Saturday, June 29, 2013


No, I don't mean the kind of "fake food" that artists very cleverly make as props for photo shoots, for restaurant display windows, films, theater productions - or simply for home decoration. What I am talking about is fake ingredients in our food, and occasionally, a totally fake food product (claiming to be something it is not). Annoying, yes, if we are not getting what we want. But can it also be unhealthy?

A report by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) has argued that more and more of such "fake ingredients" are being used in our food products. Other organizations, such the National Consumers League have also done studies and tests that confirm this finding. The reason, of course, is to reduce costs - and increase the producer's net profit. Is this yet another effect of the recession on our food supply?

Liquids and ground foods are the easiest to adulternate. Here are some examples - though there are many more:
• Honey may contain large quantities of corn or cane sugar instead of real honey
• Olive oil may be diluted with cheaper oils
• Lemon juice labeled 100%, may actually be diluted with water and sugar
• So-called 100% pomegranate juice may be diluted with other cheaper juices
• Tea has been found to contain fillers like lawn grass or fern leaves
• Spices such as paprika or saffron may really be other ingredients that have been dyed with food colorings
• Expensive seafood such as tuna or albacore in your sushi may instead by some cheaper fish such as escolar.

But can such food actually be unsafe? Well, sometimes it just means a nutritional loss, and that's about it. At other times there can indeed be health risks - and not only for people with food allergies. It has also been argued by the FDA that if fake ingredients are used by a food product producer, they may also be cheating on other aspects - such as safe production practice.

Let's take spices. The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Decisions about Risky Foods, warns against buying spices, especially ones such as paprika and saffron overseas where they are usually much cheaper than in the U.S. Such spices could well be unsafe because of dangerous food colorings used.

One of my best friends brought back saffron from Morocco - including some for me (I guess she had not read that part of the book, or had forgotten...), and then discovered it was fake. She didn't buy it at a market. She bought it in a very elegant "tourist" spice shop, where she was taken on a very reputable and expensive tour.

Of course, most of these spices, when sold in the U.S. or Canada, are also imported. See The Safe Food Handbook for more on this topic - and how you can be safer.

To your good health,