6. Your Honey and Spices Are Fake
If you’re like us and you only use spices to impress the opposite sex with the illusion that you know what to do with them, then it’s possible that you don’t even really know what that stuff is supposed to be made of. And that’s exactly where the food industry wants you, if they’re going to sell you fake bootleg spices.
Take honey, for example. You’d think it’s a pretty straightforward product — bees make it, bears steal it from the bees, you eat it. Or something. But the truth is that pretty much all the major players in the industry knowingly buy their honey from dodgy sources in China — a country that, for instance, has no qualms in purveying pepper that is entirely made from mud.
Wait, does that mean that pork comes pre-seasoned?”
Bootleg Chinese honey frequently has all of the pollen filtered out of it to disguise its origin, and it’s then cut like back-alley cocaine with cheap corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. The FDA says that a substance can’t legally be called “honey” if it contains no pollen, and yet most of the stuff tested from the main retailers contained not a trace of it.
Soy sauce is another thing you’d assume no one would feel the need to fabricate, seeing as soy isn’t exactly a rare commodity. Again, you’d be wrong. Proper soy sauce takes a pretty long time to make, so many manufacturers have started producing an imitation product that takes only three days to make and has a longer shelf life. It is made from something called “hydrolyzed vegetable proteins,” as well as caramel coloring, salt, and our good old friend corn syrup. Most of the soy sauce that you get in packets with your sushi is actually this fake stuff. But at least it comes with wasabi, too, right? If by “wasabi” you mean “horseradish mixed with mustard.” Let’s face it, you probably weren’t even served by a real Japanese person.
The worst offender is possibly saffron. The real stuff is up there with the most expensive spices at roughly $10,000 per pound. That’s especially impressive, considering that a lot of “top-quality” saffron consists of roughly 10 percent actual saffron. The rest is just random, worthless plant bits, ground up and mixed with the real thing.
And that’s what you get when you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you get the complete forgery:
See if you can taste which one has crayon shavings.
On the left, you see real saffron. On the right — saffron-flavored gelatin. Its appearance is convincing enough, until you put it in water and it completely dissolves, leaving behind little more than a bland aftertaste and a patch of froth shaped like a middle finger.
5. Your Chicken Is Pumped Full of Weird Liquids
There’s nothing as appetizing as a nice, plump, juicy chicken carcass, roasted to a golden sheen. We’re getting hungry just thinking about it. But as much as everything with a kind of indescribable taste is said to “taste like chicken,” it’s kind of ironic that you probably don’t actually know what real chicken tastes like.
For decades, the vast majority of our “fresh” chicken has been infused with a whole bunch of other substances, up to and including beef and pork waste. That’s bad news for Hindus, Muslims and anyone else who is choosing the chicken dish from the menu because contact with beef or pork is expressly forbidden by their religion.
But even when the chicken is untainted by cloven-hoofed contaminants, you’re still likely eating a bird that’s pumped full of chicken stock, brine and “flavor enhancers.” It’s called plumping, and it’s been standard practice in chicken production since around the ’70s. The industry explains that it’s to add juiciness to chicken that would otherwise be too lean and chewy. Sure, they neglect to mention the fact that the chicken is stringy and inferior because they’ve deliberately bred it to be faster and cheaper to manufacture, but at least they’re not technically lying, at least not at this point.
“Not bad. Now get it into the mold and compress it into a rough chicken shape.”
But food companies often blatantly overdo the required amounts to “plump” a chicken to tenderness by pumping their fowl up until the extra substances make up as much as 30 percent of the total weight, and we’re sure it’s just coincidence that chicken is priced by the pound.
But the weight issue is just the beginning. The industry describes the plumping process as “completely harmless,” in the same way a marathon runner’s nuts could be described as “pleasantly savory.” Plumping can up to quadruple the meat’s sodium levels, leaving it riddled with unnecessary salts. All attempts to “improve” the plumping formula to fix the sodium problem have led to a giant spiral of more and more crap being thrown into the mix, to the point where you probably don’t know what percentage of your chicken is even kind of chicken.
Of course, you can try to avoid it by only buying chicken that has “100 PERCENT NATURAL” printed on the label, and they will laugh at your cute attempts to cheat the system. Due to a technicality in regulations, all chicken — plumped or not — can be labelled as a completely natural product … as long as the ingredients in the plumping solution can be described as “natural” without anyone bursting into laughter.
4. Your Meat Might Be Made from Glued-Together Scraps
Unless you’re one of those people who substitute a lump of tofu for a real turkey on Thanksgiving, meat is meat. And don’t worry, we’re not about to tell you that the juicy slab of rib eye that you brought home from the shady discount butcher isn’t a real steak. In fact, it’s quite likely half a dozen steaks … as well as whatever else they swept off the slaughterhouse floor.
There’s a substance in the meat industry’s bag of tricks called “transglutaminase.” That’s an awful lot of syllables, so most people just call it by its nickname — meat glue. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Its intended purpose is for fancy chefs who sometimes need to stick different parts of a meal together after preparation (to make crab cakes and such), but it has another, shadier purpose among renegade butchers.
It goes like this: During the heavily industrialized process of turning animals into delicious food, there tends to be a lot of pieces left over that aren’t good for much but pet food. Transglutaminase can be used to glue these tiny bits together into a sort of patchwork slab, which looks a lot like one consistent cut of meat.
“The log is actually the most natural form for meat to take in the wild.”
Since the process doesn’t leave a trace, and transglutaminase isn’t among the substances required to be mentioned in the table of ingredients, you have fat chance of knowing it’s there unless you’re an expert at interpreting the seams in your meat. This process not only sells you scraps for the price of prime meat, but it also leaves you with a “steak” that might well be made from a dozen different cows, making it next to impossible to trace the source for your food poisoning, the chances for which are incidentally now tenfold, thanks to the uneven consistency of what you’re trying to fry up.
Meat glue works its magic just as well on chicken and seafood, which is bad news once again for our Muslim, Jewish and Hindu readers — transglutaminase comes from pig and cow blood. Well, at least that tofu turkey is pretty kosher.
And it can also be used as meat glue itself.
3. Your Salmon Is Dyed Pink
When you think of salmon in the wild, you’re usually imagining a bunch of strong, determined fish swimming upward through a waterfall, maybe while getting chased by bears. It’s the blood rushing through the powerful salmon’s veins that makes its flesh so pink and healthy as a bastard — by devouring it, you also absorb its strength and the spirit of the untamed Alaskan wilderness.
At least, that used to be how it worked. The salmon you eat today has never swum a single damn inch upstream. Instead of the Alaskan wilderness, today’s salmon only contain the spirit of the cramped, overcrowded salmon farms in which they spent their entire lives. Because the fish can’t move much and their diet consists entirely of aquarium pellets, the salmon that arrives at your local Safeway is as gray as a British winter.
So how do they recapture the soul of Alaska? They pump the salmon full of pink dye, obviously. The pellets they feed to those aquatic prisoners are infused with a line of coloring agents developed by the pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche and selected according to a color fan. That’s right — just like the ones you use to choose the color of your wall paint from the hardware store. Behold, the SalmoFan:
“Hey, it’s our anniversary, we’re allowed to splurge. Let’s order neon.”
This is no small-scale stuff, either. About 95 percent of Atlantic salmon is currently farmed, and pretty much all of it is dyed.
Of course, salmon is not the only thing in your grocery basket that isn’t really the color you think it is. Remember Perdue chicken, Frank Perdue’s famous poultry with the “healthy, golden color”? Turns out that the healthy, natural color was achieved with a mix of marigold petals and dyes. In the baked goods corner we have wheat bread, which is often dyed darker with brown sugar or molasses to make it appear more healthy. The peculiarly orange hue of cheddar cheese is also a careful mix of coloring agents, because the natural color of cheese batches varies, and being faced with variation reduces regular shoppers to confused and aggressive beasts.
“Be careful, they charge when provoked.”
For the red-meat lovers out there, rest assured that your hamburger and sausage meat is often dyed to a more appetizingly red hue that can cause cancer. But hell, who wants to eat slightly inconsistent-looking food?
2. Kobe Beef Doesn’t Really Exist
Seasoned carnivores know that Kobe beef is just about the cream of the crop, if you can afford it. The Japanese Wagyu cattle it comes from are raised with a very direct set of rules, followed with the kind of strict meticulousness you’d expect from a country where making a cup of tea is an hour-long ritual.
Luckily, the international market has made Kobe beef pretty widely available. Nowadays, many restaurants keep Kobe on the menu, and many a well-equipped meat purveyor is able to get his hands on a chunk every now and then. And as the markets open, the prices plummet — these days, you can totally enjoy a delicious Kobe burger for the relatively measly price of $81.
“Here’s your wrong burger with a side order of french lies. Enjoy!”
Say, ever wonder where all this sudden, delicious Kobe influx comes from?
Nowhere, that’s where. Every single restaurant and beef purveyor boasting Kobe beef is lying its ass off. You have never had real Kobe beef. Not in the U.S., not in Europe, not in Australia. Unless you actually flew to Japan and specifically sought it out, you haven’t had a shadow of a chance to even sniff a Kobe steak.
Nope, doesn’t count.
In fact, the strict rules that apply to Kobe production aren’t in compliance with U.S. legislation, which technically makes the meat more or less illegal stateside. And there is precious little Kobe beef to go around — so it doesn’t. With the exception of Macau, for some reason, Kobe beef is exclusive to Japan, and even there it can be a bastard to find.
So wait, what are they actually feeding us when we pick “Kobe” off the menu? Whatever the hell they want. The term “Kobe beef” is only subject to regulation within Japan, so for the rest of us, it can legally apply to anything that doesn’t violate the “beef” part of the description.
“That’ll be a million dollars.”
When you buy something labeled “Kobe beef,” it’s likely that you’re actually buying something with a vague explanation, like it’s prepared “in the style” of a Kobe steak, which probably isn’t enough to warrant the $80 price tag, unless you’re one of those creepy Japanophiles.
1. Your Olive Oil Is Fake, Thanks to the Mob
Even though it’s basically just fat, olive oil is one of those fabled “good fats” that sounds like “healthy cigarettes,” except that the folks at Harvard will even tell you that olive oil can prevent heart disease and generally help you live longer. It’s such a shame that you may never actually get to try the stuff, thanks to a shadowy global conspiracy that exists purely to keep it away from you.
As crazy as it sounds, olive oil piracy is one of the Italian Mafia’s most lucrative enterprises, to the extent that it appears that most olive oil on the market is either greatly diluted or completely forged by a massive shadow industry that involves major names such as Bertolli.
They’ve been at it for a while, too — Joe Profaci, said to be one of the real-life dons who inspired the character of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, was known by the moniker of “The Olive Oil King.” But evidence suggests that olive oil racketeering has been a major problem in the world for centuries. Hell, the ancient Sumerians had a fraud squad for shady olive oil peddlers.
Today, the stuff that is pawned off to us as quality olive oil is often just a tiny amount of the real thing, mixed with up to 80 percent of ordinary, less than healthy, cheap as muck sunflower oil. That is, if you’re getting any olive oil at all. In fact, we’re so used olive oil that apparently food connoisseurs reject the real stuff because it tastes fake to them.
But why would anyone bother? It’s freaking olive oil. How much money can there be in it when you can get a bottle for a few bucks at the grocery store? It turns out that, profit-wise, shady olive oil is comparable to cocaine trafficking. If anything, the reality would have really changed the atmosphere of the Godfather movies.