Frustration with ignorance

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This post will not be a recipe. Instead, I have to rant a little bit about how frustrated I get when I see things posted online which stem from ignorance. For example, I have seen these sentences a few places around sites like Pinterest: "Only five ingredients, and no chemicals. Or, "Only have ingredients you have around your house." Or, "Doesn't have any ingredients you can't pronounce like those horrible, nasty processed foods."

I'm sorry, but really. I know it's asking a lot, but the idea behind those comments is ridiculous. They are implying that commercial bakeries are out there just to fill our bodies up with complicated chemicals and poisons and trick us with misleading ingredient listings. They seem to believe that the food you buy in the store is somehow not "real" food.

Really people?

As a professional commercial baker, I feel it is my duty to rid people of a couple of these misconceptions and hopefully get them to learn and understand a little bit about what is and what isn't in their food.

I guess the first thing to do is to try to define a few of the words that a lot of food bloggers throw around like battle cries in an attempt to somehow elevate their own humble (and not at all bad) recipes. I also need to say here that I am not dissing the recipes made by these people. My job, as in what I go to work every day to do, is to write recipes for a commercial bakery. I know how hard it is, especially when you are working under dietary restrictions like Celiac disease or around allergies/intolerance. My son can't have sugar or starch, so I can appreciate how hard recipe creation is. But don't use that as an excuse to vilify the food industry. That's just not cool. I guess the first one would be the word chemical.

How in the world do people define the word chemical? Depending on which dictionary you use for reference, a chemical can be anything from "a substance obtained by a chemical process or producing a chemical effect (Merriam Webster)" to "a substance with a distinct molecular composition that is produced by or used in a chemical process (TheFreeDictionary.com)," and including a substance which has "constant chemical composition and characteristic properties. It cannot be separated into components by physical separation methods, i.e. without breaking chemical bonds. It can be solid, liquid, gas, or plasma. (Wikipenia)". By any of those definitions, it seems that word chemical describes pretty much most of our standard home ingredients.

What, don't believe me? Fine. Let's look at some examples from a typical cookie recipe. Let us say that a typical chocolate chip cookie has the following ingredients:

Butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, salt, baking soda, flour, chocolate chips.
How many of these ingredients are chemicals? All of them, for starters (I have heard it said that all cooking/baking is chemistry). But to prove a point, why don't I rewrite that ingredient listing. Take a look at this:
An emulsion of water and dissolved salts and solids in a fatty acid matrix including butyric, oleic, and palmitic acids, with added sodium chloride; a dissacharide made from glucopyranose and glucofuranose; a custom blend of lipids, including sterols and phospholipids, surrounded by an alkaline protein sol; a solution of vanillin and 35% ethanol with other polyphenolic compounds; sodium chloride; sodium bicarbonate; a mixture of amylose and amylopectin, glutenin, gliadin, and various amine-based compounds; and chocolate pieces.
Before you ask why I didn't rename chocolate, let me tell you this—chocolate is one of the most chemically complex foods out there, along with wine and mother's milk. But going back to the cookie recipe, I admit that I wrote this in the most complex manner I could, and food companies are not allowed to write an ingredient listing like this, but it does prove a point, doesn't it. The only reason why our ingredient listings don't look like this is because we have nicknames for a lot of chemicals which are commonly used in the kitchen and around the house. Another quick example would be the common solution of water and sodium hypochlorite use treat our clothes with.

Oh, sorry. I thought you knew that I meant common bleach.

The point is that chemicals are everywhere around us without us knowing it. And no, that is not another way of saying that companies are hiding chemicals...We are hiding chemicals. We do it by giving them shorter, less technical sounding names.

That actually segues quite nicely into another complaint people have, namely that of evil food companies putting things into our food with polysyllabic names. Are you serious people? We are afraid of something just because it has a polysyllabic name and we haven't taken the time to learn how to pronounce it? I have only one thing to say about that notion: floccinaucinihilipilification.

The solution to this is simple. LEARN TO READ PEOPLE. Pronouncing words is a matter of education, not chemistry. Don't knock on something just because you can't say it. That's like saying people in other countries are unintelligent because they can't speak English as well as native Americans can (and no, that wasn't Native Americans).

And as far as a recipe only having ingredients you have in your house implying that it is free of unhealthy "chemicals," that is simply a matter of where you go shopping, not a matter of how safe any given substance is.

Lastly, the matter of processed food being unhealthy. I think this is one of my biggest soap boxes. Before I tear into this though, let me calmly define the word "processed." The word is the past participle of process, which Merriam-Webster defines as "to perform a series of mechanical or chemical operations on (something) in order to change or preserve it," and TheFreeDictionary defines as "a series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result." Now let me list a number of common commercial processes that happen to our food: pick, peel, cut, dice, shave, cook, blanch, steam, mash, mix, beat, puree, bake, extrude, dry, etc. In short, and in reality, a processed food is one which has been exposed to a process, meaning something has been done to it. This does not mean that something has been done to it, something horrible, nefarious, and dreadful. But rather that anything has happened to it. I have no problem with people referring to processed food or commercial food or even fast food. But I do take offense at the notion that something is bad just because it didn't come out of your kitchen, where frankly, you are doing your own bit of processing, and under much worse conditions that you will find in many commercial food production facilities.

So give the food industry a break, and do a bit of research before you rant about how horrible things are. I mean real research—not just going to Google and looking up the first two links it spits out at you.

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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