Do you read labels of the ingredients of various foods you buy from the supermarket? Are you curious about what those long tongue-tied words you stumble over mean and exactly what they are? Have you ever pondered on whether those ingredients are good or harmful for your body? Although they do sound a little scary, some of those food additives are not harmful but you should be aware of what they are and how they are made. Check out these 6 scary-sounding food additives below and see what they are and which of our favorite foods we eat regularly use them.
1. Xanthan gum
Sure the word “xanthan” sounds a little ominous, and yes, the stuff is made from the bacteria that cause black rot on broccoli plants. But xanthan gum is a pretty benign substance. When the bacteria (called Xanthomonas campestris, if you’re a scientist) is mixed with corn sugar, it produces a tasteless, colorless goop that can be used as a thickener. It keeps ice cream from crystallizing and is what gives gluten-free bread its spongy texture. Some people may be allergic to it, but it’s pretty much as harmless as you can get.
2. Tertiary butylhydroquinone
In his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan wrote that this additive –- known as TBHQ -– was “perhaps the most alarming ingredient” in a chicken nugget. He listed a bunch of terrifying symptoms that might result from ingesting a single gram of the stuff. Of course, to get a whole gram, you’d need to eat over 300 nuggets at one sitting. So while TBHQ is pretty nasty stuff, it probably won’t do anything bad to you in the short term. It’s an antioxidant; it keeps cooking oil from going bad. Derived from petroleum, it’s also popularly used in paints and varnishes.
3. Sodium stearoyl lactylate
You know how you use the expression “like oil and water” for two things that will never blend? Through the magic science of sodium stearoyl lactylate, oil and water blend perfectly well. It’s used in flour tortillas and many other packed baked goods. No studies have shown it to be harmful, but because the chemical is made from lactic acid, it does tend to make vegans a little nervous. Most of what’s used in food comes from cocoa butter and other vegetable sources, though, so they can eat all the tortillas they want.
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