Most Processed Food Is an Imitation of the Real Thing
The goal of food technologists is to reduce the amount of real ingredients by finding cheap substitutes that mimic the authentic food. In doing so, chemicals and processes are used that turns the end product into something that looks, smells, and tastes like “good food,” but really is anything but. Rarely is real butter used for example, because it’s expensive. So they use additives that make the food taste like butter, but at a fraction of the cost.
“But they will still put in enough butter that they can put on the ‘made with butter’ label,” Joanna notes. “Another thing I discovered is that most processed food wouldn’t look at all attractive if it didn’t have colorings added. It would be gray and beige…
Flavorings do two jobs in processed food. They cover up the unpleasant taste that comes as a result of processing. Flavor masking is one of the main reasons why food industries use flavorings. But they also use flavorings to try and give food flavor when it’s been through a manufacturing process that has totally stripped it of flavor.
They have to try and add back something that sort of resembles the flavors that have gotten lost. Because food processing is high temperature and high pressure. Something has to be done to them to make them taste better again. That’s the logic of flavoring and coloring.”
What You Need to Know About the Clean Label Concept
She also exposed the industry concept of “Clean Label.” The food industry realizes that consumers don’t like long chemical-sounding names on the ingredients list. These names are known as “label polluters.”
To avoid having to list the chemical names of additives, they invented a Clean Label concept, which is aimed at removing all the old additives and long chemical names, and replacing them with ingredients that sound better. “Carrot concentrate” instead of “coloring” is one example of a Clean Label swap.
A related issue is the extraction methods used for these healthy-sounding extracts. While antioxidants are healthy, plant-derived antioxidants are typically extracted from the whole food using toxic organic solvents like hexane, which you cannot remove. Those solvents remain in the ingredient, and they’re not required to disclose any of this.
Perception Is Everything
The processed food industry is primarily driven by the perception of wholesomeness. The moment the food industry finds out that a labeled ingredient is perceived poorly, they will either rename it, or find an alternative that may be just as bad, or worse, that doesn’t have that negative association.
“Perception is a really good word for understanding what the food manufacturing industry is up to,” Joanna says. “They have this thing called perceived naturalness. Their whole job is to try give you ingredients that sound natural, but actually aren’t the same as natural. Another one is fresh-like quality. The industry doesn’t talk about fresh any longer. They talk about a fresh-like quality.
There are number of technologies that they can use behind the scenes and mainly on labels that will give products this fresh-like quality. Everything [related] to naturalness and freshness is being manipulated constantly.On my desk, at the moment, I have some chocolate chip muffins that I bought six weeks ago. I’ve got them on my desk and they have not changed in any way. They look identical. I’m keeping them as a sort of science project to see how they eventually, if they ever, change.”
There’s actually a whole section in the book dedicated to processed baked goods. Many grocery stores now have bakeries, where fresh bread is baked every day. But what many do not realize is that nothing is baked from scratch.
As Joanna says, these bakeries are little more than “tanning salons” for processed frozen products pre-cooked in factories thousands of miles away. Another factoid: When baked goods are sold loose this way, they do not require an ingredient label. So that’s another way they can get away with not disclosing what the ingredients are.
“One of the reasons I started writing the book is because I knew that if I made a muffin at home, it didn’t taste anything like a bought one. I wanted to find out why. It’s really interesting to find out why because the ingredients are completely different and the processes are completely different. And these are great lies perpetuated by food manufacturers—that what goes on in the factory is just a scaled up fraction of home cooking. But that really is a lie. It’s quite a different activity.”