WASHINGTON – Frankly, we are usually on the side of the junk food purveyors. It is the excess that makes it wrong, not the idea. Like alcohol (and many other things), it is when there is too much, there there is trouble.
But a press release a few weeks ago from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that got us thinking a bit. CPSI is still on its crusade for natural ingredients and food colorings, rather than artificial. The most recent release said that some of our tastiest treats, including Starbursts and Skittles, are made with better (i.e. real) ingredients in the U.K.
The greater government oversight and public concern across the Atlantic results in McDonald’s Strawberry Sundae in Britain being colored with strawberries, but in the United States with Red dye 40. Likewise, the British version of Fanta orange soda gets its bright color from pumpkin and carrot extract, but in the United States the color comes from Red 40 and Yellow 6. Starburst Chews and Skittles, both Mars products, contain synthetic dyes in the United States, but not in Britain.
Fortunately, says CSPI, many natural colorings are available to replace dyes. Beet juice, beta-carotene, blueberry juice concentrate, carrot juice, grape skin extract, paprika, purple sweet potato or corn, red cabbage, and turmeric are some of the substances that provide a vivid spectrum of colors. However, CSPI warns that “natural” does not always mean safe. Carmine and cochineal—colorings obtained from a bright red insect—can cause rare, but severe, anaphylactic reactions. Annatto, too, can cause allergic reactions.
“Food Dyes: Rainbow of Risks” was written by Sarah Kobylewski, a Ph.D. candidate in the Molecular Toxicology Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Jacobson is author of Eater’s Digest: The Consumer’s Factbook of Food Additives (Doubleday, 1972).
This brings up the issue of ingredients. Not only are food products different in different places, they change from year to year, and evolve.
We happened upon an interesting fact regarding the old Barton’s Chocolate of New York. Seems back in 1974, it was resisting the trend to fake ingredients. Back in the 1970s, our friends at Monsanto Flavor had a whole catalog system of fake flavors, all on the governments Generally Recognized as Safe list. The fake flavors were not only fake, but included thickeners, so they would mimic the real flavors in cooking. Some candy companies resisted, some didn’t. But the ultimate effect was a giant bit of confusion for customers who were getting products that tasted worse because the ingredients were cheaper.
Do any of our readers know of other products that are better in foreign lands than ours?