by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Now that I am semi-retired, I have become a daytime grocery shopper. I find interesting the number of similarly aged men “hunting and gathering” at the store. Often, you will find them on their cell phones checking with a “higher level” decision maker on whether they should purchase the creamy, crunchy or super crunchy peanut butter. Increasingly, members of my peer group are analyzing labels. In talking with store managers, I learned the clean label trend is really changing the way we shop and make purchasing decisions. For today’s article, I will focus on this growing trend.
Clean Label typically means few, freeform and minimally processed ingredients, as well as natural alternatives to artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. For instance, Kraft has replaced food dyes yellow 5 and 6 with annatto, paprika and turmeric to provide the signature color of one of the foods I grew up with and now a favorite of my grandchildren: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Taco Bell has removed artificial colors from its menu items as well as artificial flavor, high fructose corn syrup (HFCSA) and unsustainable palm oil. Nearly 75 percent of shoppers indicate it is important for food labels to contain mostly recognizable ingredients, and 91 percent believe food and beverage options believe recognizable ingredients are healthier.
When I was a young child (long ago according to my granddaughters), I met Little Oscar at a Southside Chicago A & P with his Wienermobile, and still have the hot dog whistle he gave me in a drawer somewhere. Well, the iconic Oscar Mayer brand is making radical changes to the full line of hot dogs. According to my contact at Kraft, they will be the first national brand to go to market with no added nitrites, no artificial preservatives in the meat, and no by-products in every single one of their hot dogs. They are responding to their hot dog fans that desire a hot dog without artificial preservatives in meat or added nitrates and nitrites, “all without compromising on the great Oscar Mayer taste they know and love.” This summer they are planning (you read it here first) a massive summer promotion called “For the love of hot dogs.”
GMO and gluten-free are descriptors appearing on more food labels and topics, and I receive numerous questions on these terms. I checked FDA guidelines for the following.
Gluten One of the most common inquires I receive is about gluten and exactly what is it? Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheat berries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham), rye, barley and triticale, which is a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected. Foods may be labeled “gluten free if they are not derived from the grains previously listed above or have been processed to remove gluten. This includes products that are inherently gluten-free (like rice).
GMO (genetically modified organism) is also a topic I also get questions about. People concerned they may “glow in the dark” if they consume GMOs. Genetically modified crops (GM crops, or biotech crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering techniques. In most cases the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species. Examples in food crops include resistance to certain pests, diseases or environmental conditions; reduction of spoilage or resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to a herbicide); or improving the nutrient profile of the crop. I was surprised to learn how widely adopted GM is today. Between 1996 and 2013, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops increased by a factor of 100, from 200,000 acres to 432 million acres. Ten percent of the world’s croplands were planted with GM crops in 2010. In the U.S., by 2014, 94 percent of the planted area of soybeans, 96 percent of cotton and 93 percent of corn were genetically modified varieties. Carol and I lived in DeKalb for a number of years and were very familiar with the signs for DeKalb corn plus its economic impact on our state.
Currently there is no federal regulation pertaining to the labeling of food as GMO or non-GMO. My research shows this may be changing (or not), for in July 2016 President Obama signed a bill that requires the USDA to develop a mandatory disclosure standard for bioengineered foods by July 2018.
In summary, we have evolved from hunters and gatherers to quick swipers at the supermarket. The digital world has allowed us to research foods and helped us to better understand the ingredients and manufacturing used the in the products we love. The clean label movement is a consumer driven one as we increasingly insist on “real” foods that are natural, include nothing artificial, and have a short list of recognizable ingredients that we are easily able to understand, and important for me personally, able to pronounce. My thanks to Ms. Lynne Galia at Kraft Heinz Foods who provided helpful information, and to Ms. Charlyn Fargo Ware, LLCC culinary arts instructor and your friendly Hy- Vee registered dietician, who provided the following summer heathy recipe.
Tropical Avocado Salad
1/2 (5 oz) package fresh baby romaine lettuce
1/4 head radicchio, shredded
1 cup peeled and chopped jicama
1/2 navel orange, peeled and thinly slice
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 avocado, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
2 Tbsp. pomegranate seeds
Wash and dry romaine in a salad spinner. Combine the romaine, radicchio, jicama and orange in a bowl. Squeeze lime juice over top of salad and toss to coat. Serve with avocado, pepitas and pomegranate seeds for topping. Serves 1.
Per serving: 340 calories, 17 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrates, 16 g fiber, 14 g sugar, 11 g protein.
“A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand” Barbara Johnson