10 Foods You Didn't Know Were Processed

This story first appeared on EcoSalon.

In the wake of Unprocessed October, you may have developed a taste for more simply-prepared fare. Problem is, you can’t trust your senses. Think that rolled oats are as untouched as food gets? Think again – and check out the rest of this list of 10 surprisingly processed foods!

1. Oats. Ever tried to squash a groat? It’s an eye-opener into the effort required to roll an oat flat (above left). But that’s not all: the average rolled oat has also been steamed and lightly toasted. If you’re going for the steel-cut variety (above right), you’ll skip the rolling and enjoy extra bran in your diet, but they’re still steamed and then dried to keep them fresh.

2. Dried Pasta. Flour and eggs, mixed and squeezed into a variety of shapes. Sounds a simple process…until you look past the pasta and at the flour it’s made of. Industrial flour-making? Next time you have a few days spare, have a look at all the processing involved, especially when preservatives enter the mix.

3. Ice Cream. Ever fought to run your scoop through a tub of ice-cream fresh from the freezer? If the answer is “I only buy the soft stuff”, you’ll have stabilizers to thank. These compounds (usually polysaccharide gums) stop ice cream hardening and also separating into gritty ice-crystals. And let’s not forget emulsifiers, there to make your ice-cream smooth and whippy.

4. Olive oil. The first sight of an untreated, unprocessed olive can be a shock. This tiny green bullet is an olive? Imagine the energy expended in grinding it into paste, spread out and pressed until the oil squeezes out – at which point this oil is further processed to get the excess water out. (You’re allowed to feel a new respect for ancient farmers here).

5. Tofu. Take a handful of soya beans, compress them – get tofu? Sadly no. You need to coagulate soy milk, and that requires coagulants – gypsum, calcium chloride, or a host of other chemicals used in the process. Then comes the straining and pressing. Lots and lots of it. The firmer the raw tofu, the more processing it’s had.

6. Low Fat or No-fat Milk. In the old days, making low fat milk was as straightforward as skimming of the top layer to remove the cream, leaving the rest of the mix fat-depleted – but now they use centrifugal separators. Those health benefits come with an energy cost. Oh, and since no-fat milk feels watery in the mouth, dairies pop a little of the milk solids back in at the end. Yes, the cream.

7. Corn tortillas. Corn? Flour – and all the processing and additives that entails. Unless you aim for a masa that was made from maiz blanco (field corn) – and even then it can be a lengthy process to go from masa to tortilla.

8. Cheese. What a marvel cheese is. Leave milk until it forms curds and whey, add a lactic starter and watch as it lumps together into cheesy goodness. Well – kinda. That’s cottage cheese, the simplest form. Commercial cheesemaking requires all sorts of enzyme coagulants, bacteria (eg. penicillin for “blue” cheese), washing, pressing, ripening, and all those special ingredients that make each cheese distinct. There’s an awful lot to it all.

9. Bread. Domestic breadmaking is deliciously good fun, making your entire house smell like your local bakery and providing you with bread that tastes like bread. Go on, you know you want to. But if you insist on the commercial variety, know that the processes involves are many. “Quick breads” (those cheaper loaves at the supermarket) are chemically hurried along the leavening cycle, while yeast breads can still be stuffed with bread improvers.

10. Herbal Teas. Alas that our modern tastes demand that commercially-produced herbal teas – by their very nature bitter (but invigorating) brews – need a little adjustment before they hits our palates. Artificial flavors ahoy. Check the label carefully!


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