Orange juice in your OJ and honey in honey, right? No, sadly.
You’ve made a commitment to a better life style, no longer purchase processed foods, you buy fresh or flash frozen. You even make it a point to buy local when you can. And then this…not even your honey is sacred.
Food fraud aka adulterated food truly goes back as far as history itself. So common (and dangerous) in fact that the first laws regulating bread weight, size and ingredients can be traced to 13th century England. Other European countries also had begun to issue guidelines with severe penalties for offenders. In the 19th century, with the age of industry exploding, the potential for adulterating foods, resulting in death or severe illness was rampant. Laws were enacted based on the principals of ‘do not poison food’ and ‘do not deceive’.
It is still a struggle today. Even your spices may not be safe.
Here is a short list of seven of the most popular foods or ingredients you most likely have in your kitchen right now. Read this article about adulterated spices.
Honey – In the USA, it is estimated that 75% of the honey is adulterated by adding that American favorite and present in just about every convenience food that tastes even remotely sweet – HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup), sugar syrup or just water. If it is runny, you can be sure of it being stretched or over ‘purified’. Pure honey does not separate nor does it have a foamy layer (sometimes found over thick, opaque ‘honey’). The other 25% may be ultra-purified resulting in how it is preferred in the US – runny and clear and may never crystallize depending on purification technique. Think about it. Do you really think there are enough bees producing honey that can easily supply a huge industry such as supermarket honey…without being stretched in someway?
Honey is one of the most mislabeled foods.
- How to test: Take a dollop of thick honey and drop onto a paper towel. Wait a few minutes. If a wet ring forms around the dollop…that is water and not honey. If it from a big brand name, you can be absolutely certain it has been adulterated and they still can say ‘Pure Honey’. That is because there is ‘some pure honey’ in it at one point. Another reliable test is to dip a cotton wick in honey and light it. Honey will burn.
- Solution: Buy local and organic where you can show up anytime yourself and watch the process. If this is not possible, support shops that sell it and guarantee its purity. And just get over it should you have it long enough that if starts to crystallize. That is quite natural and it will return to its original consistency if left to sit in a pot of very warm water.
Maple Syrup: This is another favorite easy to fraud product. I am not referring here to various grades of maple syrup but to similar practices as to honey. To that problem is also the fact that some companies not only dilute the maple syrup but add so called ‘natural identical flavoring enhancers’ aka. artificial flavoring.
- How to test: You can’t really. But price is a great indicator (consider as well the price differences between various grades). If it is cheap, it ain’t (pure maple syrup).
- Solution: Go by price and source.
Meat: The red meat problem is worth a website of its own. But to suffice it for the purpose of this article let us just keep to the agents used to fool you into thinking you are buying ‘fresh’ red meat. Ever wonder why the packaged meat in supermarkets looks to enticingly bright red? It is because of the carbon monoxide it has been gassed with. No longer fresh, older meat will always look fresh thanks to the carbon monoxide which does not extend the shelf life of the meat or certain fish. It serves to fool you, the consumer into thinking it really is as fresh as you think you are paying for. This is one of the reasons why when I do need meat, I go to a local butcher.
- How to test: You can’t really. These days, anything packed in Styrofoam and plastic wrap has been treated. Unless you are in a country like Switzerland where it is (still) forbidden.
- Solution: Locate a local butcher that you can talk to. Ask if he can order grass fed beef. It is far better to eat less meat but when you do, then quality organic meat. Order your cuts of meat and freeze. Talk to neighbors about group purchasing a side of beef or whatever other meat. Get out of the habit of one stop convenience shopping and support local suppliers. It’s usually only a question of interest in quality meat and organization.
Orange Juice: The favorite breakfast juice of millions, it has frequently been in the news for ‘higher than acceptable’ pesticides and fungicides. Besides containing colorant, often HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) in the US or a sugar syrup elsewhere and artificial flavor (so called nature identical flavor) it is has no fibre and is full of beet sugar, corn sugar, potassium sulfate, monosodium glutamate, ascorbic acid, and grapefruit solids.
It takes 0.2 billionth of a gram of lab produced artificial ‘nature identical flavor) to flavor a liquid concoction to mimic any juice you may purchase. Of course consumers wouldn’t really want that so packaging has bright fruits and clever advertising. Even misleading wording. My favorite is 100% natural. What that means is yes, there is a small percentage of 100% natural whatever juice and the rest is water, filler, coloring, sugar, possibly thickener. It is purposely misleading. 100% Natural in bright lettering is noticeable and the very fine print is usually illegible.
Think about it. How do you think a world company specializing in orange juice can produce year after year a product that always tastes the same? Top quality control and careful selection? No. Its that super cheap chemical flavoring and a big PR budget (imagine it: 0.2 billionth of a gram to a liter!!).
- How to test: You can’t really. Just take your magnifying glass with you and understand what is in the ingredient list you are reading.
- Solution: Buy seasonal from a good source and accept the fact that Mother Nature isn’t always consistent in producing uniformly shaped or uniformly tasting fruits all year round. There are other sources of Vitamin C etc. It is not a good idea anyway to be guzzling (as many do) down fruit juices. Whole fruit is better.
It takes 0.2 billionth of a gram of lab produced artificial ‘nature identical flavor) to flavor a liquid concoction to mimic any juice you may purchase.
Apple Juice: If you have ever pressed real apples, you know the juice is never clear. It is slightly turbid and it is only slightly thicker than water. If you can ever get really fresh pressed and not diluted, you may find it in the refrigerated section of a natural foods market. It will be pasteurized but that certainly is better than the stuff passed off as ‘apple juice’. Read about orange juice because the problem is rather much the same. Except thickeners, emulsifiers and even an additive to make it look a little turbid is also included. Again, nature does not produce consistent flavors in apples nor are they available year round.
- How to test: See orange juice. The same applies to all juices.
- Solution: See orange juice.
Coffee: This magic brew, beloved by millions comes in many blends. The problem though, is when you think you are purchasing a pure ground coffee of any blend, it may be adulterated with chicory, potato flour, roasted beans, roasted wheat, rye and acorns as well as burnt sugar (black jack) which serves to darken your brew. Add to that list, roasted date seeds, roasted soy beans, maltodextrin, figs and even roasted parchment. There are blends that are purposefully blended with chicory but this is clearly advertised.
- How to test: In a glass of cold water, sprinkle a little of the ground coffee on the surface. Coffee particles will float a while before sinking. Chicory will quickly sink and color the water. You can also take a good pinch of the ground coffee between the fingers. Pure coffee does not adhere well to itself. If the sample does stick together, forming a small mass, then most likely chicory, which is softer or ground date or caramel has been added.
- Solution: Buy unground coffee blends and grind your own. Become your own barista and enjoy your real coffee!
Olive Oil: Poor olive oil! Victim over and over again of unscrupulous suppliers who may be advertising extra-virgin olive oil when it is only regular olive oil or stretched with other oils such as generic vegetable, nut oils such as hazelnut or walnut, or sunflower oil. Italy cannot supply itself and keep up with the demand outside of Italy with Italian olive oil and for decades has used Spain as its main export supplier. As long as the olive oil is bottled in Italy, they may label it as Italian olive oil. The less unscrupulous may add a token amount of Italian oil to the Spanish oil. Most Italians are in denial about this but all the big name companies do it. The Italians wisely keep their own oil for themselves, however, in gourmet shops outside of Italy you may find true Italian olive oil, with the label of dominion. So, that wonderful ‘Italian’ olive oil is most likely falsely labeled Spanish olive oil. I live here in Spain and fortunately it is easy to purchase top grades from local presses or from families who sell their excess.
Italy cannot supply itself and keep up with the demand outside of Italy with Italian olive oil and for decades has used Spain as its main export supplier.
And on that note, it is an open secret that France buys red wine from Spain for similar reasons as Italy. It cannot keep up with worldwide demand for the perceived superiority of French wines. Trucks of wine in metal vats cross the border into France in unlabeled trucks and in the darkness of night. But I digress.
- How to test: You cannot, really. If it is great tasting, just enjoy it and don’t worry. Spain has excellent olive oil and assortments also of the gourmet standard.
- Solution: Do you really need one? Either buy from an expensive gourmet shop Italian olive oil and hope the impressive tag or label of distinction and dominion is true or get on a plane to the Toscana and buy local there and enjoy the fabulous views and great real Italian food!
There you have it. A short list of the most common adulterated foods. The list is by far not complete. Don’t even get me started on common adulterations in milk, truffle oil or blueberries that aren’t.
The moral of all this is to underline the importance of buying foods in as close to their original state as possible and process it yourself as you need it or in small amounts for storage or freezing. Be aware of adulterated food and buy local as much as you can. Make improvements where you can and most importantly, enjoy!