Posts filed under ‘Ingredients’
Perhaps you are aware of the tiny war being waged on the “ingredients” panel of your average processed food. The law requires that ingredients be listed. But every food processor knows that more and more consumers are wary of the multi-syllabic mystery chemicals that make possible the magic of modern food. So the food industry is very interested in what grad-student types call “semantics”: how things get named.
Controversies over naming go all the way back to the dawn of processed foods. One of the first had to do with a corn derivative that was having an image problem. The common name was “glucose,” but food reformers’ attacks had made consumers suspicious of an additive reputed to be concocted of arsenic, saw dust, and glue. So the corn industry came up with a much nicer sounding name: corn syrup.
I thought of this when I read about a new additive known to the trade as Verdad Power F80, a preparation developed by Dutch company Carbion Purac that is designed “preserve the freshness and flavor of a variety of fresh and ready-to-eat foods, including sauces, salads and bread.” No stranger to the label wars, Carbion Purac assures its customers that this additive can legally be named on ingredients lists by a much more benign title: fermented sugar.
Carbion Purac claims the additive is “natural” and the product of “minimal processing.” Something about “the latest in fermentation and spray-drying technology.” I don’t know what that means. But I do know what this means: “With Verdad Power F80 we …. can now offer food processors a greater choice of label-friendly ingredients.”
Maybe I’m being too curmudgeonly. Verdad Power F80 does seem to be less of a chemistry experiment than many other additives. So isn’t that a good thing? I’m not sure. Does a dose of “all-natural” preservatives really make it that much better to chow down on Twinkies and PopTarts?
One of the surprises in my candy research has been the intimate and unexpected connections with liquor. Brandy drops and the like barely scratch the surface. Take, for example, the case of invertase.
Invertase is one of the candy chemist’s little secrets. It is an enzyme that splits sucrose (table sugar) into smaller pieces: glucose and fructose. You can buy invertase from kitchen chemical supply companies. It is used to make fondant smoother. And most important, invertase is the magic ingredient that makes possible dipped chocolates with liquid centers. Confectioners start with a solid, fondant center made with invertase; after the solid center has cooled, the invertase goes to work and within a few days, the fondant has turned to liquid.
Invertase sounds like a scary chemical additive, but actually it is active in all kinds of natural processes. It is what helps bees transform nectar into honey. And each of us carries around our own personal supply, right in our own mouths as part of the chemistry of saliva.
Invertase was first discovered by nineteenth century chemists who were studying the effect of yeast on sugar. They noticed that the sugar changed form before it started fermenting, and eventually they isolated the enzyme that caused this effect. By 1900, processes for deriving invertase from yeast were well known, and over the next decades chemists would develop many uses for invertase derived from yeast, most importantly in candy-making.
And where did that yeast come from? Some of it may have come from factories like Fleischmann’s that were manufacturing yeast for home and commercial baking. But some of it came from breweries.
Yeast is a by-product of the beer brewing process; when the beer is done, the yeast settles at the bottom of the tank. Storage and re-use is possible, but there are some difficulties. Instead of throwing it away, some brewers’ ended up donating or selling the waste to be turned into invertase.
One chemist, by the name of Sidney Born, was able to complete his 1913 dissertation on the chemical constitution of invertase thanks to the generosity of the Jacob Ruppert Brewery, who furnished Born with 200-pound barrels of compressed yeast from time to time. Born describes a complicated and tedious process lasting several weeks; eventually, 200 pounds of yeast would yield 200 grams of invertase.
Based on Born’s process, I calculate almost a pound-for-pound transformation from yeast to finished candy product. Candy makers using invertase undoubtedly accounted for a huge quantity of brewery waste after Prohibition ended.
So there you have it: from beer to candy, via the chemistry lab, and a nice story about industrial recycling as well.
Sidney Born, The Chemical Constitution of Invertase, 1913 at Google Books
Norda International can make anything taste like anything else. And if this 1970s era ad is to be believed, what everything will taste like tomorrow is candy. Which, when you think about it, makes total sense.
This ad is featured in Bee Wilson’s Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, From Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee (2008). It’s a terrific book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in fake food.
Book writing is cruising along, so apologies if you’re not getting your regular Candy Professor fix. I’m working on a chapter on candy adulteration and “poison candy” right now. Wilson has been by my side for weeks, along with a few other more “academic” histories of the Pure Food movement. By the way, about that poison candy? File it under “urban legend.”
I ran across this item in a June, 1918 issue of The American Food Journal:
Cactus candy is now being made in Louisiana from the spineless cactus grown for cattle food. Tills Candy makes a palatable confection, with only a reasonable amount of sugar used, the cactus being peeled, dipped in hot sirup or molasses, and coated with granulated or powdered sugar. … Cactus candy can be made by housewives on southern farms, using home supplies of cane sirup, a standard farm product of the south.
Add this to my “candy from anything” file… (see also: potatoes, lima beans, yams, garlic, cottonseed, alfalfa…)
- Some Candies You Won’t Be Making for the Holidays
- Eat More, Weigh Less: Bulking up Candy With Vegetables
The Sneaky Chef was right all along! You remember the Sneaky Chef: slip a little spinach into the brownie mix to make sure Junior eats his vegetables. Adding hidden vegetables has been promoted as a way to increase vegetable servings for picky eaters, especially kids. Now we have a new reason: appetite suppression, and maybe even weight loss.
In a study published in February, scientists added pureed cauliflower and squash to macaroni and cheese, and offered it to a hungry bunch. Another day, they served up regular mac-n-cheese to the same group. Everybody ate just as much, serving wise. But when they were eating the cauliflower-spiked version, their total consumption was nearly 300 calories less. So the vegetable bulk satisfied them with fewer calories. (For a more complete discussion of this research, see Tara Parker-Pope, “Adding Food and Subtracting Calories,” NYT 2 May 2011.)
The lesson is clear (and not surprising, if you’ve been eating as much salad as I have lately): bulk up with vegetables! This got me thinking: what about candy?
Now the idea of bulking up candy with vegetables is actually not new at all: Mary Elizabeth Hall first proposed the idea in 1912 (yes, one hundred years ago!) in Candy-Making Revolutionized (see my post here). Most famous is her recipe for Lima Bean Taffy: so delicious, you’ll never notice the beans! Call her “Sneaky Chef, beta version”.
Hall’s vision never really caught on. But with our new national commitment to slimming down, and scientific studies to back up the basic idea, it is time for America’s confectioners to step up with some bulked up candies for the twenty first century.
This wouldn’t be the first time Americans looked for ways to reduce the sugar in candy. In the U.S., the use of bulking foods and candy fillers was a way for candy makers to compensate when the price of sugar rose or availability fell, most notably during WWI and WWII (more on this in my post here). The primary fillers to take the place of sugar (and chocolate, to a lesser extent) were nuts, fruits and cereals. Nuts and fruits in particular were perishable and expensive, so there was a significant trade off. When beet sugar and corn-based sweeteners became cheap and plentiful, candy makers became much less interested in exploring creative ways to make more candy with less sugar. So looking back at the candies of yester-year might inspire some new versions of candies with more bulk and fewer calories.
Another place to look is outside the U.S., at candy traditions in places where local tastes and preferences might be very different. For example, I think of the bean-paste based sweets of east Asia, which I confess to finding a little peculiar. But surely someone can adapt this sort of bean confection to American palates. Other countries offer candies that might travel with little translation. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I was astonished to discover how many sorts of local candy are produced, quite delicious and based on tropical agricultural products: orange paste, guava paste, sweet-potato, and many many varieties of coconut. Puerto Rican candy makers create grainy sugar bases and several gradations of caramel as a binder for the coconut, and may also add ginger, pineapple, or other nuts. So the bulk of the candy is fruits and nuts, and the sugar is just holding it together. These are delicious, sweet, satisfying and interesting.
I’d be very happy to see the big food conglomerates put more of their energy into developing confections along these lines, and less energy into the kind of food fakery and marketing spin that is the general atmosphere of “healthy snacks” these days.
Any other ideas?
Let’s add this one to the current corn/sugar debates:
This is a 1928 ad from Corn Products Refining Company. Cerelose is a trade name for dextrose, which is a crystalline form of glucose. Recall that normal sugar is sucrose: glucose and fructose combined.
Already by the 1920s corn was an important source of food ingredients, especially sugars produced through enzymatic transformations of corn starches. Several important historical forces were pushing corn into the food supply, especially candy:
- Wheat and sugar shortages in WWI–corn was a favored substitute.
- New technologies of sugar extraction–corn was a domestic and cheap source of sugar products.
- Prohibition–grains that used to go into alcohol were now diverted to other food processing uses.
What is really interesting about this ad for Cerelose, though, is its appeal to the new science of sugar metabolism.
Recall the recent alarms raised by Gary Taubes in his account of the dangers of sucrose and HFCS: the big problem is the fructose, which is metabolized by the liver and believed to be implicated in metabolic syndrome (see my post on “toxic sugar” here).
The current damnation of (refined) fructose goes hand in hand with the demonization of high fructose corn syrup and its increasing portion of the national caloric burden. But as we can see from this Cerelose ad, the effort to distinguish “good” glucose from other sugars is not new. In fact, here the promotion of glucose as the most metabolically ideal sugar is in the service of promoting nothing other than sugar derived from corn, an irony that might not be fully appreciated by the current foes of “corn sugar”.
The ad claims that since Cerelose (glucose) is directly utilized by tissues, it won’t make you fat. The implication is that beet and cane sugar–sucrose–which combines fructose with glucose, will make you fat because it is not the “normal blood sugar” of the body. Incredibly, this is almost exactly the conclusion Taubes is popularizing based on current research.
Is it true that Cerelose, or glucose, tends to form tissue rather than fat as this ad claims? This would raise a beacon of hope for all of us who are looking at our sugar bowls with a little more trepidation… But unfortunately, glucose is no where near as sweet as fructose. That’s why its HIGH fructose corn syrup that substitutes for sucrose; plain old corn syrup (glucose) just isn’t sweet enough.
Will dextrose/glucose based candies start promoting “fructose free” on their labels? Back in the 1940s, candies advertised that they were “high in Dextrose” for extra energy, so it wouldn’t be totally unprecedented.
I’ve written several posts on corn sugar, as it comes up again and again in the candy archives. Here’s a round up of relevant previous posts:
- Glue-cose, Or, Why we call it “Corn Syrup” Back in the early 1900s, corn growers were having trouble selling their corn-derived sweetener known as “glucose,” because everyone thought it was made of glue. Enter “corn syrup,” wholesome and pure sounding, until now.
- Corn People: How It Started In the old days, corn was animal feed. WWI food shortages changed everything. Now corn was patriotic people food.
- Corn Into Candy: 1918 With WWI sugar rationing, candy makers showed their stars and stripes by substituting corn syrup and other corn-derived ingredients.
- Beer and Candy III: Annheuser Busch and Corn Syrup Prohibition gave the shift to corn sweeteners an extra boost when beer makers looked for something else they could do with grains.
- Sweetose: Better Candy from the Chemistry Lab Sweetose was modified corn syrup, made sweeter by combining maltose with glucose. A forerunner to high-fructose corn syrup.
- Candy and Corn: “Rich in Dextrose!” Corn refiners promote dextrose as “energy food.” WWII sugar rationing gives dextrose a big boost.
- Dextrose: All-American Corn Sugar Promoting dextrose as the “patriotic” alternative.
We think of candy as being all sugar. That’s what is so bad about candy, I’ve heard.
In 1926, an Ohio candy manufacturer put together this display after his customers complained too much about the price of his goods. Sugar prices were falling, but those candy makers still expected to be paid! The point of this display is to show the various and expensive ingredients that a candy maker uses.
Some variation of this “many ingredients of candy” was also a popular defense when candy makers sought to prove that candy was food: the milk, eggs, butter, nuts and fruit gave evidence that candy was made of the same wholesome ingredients as every other kind of food.
To me, looking at this from the vantage point of our over-chocolated present, it is refreshing to imagine the varieties of candies that once could have been concocted from these fruits, nuts and flavors:
Chocolate liquor, malted milk chocolate, vanilla chocolate, Swiss milk chocolate, light sweet chocolate, dark sweet chocolate, turpenless lemon, turpenless orange, raspberries, pineapple wedges, grenadine cherries, essence raspberry, arome grapes, oil orange, oil clove, spearmint oil, oil bergamot, oil cinnamon, essence maple, malted milk, evaporated milk, oil lemon, corn syrup, essence cherry, oil banana, strawberry fruit flavor, vanillin, menthol crystals, essence strawberry, essence pineapple, oil lime, pineapple, butterscotch bouquet, oil sassafras, vanilla, oil anise, peppermint oil, pineapple cubes, grated pineapple, carmine red color, vegetable color yellow, cocoanut, oil, G. P. glycerine, nucomoline, peanut butter, vegetable color green, vegetable color pink, macaroon cocoanut, toasted macaroon cocoanut, chip cocoanut, vegetable color orange, brazil nuts, pure licorice, pineapple fritters, citric acid, seedless raisins, muscat seeded raisins, cocoa butter, cream of tartar, thin boiling starch, agar agar, pure cane sugar, egg albumen, cane powdered sugar, granulated gelatin, cocoa powder, powdered milk, horehound herb, peanuts, gum Arabic, Valencia almonds, chicle, threaded cocoanut, walnuts, filberts, pecans, black walnuts.