Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"What the Heck is it" WEDNESDAY

This sandwich bread looks innocent enough, doesn't it? But there it is, lurking in the fine print: 


Folks, it's difficult to escape this odd-sounding ingredient. You'll find cellulose in its many forms-- like "powder" and "gum"--in an astonishing range of products: toothpaste, yogurt, bread, ice cream, frosting, makeup, hair and bath items and shredded cheese, to name a few. And get this--cellulose is found even in organic foods! For example, Organic Valley adds powdered cellulose to its shredded cheese products. (However, note that products labeled as "organic" can utilize only cellulose powder, which is its least manipulated form.) 

So, what the heck is it, you ask? Simply stated, cellulose is derived from the cell walls of woody plants and cotton. The plant cells are broken down with acetic acid to form a viscose gum that's used as an emulsifier. 

Next question: should we avoid it? Along with the FDA,  the EU (European Union) also permits cellulose as a food additive. That leads to yet another question: is it really that bad? 

Actually avoiding it may be easier said than done, as you've probably figured out by now. 

Here are some factors to consider in order to make an informed choice:

- Cellulose is listed by Reader's Digest as one of their "27 foods to you should never buy again." They liken ingesting cellulose to "eating wood pulp."

- Even though cellulose has fiber, it can't be digested and passes through the digestive tract. So, nutrition labels of cellulose-containing products can be misleading as they include it within the dietary fiber count. 

- Chemical are used to break cellulose down into gum. How safe are they?

Here is a link (yep, sure is a long one!) to a very good Wall Street Journal article about cellulose:

Cellulose fiber is an ingredient in the sandwich thins pictured above that my hubby is so fond of. I'll be scoping around for a "cleaner" alternative that he'll (hopefully) deign to eat. Wish me luck!


Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Better Olive

Kudos to PEARLS!

I was very excited to find these fresh cured green olives in my local supermarket. Ferrous gluconate-free…and absolutely delicious! They've gotten rave reviews from the hubby and assorted family members. Flavorful but not too salty. Give 'em a try.

This week watch for another eye-opening edition of "What the Heck is That?" I'll be examining another "mystery" ingredient that has us barking up the wrong tree….

Happy Eating!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014



There it was, lurking in a can of otherwise innocuous, run-of-the-mill (or so I though)"black" olives (keep reading and you'll soon know why "black" is placed in quotes): a suspicious-sounding ingredient:  ferrous gluconate. 

So, you're thinking, ferrous = iron. Correct! But gluconate? What the heck is that?? According to Mirriam-Webtser, it's "a salt or ester of gluconic acid." Gluconic acid?? Found this on a government website: "Gluconic acid, the oxidation product of glucose, is a mild neither caustic nor corrosive, non toxic and readily biodegradable organic acid of great interest for many applications." Applications?? Is that what food is--an application?? 

Ferrous gluconate is added to the brine the olives bathe in. 

Why, pray tell? Read on.
Well, I thought, in the giant scheme of things, it doesn't sound all that bad. But here's another layer: What is the source of the glucose? Upon further research, I've concluded that it's most likely derived from potato or corn. You know where I'm headed with this..if it's corn, you can bet it's been genetically modified. Yick!

So why, you ask, is this stuff added to canned black olives? Because black olives are NOT REALLY BLACK…they're DARK BROWN!!

Ferrous gluconate TURNS them BLACK!! See below, from a very interesting site, Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Zingerman's, is named "One of the 25 world's best food markets" by Food & Wine. They really know their olives:

The color of an olive indicates the stage of ripeness at which it was picked. Green olives are olives picked before they are ripe, usually in September or October. They should have a firm texture and nutty flavor. What we refer to as "black" olives actually run the gamut from light brown, to beautiful shades of red and purple, all to way to deepest black. As a general rule, the darker the olive, the riper it was when it was picked. Black olives are usually picked in November and December, sometimes as late as January.

The lone exception to this rule is the "olive" which more Americans eat than any other-the canned "black-ripe" olive. These olives are picked green, then (for reasons unknown-greater marketing appeal?) pumped with oxygen to turn them black, their new color fixed in place with ferrous gluconate. Since they taste like no other black or green olive (in fact, they have almost no taste at all), it is impossible to put them in the same class as you would any other olive. "Black-ripe" olives are to a hand-picked Kalamata olive what Wonder Bread is to a great loaf of double baked rye.

Gotta love that last sentence!!

More, from

Ferrous gluconate is water soluble iron salt combined with a reduced sugar acid. It is used to fix the black color on the olive and the iron reacts with the tannins in the olive skin and helps to hold the black color. Lindsay Naturals do not use ferrous gluconate which produces a chocolate brown olive. There are no allergens, glutens or proteins in ferrous gluconate, even though it's from a corn or potato acid.

I wasn't able to find Lindsay Naturals at my local Shoprite. 

Somebody, please enlighten me-- Who decided that jet-black olives would be more attractive to consumers than chocolate brown?? 

I'm going to look for better quality, NOT BLACK olives from now on. Happy ferrous gluconate-free olive-eating! 


Sunday, April 6, 2014


Friends, you heard it here first--I will NEVER buy commercial mayo again! 

After scanning a bunch of recipes for homemade mayo, I discovered I  had all the ingredients I needed on hand. I was out of excuses! Since I'm inherently lazy, I chose the simplest recipe I could find…and voila….within 15 minutes I had a jar of beautiful, creamy (and most importantly, chemical-free) mayo that I made with my own little hands. Amazing! I was so proud of myself (ok, no comments about my low expectations, please :)

Now, before we begin, I have to say it: RAW EGG ALERT! It seems there's no way around using a raw egg here--apparently it's necessary to achieve the magical emulsion that transforms the mixture into mayo--although I have seen vegan recipes that substitute ground flaxseed for egg. However, if you don't have "egg issues," and can get your paws the on the high quality, local, organic pastured kind….I say go for it! (I certainly don't recommend using conventional, factory-farmed eggs. No way would I eat them raw!)

I chose a recipe I found on Why? Easy, easy easy!

Here it is:

1 egg (large or extra large)
3 teaspoons lime juice (about 1/2 lime) or your choice vinegar (I used lime juice)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup oil (a more neutral-tasting oil is better; use light olive oil or walnut oil. I used the latter)
a medium sized jar
immersion blender 

This is all you need. 

Now here's cool part # 1 - to it, you can add any flavoring you like. Create your custom mayo! Some ideas: dijon mustard, chopped herbs, chile powder, garlic, cumin…the options are endless. Experiment and have fun!

Here's cool part # 2. IF YOU HAVE AN IMMERSION (STICK) BLENDER, YOU CAN MAKE IT RIGHT IN THE JAR!!! Perfect for lazy cooks like me!

1.  Crack the egg into the jar
2.  Add lime juice or vinegar, salt and mustard or herbs if using
3.  Pour in oil
4.  Let egg settle back to the bottom

Ok, here you go--20 seconds to mayo!  Place immersion blender in the jar, all the way to the bottom. Hold it here, and turn it on. Then, DO NOT MOVE IT FOR 20 SECONDS! Like magic, you should see the mixture start turing creamy and pale yellow--yay, mayo! When the mixture has completely emulsified into mayo, slowly raise the blender, stopping just under surface. Turn it off…and you're done!  


If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a food processor. I haven't tried to make mayo using this method--I think it can tricky to consistently get a fail-proof emulsion. But if you do try it, here's the methodology: 

Add all the ingredients to the bowl except for the oil. Turn on the machine, and DRIP the oil very slowly---one drop at a time into the feed tube. After you've dripped a few tablespoons in, start pouring the oil in a very thin, steady stream. Hopefully it will go without a hitch! If the emulsion breaks, your mayo will probably be slightly too runny. If that happens, chill it in the fridge and then stir. It might be too runny to use as a sandwich spread, but would still make a yummy base for salad dressing. 

Sigh…why not shell out a few bucks for the stick blender???

Lastly…since your mayo is preservative-free, probably best to use it within a week to 10 days, just to be safe. 

I can think of a million delicious uses for my homemade, additive-free mayo, but I'd love to hear YOUR ideas!

Happy eating!


Wednesday, April 2, 2014


As I was enjoying an early evening snack of newly-purchased garlic-radish dip (made by a local farm in PA), I perused the list of ingredients…and there it was…..CALIUM DISODIUM EDTA.  

What the heck is that???

Mid-swallow, I did a quick Google search. Here's what I found:

EDTA is commercially manufactured from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde and sodium cyanide.

Read more:

Health Hazards Related to Disodium EDTA

  • Disodium EDTA has become a topic of interest because of many pro-natural organizations claims that it causes toxicity in mammals. However, in products regulated by the FDA, levels of disodium EDTA is too low to cause direct harm when products are used as directed. The only time to be ultra aware of disodium EDTA content is in processed foods and beverages, where disodium EDTA in reaction with active and unstable ingredients like Vitamin C and sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) forms benzenes, a potent carcinogen. Also, EDTA is becoming an environmental pollutant due to large quantities used in industrial applications, medical applications and manufacturing
Read more:


In food, this stuff is used both as a preservative and color preserver. It's also used medically to treat lead poisoning.

YIKES!!! Upon further scrutiny, I found this nasty ingredient lurking elsewhere in my fridge--in commercial mayonnaise and salad dressing. I don't consume either, but my husband is fond of Hellman's and Kraft Thousand Island, so I've (perhaps out of convenience??) been ignoring this scary sounding stuff. No more head in the sand!!!

Keep your eyes peeled for this nasty stuff--and let me know where you find it!

My new mission---to make homemade mayonnaise. I'll be scouring for recipes….and promise to post the one I like best very soon!

Meantime, here's a commercial mayo I plan to try. It's not perfect (I'd prefer an olive oil-based mayo), but it's a heck of a lot better than what's on the supermarket shelves. 
Product Details

Ingredients: Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 Tbsp. (15 g)
Servings per Container: 14
Amount Per Serving% Daily Value
Calories from Fat60
Total Fat7 g11%
   Saturated Fat0.5 g3%
   Polyunsaturated Fat3.5 g
   Monounsaturated Fat2.5 g
Cholesterol5 mg2%
Sodium45 mg2%
Total Carbohydrate Less than1 g0%
Protein0 g
Not a significant source of trans fat, dietary fiber, sugars, vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium
Other Ingredients: Water, cold pressed hemp seed oil (18%), rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, pasteurized free range egg yolk (7%), white wine vinegar, sugar, prepared dijon mustard (water, mustard seeds, distilled vinegar, salt), fruit fiber, salt, concentrated lemon juice, stabilizer: xanthan gum.

In good health,