A few years ago, we were appalled to learn about honey laundering ― the act of bulking up honey with cheaper sweeteners. Then a couple of months ago we were informed that we’ve been sprinkling wood pulp on our pasta along with our Parmesan. Italian night will never be the same.
The food world is full of fraud and the recently published book, “Real Food Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It” by Larry Olmsted reveals just how deep this fraud goes. It turns out that many of our favorite, most celebrated foods are in fact shrouded in lies. A lot of these foods are a regular part of our everyday diet, too.
Here are nine of the most common offenders:
Coffee: We’ve told you before, and we’ll tell you again, always buy whole bean coffee. The already ground stuff is not as good for a variety of reasons, but the main one is because it allows the vendor to mix in other ingredients that act as filler. We’re talking twigs, roasted corn and ground roasted barley.
Olive Oil: Olive oil is one of the most adulterated foods in the world. The labels don’t always promise what they’re saying ― i.e. “product of Italy” does not guarantee that olive oil is made in Italy with Italian olives ― but it can also be cut with cheaper olive oils or other oils entirely, like soybean or even peanut oil. This is a serious problem for those with food allergies. To make matters worse, one study found that olive oils for sale were actually found to be stale and rancid.
Fish and Seafood: Beware of your fish market. All too often, the expensive fishes are swapped out for cheaper ones. Red snapper is almost always tilefish or tilapia. Grouper is almost never grouper. And sushi is basically a big fat lie. A study conducted by nonprofit group Oceana revealed that when ordering white tuna at a sushi restaurant, 94 percent of the time you’re served something else entirely. Lobster is often swapped for langostino, which is more closely related to the hermit crab than lobster.
Parmesan: Just this year, a study discovered that wood pulp was being used as a filler in most supermarket Parmesans. Seriously.
Grass-fed beef: The term grass-fed beef does not necessarily mean what we think ― cows fed on pasture. Grass-fed beef has come to loosely mean that cows were fed grass at some point in their diet, even if they happened in feed-lots and was mixed in with other types of fed.
Honey: Go for local whenever you can because “honey laundering” is very real. There are very few federal regulations for honey. A lot of the honey we consume comes from China, where bees are allowed antibiotics (which can seep into the honey) and where the flavor of poor-quality honeys can be masked with sweeteners and corn-based syrup.
Champagne: We all know that Champagne can only be given that name if it comes from the Champagne region of France, but that doesn’t stop American wine makers from labeling their sparkling wines as Champagne.
Kobe beef: Real kobe beef is almost completely unavailable in the U.S. You’re probably still getting a nice cut of meat, but it’s not Kobe. Kobe beef is only available in a handful of U.S. restaurants.
So, how do you avoid food fraud when it is everywhere? One way is to be aware of where it happens. Another way is to buy foods in their most whole, unprocessed form. (This allows less chance for products to be tainted.) Buy local whenever possible. And cook ― cook as much as possible.
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