the air is vacuumed out of the slurry, the mixture is homogenized, re-vacuumed, and pressed into a thin, flat layer that is coagulated with salt, plasticized with glycerin, and dried. Then, they are ready to be filled with sausage meat.
Food Facts #4: Mechanically separated meat, a paste made of pulverized meat byproducts, is used in common products like hot dogs, burgers, lunch meat, and processed meat products. The meat extraction process forms a pink or reddish, slimy slurry, which is then mixed as a filler ingredient with low-grade meat products like hot dogs, lunchmeats, hamburger meat, ground beef, canned meat and other processed meats. Other names for mechanically separated meat include mechanically recovered meat, mechanically reclaimed meat and mechanically deboned meat.
Food Facts #5: Traditional pickles are made by putting cucumbers in briny water and allowing them to ferment. This produces a food that resists spoiling for months. “Pickling” refers to preserving food by immersing it in acid. Although many pickles are now made with vinegar (acetic acid), traditionally they were made by immersing vegetables in salt water and allowing them to ferment. Probiotic bacteria would produce lactic acid, which would preserve the vegetables and make them “pickled.” That means that like many other fermented foods, raw pickles are full of healthy probiotics that improve digestive and immune health. Traditional pickles are also made with mustard and turmeric, which are potent superfoods. To get all the health benefits of pickled foods, make sure to buy unpasteurized varieties in the refrigerated section at your grocery store. This is because the pasteurization process kills off most of the naturally occurring probiotics in foods, so unpasteurized is your best choice.
Food Facts #6: The soy sauce that you typically get in those little packets at restaurants may actually be a synthetic chemical soy sauce. Some chemicals found in synthetic soy sauces have been linked to health risks and are banned from import into various countries such as the U.K. Asian cultures traditionally fermented soy to make soy sauce, but it’s a lengthy process that can take many months, so food processors developed an alternative chemical soy sauce that takes just a couple of days to produce using “acid hydrolysis” (heating defatted protein with hydrochloric acid for several hours, and then neutralizing the acids with sodium carbonate). This method of rapid hydrolysis creates large amounts of an unnatural form of glutamic acid that is found in MSG.
Food Facts #7: Manufacturing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) begins with starch extracted from genetically modified corn. The first step in making HFCS involves turning corn kernels into corn starch. Since more than 80% of all corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified (GM), and since corn from different fields is all mixed together in huge silos before processing, this means that basically 100% of HFCS is GM. It is high in calories but basically devoid of any nutritional value. Experts say that HFCS is a major factor in the obesity epidemic in the U.S.
Food Facts #8: Popular citrus-flavored sodas and sports drinks made in the U.S. and Canada contain brominated vegetable oil that is banned in more than 100 countries. So why do beverage companies still use this additive? So the liquids in their beverages won’t separate and they will be more aesthetically appealing and appetizing to consumers. It is certainly something to consider the next time you have a craving for an orange or lemon-lime soda.
What we put into our bodies directly impacts our health and wellness. As a consumer, we must raise our awareness about what ingredients go into the foods we eat.