For those of you with celiac, gluten-intolerance or any other food allergy, you are probably very good at reading food product labels. Reading labels is a necessity. I firmly believe that you are what you eat — junk in equals junk out.
What most people don’t realize is that the other additives to our food come from a host of other “interesting” sources. I learnt a lot of these sources while working as a lab technician n the development department of one of Canada’s largest bread manufacturers (which I won’t name, but if you’re from Canada you know I’m talking about one of two companies).
Here is a list of some of the food additives, their sources and why you find them in your food. I’ll start with xanthan gum, because as a celiac it is in most of our recipes. Then I’ll continue with some of the other interesting additives. You’ll be surprised what you eat on a regular basis.
xanthan gum: is a polysaccharide (also known as a complex sugar or a carbohydrate) that changes the rheology (elasticity, plasticity and fluid mechanics) of food. Specifically it is known for increasing the viscosity of liquid, that is, it makes liquid thick. It is produced through a fermentation process, similar to making alcohol (wine, beer) except you don’t use yeast to ferment sugar, you use the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. What you MUST remember about this additive is that the more you manipulate the xanthan gum, the more it will sheer. This is why you should NEVER kneed gluten-free bread dough. NEVER! If you want perfect gluten-free bread, mix the dough until it is uniform and then stop. I guarantee you’ll have a better bread product. In sauces and dressing xanthan gum acts as an emulsifier (keeps the oil and water components from separating). You can be allergic to xanthan gum, its symptoms are very similar to the intestinal problems associated with celiac — bloating, diarrhoea, gas. You can also be allergic to the corn that is used in the fermentation process to produce the gum.
Carmine: is also known as Crimson Lake, Cochineal, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470 or E120. A less pure variety is known as cochineal extract. Any of these words may appear on a package. Other words that might be used instead of these are “added colour”, “natural colour” or sometimes “artificial colour” because carmine is actually a bright red pigment. It is considered a natural additive because it is produced from a natural source — the crushed shells of cochineal insects. Examples of food that contains carmine are: Yoplait strawberry yogurt, Tropicana grapefruit juice, campari, maraschino cherries, and pink lemonade. Yum. It is perfectly safe to eat — insects are a little disgusting looking, but they are not poison. Most Jewish councils do not allow this in kosher foods.
Shellac: also known as confectioner’s glaze, food glaze, resinous glaze or pharmaceutical glaze. This additive makes your food shiny and pretty. Found in many dessert type items. It is made from the resinous secretion of Kerria lacca, otherwise known as the lac beetle. Some Jewish councils consider this additive kosher.
L-cysteine: is an additive is a common additive used to make food flavours and aids in baking bread as it softens the texture and reduces processing time. Technically L-cysteine is just an amino acid, and its not an essential one – humans can make it all on their own. However, people who are quite young, old or have malabsorption syndromes may need to supplement this amino acid. So you may think: why is it such a big deal that they add an amino acid to my food? Well, the cheapest, easiest and most common method to get food-grade cysteine to break the disulfide bonds in hair’s keratin. It works best if you use straight hair (more L-cysteine) and that is why the majority of the world’s cysteine comes from plants in China where they hydrolyse human hair. I would like to strongly point out that this is NOT an urban legend, this fact can be found in many, many food science books worldwide. You’ll be happy to know that China banned the making of soy sauce from human hair in 2001. All of this brings new meaning to the phrase “Waiter! There is a hair in my soup!” — as an aside, a German company has now begun to manufacture this amino acid using non-animal sources — this is still an expensive process, and the manufacture from human hair is still common.
Rennet: Used to make cheese, curd or junket. Natural rennet is produced from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach of nursing bovines. Usually a bi-product of veal production. There are other natural replacements for rennet, but many traditional cheeses are still made using rennet. Vegetarians, or those trying to eat vegetarian meals should watch out for cheeses made using rennet.
Well, thats it for now. There are many other additives made from animals, insects and bacteria but these are the ones I thought were the most interesting. Especially the L-cysteine.
Filed under: celiac, commentary, Gluten Free, gluten-free products, personal note | Tagged: awareness, carmine, celiac, commentary, commercial products, eating, food, food additives, gluten, insects, interesting, L-cysteine, labels, rennet, rheology, shellac, xanthan gum | 2 Comments »