‘Great taste’ may actually be due to harmful flavor enhancers

Posted by
December 17, 2013



When athletes are found to be using performance-enhancing drugs, they’re usually suspended and end up losing their standing in their particular sport — no matter how acclaimed they might be.

It’s a shame that the same standard doesn’t apply to processed foods.

I’m talking about all those products that make a point about how tasty, delicious and irresistible they are when a quick scan of their ingredients reveals all their claims of appetite appeal to be largely, if not completely, a result of their use of  flavor-enhancing additives.

These deceptive claims would be bad enough if they only involved cheating. Unfortunately, however, it can be hazardous to our health — including our brain health — when swallowing such assertions means we quite literally swallow the suspect substances that are actually behind them.

You don’t have to look very far to find examples of this insidious form of food fraud:

  • “For taste and more, it’s On-Cor”
    While it’s not at all clear what the “more” refers to in this frequently aired little jingle, the origins of the “taste” part become quite evident  when you stop to check out the ingredients in these frozen, ready-to-serve entrees.The Penne Pasta & Meatballs with Tomato Sauce, for instance,  not only contain the neurotoxic flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, but three other additives that trick your taste buds —  hydrolyzed soy protein, soy protein concentrate and autolyzed yeast, all forms of ‘hidden MSG” that can literally excite certain brain cells to death (especially in children). In addition to these “excitotoxins, the ingredients include partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil — sources of artery-clogging trans fats that the Food and Drug Administration has now  proposed be phased out of the food supply. (Might that  be the “more” referred to in the jingle, do you suppose?)
  • Bob Evans “New Look, Same Great Taste,” “Farm-Fresh Goodness”
    Those descriptions, coupled with a little history of Bob Evans products, certainly make them sound both appetizing and wholesome — unless our eyes chance to wander to that distracting list of actual ingredients that the down-home folks at Bob Evans would probably we just as as soon skipped over. That’s when you notice that the “great taste” of the Sausage, Egg & Cheese Croissants is probably due to the monosodium glutamate they contain.  And that’s not to mention some of their other additives — like the obesity-and-diabetes promoting laboratory sweetener high fructose corn syrup and enough partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil to register two full grams of artery-clogging trans fats on the Nutrition Facts panel. (How “farm-fresh” does that sound?)

  • “You gotta taste this soup!
    There’s that buzzword again — “taste” — that seems to trump all other values where many food products are concerned, used in another clever catchphrase no doubt conceived by some contemporary Don Draper on behalf of the client, Progresso.  Go on — just taste it — and pay no attention to words like “Corn Protein (hydrolyzed),” “Soy Protein Concentrate,”  “Modified Whey Protein Concentrate,” Soy Protein Isolate,” “Yeast Extract” and “Maltodextrin” listed on the side of the can (in this case, of Progresso “Rich & Hearty” Hearty Chicken Pot Pie Style soup, which is also described as “Rich, Hearty, Satisfying” Perhaps the real kicker, however, is what it says on a side panel — “NO MSG ADDED” and “NO ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS.” Apparently, all those hidden forms of MSG don’t count, nor  should “artificial flavors” be confused with “flavor enhancers,” which all of those additives are.  Eat hearty, now!
  • “A Delicious Home-Cooked Meal Is Just Minutes Away!”
    What could be a more trusted name in frozen food than Birds Eye?  So why would you even bother looking at the ingredients in the company’s “Voila!” line of skillet meals — especially when the package tells you up front that there are “no artificial flavors”? Of course, that may be a technically accurate claim, if, once again, you consider “artificial flavors” and “flavor enhancers” to be two different types of additives.  But should you chance to take a peek at the ingredients in, say, the Creamy Tomato Penne with Chicken, you might discover that what makes it seem so “delicious includes autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat gluten protein in the vegetables, as well as isolated soy protein in the white chicken meat. None of which are the types of things one might exactly associate with a “home-cooked meal.”

To be sure, there are food manufacturers that have been making a conscious effort to improve their products. But a lot of others have continued to depend on flavor-facilitating substances to sell their brands, confident that they still can fool enough consumers enough of the time into believing they’ve created superior-tasting recipes when what they’re really putting out there are injurious, additive-amplified impersonators.

Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to find out if you’re being fooled by food than by athletes, even if we can’t yet ban the culinary con artists from competing. Everything you need to know is right on display in that tell-tale list of ingredients.