Flavors Leave a Bad Taste
In his essay “Why the Fries Taste Good” Eric Schlosser details the secretive and elaborate processes of food flavor production. He explains a lack of transparencies in flavor production is overwhelmingly negative for the consumer; Its drawbacks include it being biologically manipulative, factually misleading, and can be bad for your health. Meanwhile, businesses use this secrecy to their advantage in profits.
Schlosser starts by asking us to look at our pantry to see how extensive flavors are in our everyday foods they are found in almost anything processed. Ninety percent of Americans groceries contains natural and artificial flavoring (Schlosser 20). Have you ever thought what’s inside and why?
Companies use our insufficient knowledge to convince us to buy more of their products using our deepest biological desires. People’s flavor preferences develop at the earliest stages of their life from their surroundings. Schlosser explains how chain restaurants use their manufactured smells and taste to get younger children to preserve a positive link to foods they sell. A person who has experienced many happy meals as a child may keep craving it as an adult from that early seeded link (Schlosser 23). This technique is just one-way flavor makers are manipulating their customer base.
The United States food regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is tasked with making sure your foods are safe. The FDA has been lackluster when it comes to regulating flavorings. They go by a standard called Generally Regarded As Safe or GRAS for short. Even the abbreviated name does not sound reassuring. Under GRAS companies do not have to disclose key ingredients that make up the product. Schlosser states “flavor compounds sometimes contain more ingredients than the foods being given their taste” (Schlosser 25). Unknown flavoring can be potentially not safe to a person. Sometimes the differentiation between natural and unnatural flavorings is blurry. They can be the same compound sometimes. In the case of banana flavorings, Amyl acetate is produced naturally or artificially. The natural variant in almonds has small amounts of the poison hydrogen. The artificial almond flavoring does not contain poison and is safer (Schlosser 25).
Who is responsible for all these flavorings, and how do they help this industry and its secrecy? Eric Schlosser traveled to New Jersey, the heart of global flavor production. New Jersey’s Turnpike cuts through at least half a dozen flavor factories. Seventy-five percent of America’s flavor production plants are based there (Schlosser 21). He specifically visited the International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) plant. These days IFF production stretches over 20 countries. They also produce sent for top perfumes and house products (Schlosser 23). Under the constraints of an NDA, Eric was shown many household products from multiple brands. In the boardroom, he was brought samples on paper strips to test. Eric describes the flavors as “uncanny, almost miraculous. It smelled like someone in the room was flipping burgers on a hot grill” (Schlosser 23). Companies have much to benefit by secrecy. Keeping its flavors under wraps allows companies to retain the loyalty of a customer base. Better the consumer doesn’t know the two-competing strawberry jellos have their flavorings manufactured at the same plant.
Since the 70s IFF’s business has grown by 15 times. The rest of the 1.4-billion-dollar industry is not slowing down. Around ten thousand processed foods hit the shelf every year potentially having added flavorings. Flavor production grew from the fragrance factories in Europe. The boom of processed foods in the 1800s had these companies incorporating their knowledge of aromas to foods. The Industry matured in the United States after 1945. World War 2 had people developing long-lasting food that had a shelf life but lost its flavor. To preserve that, companies opted to add supplemental flavorings. Today’s manufacturing uses complex tools like the Universal TA-XT2 to measure and analyze fragrance, volatile gasses, and mouthfeel. Compounds are made so strong “one drop is sufficient to add flavor to five average-size swimming pools” (Schlosser 23). Reflecting on how over the top these companies can be, Eric tells us about a chemist who said, “A well-made flavor compound will have a ‘top note,’ followed by a ‘dry-down,’ and a ‘leveling-off,’ with different chemicals responsible for each stage. The taste of a food can be radically altered by minute changes in the flavoring mix. A little odor goes a long way” (Schlosser 23). Out of context, you may think this was said by a famous music composer.
The Eric Schlosser essay drives home the food industry’s shady practices for its own personal benefit and our detriment. Companies are taking advantage of even the youngest children. Schlosser describes the process of food flavorings by showing us how prevalent they are in our lives. He takes us behind the scenes to the East Coast to see the inner workings of the secretive flavor industry. Throughout this journey, we learn that they have a lot to hide and are trying to protect their reputation regarding brand loyalty and health. FDA supports this practice by being lax on laws regarding production. The flavor industry has a strong history and has a strong future ahead of it. In 2018 foods we eat become more and more complex than ever before.
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