It’s not surprising that food companies want the products they sell to look as good as possible, but have you ever wondered how such perfection is achieved? We’ve rounded up five of the most surprising things done to your food in the name of keeping up appearances.
How does salmon get its distinctive orange-pink colour? In the wild, it’s thanks to a shrimp-rich diet. However, a huge proportion of supermarket salmon is farmed, where the same appearance is often achieved using colouring and additives. You might therefore decide only to buy wild salmon, but that might not be the best solution either. With wild salmon stocks all but depleted, what is the ethical consumer supposed to do? Looking for MSC certified salmon is a good idea and reasonably affordable, but perhaps it’s time to enjoy other cheaper and slightly more abundant options such as mackerel and herring.
2. Tea bags
In the 1950s, tea bags really started taking off with consumers. Why bother with tea leaves when you can have that wonderful flavour in an instant? Less wonderful is the bleaching process that companies use to make their tea bags that brilliant white colour. Even today, many standard tea bags are dipped in chemicals such as chlorine or hydrogen peroxide to give them their perfect colour. Look out for unbleached tea bags next time you shop to avoid those unnecessary nasties. They’re a bit darker in appearance, but your tea will taste just the same!
You probably buy lemons every week, but do you choose waxed or unwaxed? Did you even know you had a choice? A huge number of the lemons on supermarket shelves are waxed to help them last longer, but also to give them an attractive, polished gloss. The wax is based on polyethylene (similar to plastic) or shellac (often used in manicures) or both. You’ll also find shellac in hard sweets like jelly beans – it’s how they get that impossibly perfect shine. Choosing organic will ensure that your lemons are wax-free. If you’re worried about shelf-life, keep them in the fridge in a sealed container and they’ll stay fresh for longer. As a last resort, if you can’t find unwaxed fruits, dip them quickly in hot water, then wipe with a clean cloth.
4. Perfect fruit & veg
You’re probably familiar with the plight of misshapen fruit and vegetables thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s high profile War on Waste TV show. The programme found that many UK farmers often have up to 40% of their crops rejected by supermarkets because they are not the right shape or colour – causing huge amounts of waste. In response to Hugh’s programme, some stores are now offering wonky fruit and veg alongside more perfect specimens, but if you really want to help farmers avoid the madness of supermarket policies, buy direct through your local Food Assembly or veg box scheme.
Beer is made from hops, malt, barley, yeast, water and not much else. Right? Wrong. Many beers also contain isinglass, a gelatine made from fish bladder. Used to make beer clear, bright and more attractive to drinkers, the ingredient is widely used in the industry. The good news for vegetarians is that alternative products derived from algae Irish moss or seaweed are starting to be used.
If you want to avoid these weird, unnecessary additions to your food then get to know your local farmers and producers. Buy real food direct from local suppliers so that you can have a face-to-face relationship with the people that make your food and drink – allowing you to find out how it’s made and exactly what ingredients have been used.