Food  
comments_image Comments

The 6 Weirdest, Scariest Processed Foods

Once upon a time, some brave scientists had a noble dream of ridding food of nutrients. That dream is closer to reality than ever.
 
 
Share
 
 
 

Once upon a time, some brave scientists had a noble dream of ridding our food of the plague of nutrients.

Today, at the start of the 21st century, the miracle of food processing has brought that dream closer to reality than ever before. From vitamin-free "blueberry bits" to spray-can cheese to avocado-free guacamole, food scientists have worked tirelessly to bring us new and exciting foods that contain as little nutrition as possible. Even apparently "healthy" foods such as soups have been ingeniously overloaded with so much salt you feel as if you’re eating French fries.

In this article, we’ll provide a handy guide to six uniquely unnatural processed foods that will hopefully serve as a blueprint for humanity’s eventual triumph over the tyrannical fist of Mother Nature.

1. Spray-Can 'Easy Cheese'

Dipping a butter knife into a tub of cheese spread and putting it on a cracker takes a lot of time and effort. Thankfully for all of us, the wizards at Kraft have developed a product that ensures we’ll never again run the risk of hurting our wrists trying to spread processed cheese. Kraft’s Easy Cheese cans combine the soulless tastelessness of its cheese products with the convenience and simplicity of whipped cream cans.

The most interesting aspect of Easy Cheese is its remarkable consistency. Normally, cheese comes in a solid state when kept at room temperature and only becomes liquid when melted at high temperatures. Easy Cheese, on the other hand, has a Goldilocks-like "not too solid, not too viscous" quality that makes it easy to spread on food without having it drip on your clothing.

According to an exposé in Wired magazine, Easy Cheese achieves this amazing texture by containing lots of unhealthy crap, such as the stain-removing chemical trisodium phosphate and a healthy dose of canola oil that keeps the cheese from solidifying. Oh, and they also load Easy Cheese with about twice the amount of salt you'd normally find in natural cheddar cheese.

But the best ingredient in Easy Cheese is calcium phosphate, which is used as a calcium supplement. "But wait," you say. "Why does a cheese product need calcium added artificially?" Well, as Wired speculates, the sodium phosphate could actually negate the calcium in the natural cheese. Thus, Kraft had to put in an additive that would make up for the calcium that's taken away through food processing. Genius!

2. Oreo Cookie Death Filling

It’s rare to encounter a food that makes you say, "If only this were as healthy as frosting!" And yet, the filling in Oreo cookies manages to accomplish just that.

You see, typical frosting is made mostly from butter, milk, sugar and vanilla extract. No one will ever accuse it of being good for you, but at least you're eating fairly natural fats. Oreo stuffing, on the other hand, is basically sugar-flavored Crisco. Seriously, that’s what you’re consuming when you eat an Oreo.

Oreos' death filling is so bad it even inspired an ill-fated lawsuit in California a few years back that tried to stop the sale of Oreos to children. While the suit was eventually dropped, it did introduce trans fats to the public consciousness and helped spearhead the campaign to make food companies indicate on their labels whether their products contained any trans fats, so it wasn’t a total waste.

That said, I think the best way to stop people from eating Oreos wouldn’t be to ban them outright but to force Kraft to rebrand them to reflect their actual ingredients. So let’s say you mandate that Kraft label its cookies "Criscoroes" and have the package depict a kid gorging himself in a tub of vegetable shortening. Yum!

3. Condensed Soups

Ah, soup. It’s the food mom used to feed us when we were sick. Every child has fond memories of being nursed back to health by sipping at the warm, nutritious broth of chicken noodle soup. Of course, mom probably didn’t realize at the time that she was setting you up for a future of high blood pressure and kidney failure. Because if she fed you condensed soup from a can, she was loading your young body up with insanely high amounts of sodium.

How insanely high, you ask? Well, consider that a mere half-cup of Campbell’s Vegetable Soup contains a heart-stopping 890 mg of sodium, or roughly 37 percent of your daily recommended sodium intake. But wait, there’s more! The typical Campbell’s soup can contains one-and-a-half cups of soup, meaning that one can of soup contains more than 90 percent of your daily recommended sodium intake.

To be fair to Campbell’s, it does have a "Healthy Request" brand of soup that contains roughly half the salt of Campbell's other soups. Still, one of soup’s supposed key virtues is that it isn’t a cheeseburger. In other words, when you buy a bowl of soup you shouldn’t have to "request" a healthy version of it.

4. Spam

Spam was really a major miracle of food science, as it solved a mystery that humanity had been trying for centuries to figure out: namely, how to make meat-flavored Jell-O. Developed in the 1930s, Spam is derived primarily from pork shoulder meat (seriously) and combined with water, sugar, sodium nitrate (of course) and copious amounts of salt. The result is a meat-like goo that derives 80 percent of its calories from fat and that delivers a whopping 790 mg of sodium per two-ounce serving.

Spam first hit the big-time during World War II when its highly preserved state made it the ideal food to feed to our protein-needy soldiers fighting over in Europe. Now there's a fine tribute to our fighting boys! Thanks for risking your butts against the Nazis, fellas, now here’s a mound of pork slime! When you think about it, it’s remarkable that more of our troops didn’t defect to the German army, which assuredly would have offered them generous helpings of bratwurst, knockwurst and schweineschnitzel in exchange for changing sides. The fact that Americans bravely suffered through Spam prior to fighting the Battle of the Bulge adds yet another heroic chapter to the Greatest Generation’s legacy.

5. Artificially Flavored Blueberry Bits

Frozen waffles are fairly non-nutritious. Indeed, the only real way to get any sort of vitamins in your waffles each morning is to buy blueberry waffles that contain….

But, hang on! It turns out those aren’t blueberries at all! They’re more like…well, just what are they? An apt description would be "purple globs of sugary goo," but they’re actually called "artificially flavored blueberry bits." Their ingredients include sugar, dextrose, soybean oil, soy protein, salt, citric acid, cellulose gum, artificial flavor, malic acid, Red 40 Lake, Blue 2 Lake and…that’s it. Notice anything missing? Oh yeah: blueberries!

For a long time, companies such as Aunt Jemima parent Pinnacle Foods were able to get away with implying that these little unfruity lumps were actual blueberries, as the box for Aunt Jemima’s blueberry waffles had pictures of actual blueberries strewn across it. But the threat of a lawsuit from Center for Science in the Public Interest made Pinnacle decide to tell people that their waffles didn’t contain any actual blueberries.

What makes the development of fake blueberries so exciting is the number of possibilities it opens up for other fake fruits. Picture artificial strawberry strips, made mostly of bacon and high-fructose corn syrup. Or perhaps artificial melon mounds made of solidified vegetable oil and dextrose monohydrate. Or the coup de grace, artificial artificial blueberry bits, made with NutraSweet and artificial soy protein. Not one natural ingredient, baby!

Kraft’s Avocado-Free Guacamole

This right here may be the pinnacle of processed food magic. Kraft has managed to make a food product without an actual main ingredient, akin to tomato-free tomato sauce or potato-free baked potato. Yes, there are no avocados in Kraft’s guacamole. Then what is it made of, you ask? How about some modified food starch, coconut and soybean oils, corn syrup, food coloring…in other words, you’re eating green-colored oil.

As with a lot of phony processed foods, the avocado-free guacamole compelled somebody to sue the product’s manufacturer for false advertising. In this case, California resident Brenda Lifsey got upset because she thought Kraft’s guacamole "didn’t taste avocadoey." She then looked at the ingredients, and lo and behold, "there was almost no avocado in it."

Kraft’s response to Lifsey’s lawsuit was a masterwork of poor corporate spin, as a company spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times, "We think customers understand that it isn't made from avocado." Well actually, no. Customers tend to buy guacamole with the understanding that it will be made from, oh, I don’t know, avocados. This is akin to a Viagra spokesperson saying, "We think customers understand that our pills won’t really give them erections."

For the record, Kraft is no longer selling congealed green oil as "guacamole" but rather as "guacamole-flavored dip." It’s an improvement, I suppose, though I think somebody should file a suit against Kraft that prevents the company from ever again describing its products as "foods."

Brad Reed is a writer living in Boston. His work has previously appeared in the American Prospect Online, and he blogs frequently at Sadly, No!.