Strange Food Ingredients

Strange Food Ingredients

We are familiar with clothes labels and designer labels, but some of the most important labels have to do with the ingredients in our foods. There are some strange ingredients that consumers sometimes come across in food labels and we sometimes wonder what something means, but just overlook it, especially when something tastes good!

One example is the additives commonly found in ice cream and frozen yogurt. If you read the label clearly, you will see they have some “strange” names, which while might be considered “natural,” may actually be processed with chemicals.

Some of these terms were researched online and have been sourced to Lester Wilson, Iowa State University professor of food technology, and by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, D.C.-based consumer nutrition group.

They came up with the following answers:

Alkali processed cocoa – a chemical process for making cocoa from beans; often called the Dutch process, it produces a darker color and many make the chocolate taste sharper.

Annato – extract from the tropical annato seed; colorant producing butter yellow to peach shades.

Ascorbic acid – vitamin C, a color stabilizer, may be used as a nutrient additive. It occurs naturally or can be synthesized from starch.

Aspartame – trade name Nutrasweet; artificial sweetener. According to CSPI, can cause severe physical reactions; original cancer tests may not have been reliable.

Beet extract – used as a red colorant.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) – synthetic preservative; may keep carcinogens from being formed in food, but may also be linked to heart disease if too much builds up in the body. CSPI has also reported a study linking it to cancer.

Calcium sulfate – a naturally occurring salt; provides calcium; maintains texture.

Carob bean gum – derived from the seed of the leguminous carob tree; used to stabilize.

Carrageen – gum obtained from seaweed a thickening and stabilizing agent. According to CSPI, large amounts have been shown to cause colon damage in animals.

FD&C yellow #5 (Food Drug and Cosmetic Act yellow #5) – artificial coloring; according to CSPI can produce severe allergic reactions, particularly in aspirin-sensitive people. Federal law specifies it be labeled this way.

Fructose – the sweetest of all natural sugars, found in fruits, honey and some corn syrups; not metabolized as rapidly as other sugars.

Fumaric acid – an acid naturally produced in some fruits; used in fruit products for tartness; can be synthesized.

Glycerin – also called glycerol; related to sugar and called a sugar alcohol; used as a preservative; helps retain moisture and color; helps prevent crystallization.

Glucose – also known as dextrose or blood sugar. Present in many fruits, plant foods, starches and in the human body; used as a colorant and sweetener.

Grape skin extract – used as a red and purple colorant.

Guar gum – derived from the seed of leguminous guar plant; used to thicken, stabilize and prevent graininess. Considered natural. A prescription product for aid in constipation.

Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose – a gum from a chemically modified plant fiber; used for thickening; emulsifier.

Lecithin – a byproduct from vegetable oil processing; found in soybeans and eggs; used for homogeneity.

Locust bean gum – same as carob bean gum.

Malto dextrin – a carbohydrate byproduct from corn; helps prevent crystallization and maintain texture; occurs naturally, but may be chemically treated.

Microcrystalline cellulose (also listed as crystalline cellulose) – wood pulp treated with hydrochloric acid to produce a gum used as a non-caloric filler and stabilizer.

Polyglycerol esters of fatty acids – a synthetic product used for stabilization from corn, cottonseed, palm, peanut, safflower, sesame or soybean oils.

Polysorbate 80 – synthetic stabilizer and wetting agent.

Sodium carboxymethylcellulose – often referred to as CMC or cellulose gum – a chemically modified plant fiber, cotton, used as a stabilizer and to prevent crystallization.

Sodium citrate – a salt from citric acid, used to maintain acidity; occurs naturally or can be synthesized.

Sodium saccharin – synthetic sweetener, while 350 times sweeter than sugar; associated with cancer in studies.

Sorbitol – related to sugar and called sugar alcohol, a sweetener that occurs naturally in fruits; it’s a close relative of the sugars but about half as sweet. It is also a thickening agent. It is often considered better for diabetics because it is absorbed more slowly and does not cause a rapid blood sugar rise or promote tooth decay. Can be synthesized.

Sucrose – table sugar, from cane and sugar beets.

Tartaric acid – found in grapes; used for tartness.

Tragacanth – a gum; spice from the leguminous astragalus gummifer bush; thickener and stabilizer; one of oldest known natural emulsifiers. According to CSPI, may cause severe allergic reactions.

Turmeric – (tumeric) a spice from the root of an East Indian plant, related to the ginger family; used for coloring, giving food an orange-yellow shade.

Vanillin – synthetic vanilla flavoring.

Xanthan – a gum collected from bacteria grown on glucose — typically corn — (a natural sugar found in fruits, vegetables, starched and in the human body); used to thicken and stabilize.

For a comprehensive listing of the hidden ingredients contained in your foods, consult with