I was struck by a list of ingredients in an artificial strawberry flavoured milk shake sold in Burger King in the USA.
Here we go: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnalyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone, aionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerlin, reryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, y-undecalactone, vanillin and solvent.
I’m sure like me you have heard people use phrases such as “you are what you eat” and it seems we are seeing the health consequences of the food we are choosing to eat. Today, close to one-third of the population of the GCC are obese. The real worry is the incidences of obesity affecting children and adolescents. The future impact will be massive putting extreme pressure on the health-care systems and on economies. It is a chronic disease that will destroy productivity.
How did we get here? Well, this all started in the mid-nineteenth century when the flavour industry emerged as processed foods began to be produced. This fledgling food flavour business initially turned to the perfume companies who had years of experience working with essential oils and volatile aromas.
Man-made flavour additives were, in the early days, used mainly in baked goods, sweets and drinks until the 1950s when the production of processed food soared. This was the start of the growth of scientists in the food industry using instruments like the gas chromatograph and the mass spectrometer capable of detecting volatile gases.
Recreating what nature does is not easy. Complex aromas such as those in coffee and roasted meats are formed by up to almost a thousand different chemicals. The smell of a strawberry involves the interaction of at least 350 chemicals that are present in minute amounts. As you can imagine there is a great deal of secrecy around the chemical wizardry that processed food manufacturers are using.
In order to get us to buy processed foods the scientists create irresistible flavours that cost almost nothing to produce once the secret formula is created. Food manufacturers, with the help of the scientists, make sure we come back again and again to buy their processed foods resulting in consumers becoming hooked on them.
Today in the developed world most of what we eat is processed food and for most of us we have no idea what we are eating. In the UK the highly processed ready meals industry is now worth £5 billion, and the British are the largest consumers of processed ready meals in Europe.
In the GCC the fast food industry is well established and growing, offering all sorts of flavour-enhanced ready meals that are addictive. We start with the children by selling processed food in attractive packaging thereby hooking their long-term customers when they are young.
What a shame a home-cooked meal using raw ingredients is dying and being replaced with food that is contributing to a health epidemic.