Karen Foster of Prevent Disease presents twelve foods that most people don’t know are dyed or adulterated.
Orange cheddar cheese comes to mind as one of many foods people don’t realize is dyed. While some food colouring and adulterations are less harmful than others, many exist as toxic threats in the food supply. Almost any food you buy that is not its natural colour has the potential of being adulterated, even if purchased from a reputable grocery retailer.
Food fraud was recently defined in a report funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (University of Minnesota) as a collective term that encompasses the deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain. A more specific type of fraud, intentional or economically motivated adulteration of food ingredients has been defined by USP’s Expert Panel on Food Ingredient Intentional Adulterants as the fraudulent addition of non-authentic substances or removal or replacement of authentic substances without the purchaser’s knowledge for economic gain of the seller.
1. Orange Cheddar
To my knowledge there are no cows that produce orange milk. Yet, a majority of consumers are unaware that orange cheddar is dyed. Cheddar cheese acquired its classic orange color from annatto in the 1800’s when it was thought that high quality cheeses were yellow due to higher quality green grass fed to cattle. Annatto is known as the “poor man’s saffron” because it can be used to achieve a similar bright yellow color to saffron without the high price. Natural annatto is not itself toxic to human health, however there are some processed forms of annatto which are completely synthetic. This is often not clearly labeled on cheddar cheese ingredient lists and synthetic forms are often being labeled as “color added” rather than “artificial color”. This creates an allergenic potential and endangers consumer safety while providing difficult challenges for consumers who experience reactions since they may relate allergic reactions to intolerance of cheese rather than the color, although both may occur. Annatto is also added to butter, ghee and margarine.
Solution: Stick to white cheddar. All cheese should be white or slightly off white.
2. Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the most adulterated foods on Earth. The worst part is that there is little regulation or oversight on what constitutes virgin olive oils. To boost profits, for example, some producers have been caught adulterating the oil they label as “extra virgin” with much cheaper hazelnut, soy, or sunflower seed oil, among others, as well as mislabeling its country of origin. And they keep doing it because the profits in adulterating olive oil are “comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks.” Often the well-known brand-name olive oil companies you’re familiar with may not even realize that this trick has been pulled on them by unscrupulous suppliers halfway around the world–but you wind up with adulterated oil in your kitchen and on your food just the same. In recent years olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force.
Solution: Unless you have a very good nose, you may not be able to tell the difference if an olive oil has been adulterated or not. Don’t worry about colour. Good oils come in all shades, from green to gold to pale straw – but avoid flavours such as moldy, cooked, greasy, meaty, metallic, and cardboard. Ensure that your oil is labelled “extra virgin,” since other categories–“pure” or “light” oil, “olive oil” and “olive pomace oil” – have undergone chemical refinement. If you are purchasing a full bottle of virgin olive oil for less than $10-$15 per bottle, there is a good chance it is adulterated. Since most extra virgin oil nowadays is made with centrifuges, it isn’t “pressed” at all, and true extra virgin oil comes exclusively from the first processing of the olive paste. The absolute best olive oil is Ice-Pressed, a truly raw superfood.
3. Turmeric Powder
Turmeric powder is added to many foods to enhance yellow tints and colors. Although some ingredient lists will state turmeric, Metanil Yellow and Kesari Dal are often being added instead of turmeric. These adulterants are highly carcinogenic and if consumed over a continuous period of time it can also cause stomach disorders. Lead chromate powder has also been found in adulterated turmeric. Even raw turmeric powder sold as either pre-packaged or bulk has been found to be adulterated with these substitutes.
Solution: If you purchased turmeric powder and suspect it may be adulterated, dissolve half a spoon full of the powder in 20 ml of lukewarm water. Add a few drops of lemon juice or any commonly available acid at home. If the water turns pink, violet or purple, it shows the presence of Metanil yellow.
4. Black Pepper
Some manufacturers of black pepper are known to use papaya seeds to add bulk to their product. Papaya seeds in any modest quantity can cause serious liver problems and stomach disorders.
Solution: Float the sample in alcohol. Mature black pepper corns will sink whereas papaya seeds will float to the surface.
Most wasabi served at sushi restaurants is not real wasabi at all. It’s usually made from horseradish powder mixed with green food coloring and dry mustard. Real wasabi is one of the rarest and most difficult vegetables in the world to grow, which is why that fake stuff was created. The real thing is green Japanese horseradish root that gets mashed into paste and is incredibly spicy, and quite expensive.
Solution: If you really want to know if the wasabi you are consuming is the real thing, the first clue is the color which is usually slightly paler than the fake stuff. Smell wise, the real rhizome will assault your nostrils with one whiff, causing the eyes to water instantly. Taste also goes to the real rhizome — the sushi bar stuff has a bit more ‘heat’ but the real stuff definitely has much more flavor.
6. Pickled Ginger
Most of the processed pickled ginger (pink or golden yellow) that restaurants use is packed with aspartame and potassium sorbate, and some processors even use MSG. Aspartame, the main ingredient in Equal, NutraSweet and Spoonful, is an artificial sweetener. Potassium sorbate gets used as a preservative. Both are toxic. The pink ginger is dyed with red food coloring.
Solution: Some attentive sushi chefs shave their own ginger and pickle it themselves, but you would need to inquire to find out.
7. Carminic Acid or Carmine
Another very popular method of introducing red and pink into foods is cochineal extract. Cochineal dye has been around for centuries, but most people are not aware it’s crushed insect body parts. Sometimes it appears as carminic acid or carmine. The cochineal insect is native to Mexico and South America, and contrary to the popular nomenclature, they’re not technically beetles.
Solution: If this really grosses you out, read your ingredient lists and hopefully carminic acid or carmine will be listed instead of “added color” which could be anything.
8. Green Chillies, Green Peas, Other Green Veggies
Some frozen varieties of these foods still contain Malachite Green to accentuate the bright, glowing green colour of the vegetable. Scientists have found that exposure to malachite green may raise the risk of cancer, cause genetic mutations, and harm the human reproductive system. It has been used as a fungicide in some countries but was supposed to be banned internationally in the 1990s.
Solution: Take a small portion of the sample and place it over a moistened white blotting paper. Coloured impressions on the blotting paper indicate the presence of Malachite green.
9. Bright Red Meat
Although not a chemical dye, most meat eaters may be unaware that more than 70% of all beef and chicken in the United States, Canada and other countries is being treated with poisonous carbon monoxide gas. It can make seriously decayed meat look fresh for weeks. The meat industry continues to allow this toxic gas injection into many of the meat products people consume on a daily basis.
Solution: Don’t buy your meat at conventional grocery retailers. The CO gas is just a small part of the problem. Hormones, antibiotics, vaccines and other chemicals injected into cattle contribute to far worse health issues. If you must eat red meat, ensure it is organic, coming from pasture-fed animals.
10. Chilli Powder
Believe or not but some loose and bulk chilli powder is still adulterated with red brick powder or sawdust, for bulk. That’s right! At some point in your life you’ve likely eaten chilli powder that had construction materials in it.
Solution: Only purchase organic brands of chilli powder which are marginally more expensive and grown without any toxic chemicals.
11. Golden Honey
Most golden honey you see at your local grocery is dead and far from the health promoting powerhouse of its raw unpasteurized counterpart. Processed honey is not honey at all and if you desire any kind of health benefits, you must stick to the real stuff. But some golden honey is even adulterated with corn syrup, rice sugar and even water.
Solution: A cotton wick dipped in pure honey burns when ignited with a matchstick. Natural honey will light the match easily and the flame will burn off the honey. Fake honey will not light because of the moisture it contains.
12. Instant Coffee
Tamarind seeds or chicory powder are very popular adulterants around the world and used to add bulk and color to instant coffee. These can cause diarrhea, stomach disorders, giddiness and severe joint pains.
Solution: Gently sprinkle coffee on the surface of water in a glass. The coffee will float whereas chicory will start to sink within a few seconds. Also, the falling chicory powder will leave a trail of colour behind due to the large amounts of caramel it contains.
Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.