Top 12 Most Adulterated Foods On The Planet

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Top 12 Most Adulterated Foods On The Planet
Graphic © Photo © Constantinos – Adobe Stock (under license)

The modern industrial food supply chain, which distributes bulk products worldwide, has spawned a new problem of food fraud, where foods / food ingredients are sometimes switched for cheaper or lower grade ingredients in order to increase profits.

There is also a huge “grey market” where food that has not been certified “flies under the radar” and passes for food of a higher certification. The world has always been full of people who are out for a quick buck – however the big problem is that there simply isn’t enough testing being done. The sheer quantity of food being shipped around the world means that this is a very large-scale issue.

Some of the ingredients that have been found in common foods may seem fairly innocuous (i.e. pear juice instead of apple juice) but some are potentially dangerous in their own right. There is also the issue of allergens and the necessity for people with severe allergies to know exactly what they are eating. We have listed – in no particular order – 12 of the most commonly adulterated foods:

1. Seafood – seafood fraud is rampant, with the desired species being substituted for less-desirable, cheaper and even toxic fish such as escolar, which is banned in Italy and Japan on account of its waxy esters, which may cause food poisoning. A shocking 2012 Florida study found almost 1/3 of the seafood sampled was not what it was claimed to be – with 7 out of 11 tuna samples studied being found not to be tuna! Other incorrectly labeled (substituted) fish included snapper, yellowtail, salmon, grouper, whitefish and cod.

2. Olive Oil – Olive oil is often “cut” with non-olive oils such as corn oil, hazelnut oil and palm oil in order to create cheaper products. In 2010, Consumer Reports (one of the most credible non-profit consumer rights organizations in the US) reported that around 20% of ALL olive oils are fake and have been mixed with other cheap oils, while still claiming they are 100% pure! It’s common for “extra virgin” oil to be not quite as virgin as it is claimed to be.

3. Milk – less common, however there have been significant events. Milk has been adulterated with whey, bovine milk protein, melamine, and cane sugar. In 2008, in one of the most serious food adulteration incidents ever uncovered, at least six babies died and 300,000 became ill after being fed milk powder tainted with melamine. [1]

4. Honey – Up to an astonishing one third of honey in the USA is thought to be adulterated with high fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose and even illegal antibiotics and heavy metals! [2] Much of the “big brand” honey tested was found to contain no pollen whatsoever, indicating that it was possibly made entirely of artificial ingredients (if there is no pollen it may not be possible to identify honey from sugar concoctions) – however this could also be a result of “ultra filtration”. For best results it is often advised to seek locally produced raw honey.

5. Fruit Juice – various mass-produced fruit juices including apple juice and orange juice have been found with numerous adulterants including high-fructose corn syrup, raisin sweetener, synthetic malic acid, grapefruit juice, marigold flower extract, corn sugar and paprika extract.

6. Coffee: – you might have thought that coffee tastes like coffee, and that nothing could really substitute for it. It turns out that coffee has been found to contain chicory, roasted corn, caramel, malt, glucose, leguminous plants and maltodextrins! [3]

7. Maple Syrup – has been found adulterated with corn syrup, beet sugar, and cane sugar.

8. Vanilla Extract – The high cost of genuine vanilla has historically led to adulteration by unscrupulous merchants in order to increase profits. Adulterants include synthetically-produced vanillin and maltol.

9. Clouding Agents – The US Pharmacopeial Convention Food Fraud Database [4] found an astonishing 877 food products from 315 companies with fake (unlisted) clouding agents – notably fruit juices, to which clouding agents have been fraudulently added in order to make them appear “fresh squeezed”. The most common of these agents is Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), a chemical that’s been linked with cancer and suppressed reproductive development in children. [5]

10. Wine – has been found adulterated with apple juice and (in the past) with a toxic sweet-tasting chemical most often found in antifreeze – diethylene glycol – a poison which has caused numerous deaths. In 1985, 36 million bottles of Austrian wine were recalled after some Austrian wineries were discovered to have illegally adulterated their wines with diethylene glycol (a primary ingredient in some brands of antifreeze) in order to make them taste sweeter and more full-bodied. Yes, this is the sort of thing that goes on sometimes. [6]

11. Black Pepper Black pepper has commonly been found adulterated with starch, papaya seeds, flour, buckwheat, and millet. Most of these can be instantly eliminated by choosing whole black peppercorns – however dried papaya seeds look remarkably similar. Papaya seeds are reported to have numerous health benefits however it’s important to know what you are getting.

12 – Cinnamon This one is quite important to learn about. True cinnamon (cinnamomum verum) is a pale tan color and comes in thin, crumbly strips. Astonishingly often it is substituted for cassia cinnamon which is a darker red and comes in thicker, tougher strips that do not crumble so easily. Cassia contains significant levels of coumarin, which is moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys. True cinnamon contains very little coumarin. [7]

The best tip to avoiding fake food? Purchase whole and local food products as opposed to processed, generic, imported foods, wherever possible – and / or grow your own. It’s much harder to fake a coffee bean than ground coffee, for example. 😉 Know what you are eating and live well!

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