Sunday, 24 April 2011

All natural ingredients

You see this a lot on adverts these days, but it got me thinking. What does it mean? Where is the line drawn? When is something "natural" when talking of food products?

Making food - mixing ingredients, cooking them, etc, is all about basic chemistry, so you cannot really rule out the products of basic chemistry from "all natural ingredients" can you. The making of those ingredients is just part of the process of making the food/drink and itself uses "natural ingredients". Indeed, some foods and drinks use a biological process in production (e.g. yeast or bacteria). Things like bread, cheese, and beer spring to mind, so you cannot really rule out things made in that way.

That means things like MSG which can (AFAIK) be made by basic chemistry from wheat, or using a bacterial process, must be "all natural ingredients" too, surely.

At the end of the day, what exactly is not made from things which occur naturally?

How do people responsible for checking the accuracy of adverts decide?


  1. Ebola is 100% natural too. For that matter so is E-Coli..

    No idea why people associate 'natural' with 'good'.

  2. Arsenic is an element - surely it can't get more "natural" than that?

  3. Come now - you know the real distinction - there are many foodstuffs synthesised in an industrial/chemical engineering sense - it's never grown or been acted on by conventional preparation methods (like brewing, baking, grinding etc).

    Look at the industrial method for producing Ascorbic acid (which is a routine additive to processed food, but not to home cooking of the same dish) - the first step of the process calls for glucose to be hydrogenated (this takes place at high temperature and pressure and requires the use of a nickel catalyst)... sounds lovely eh?

    Alternatively the "natural" process involves isolating it from citrus fruit.

    More worrying is the rise of the term "natural equivalent" - the only claim is that the product is the same as the natural equivalent - a dissembling way of saying synthetic in other words.

  4. Well, I sort of do, but I find it hard to create a definition. How are those "industrial/chemical engineering" any different to the industrial way beers are brewed? It is just an industrial chemical process. Nickel is natural is it not. I and sure there are cooking processes that use high temperature and pressure. I bet there and cooking processes that use catalysts (can't think of any right now).

    But hang on! Is "Ascorbic acid" a "natural ingredient" or not? Surely it is the same stuff however it is made? I was not even considering the "ingredients created by /natural/ processes" in this - that is a new angle. I was considering if the ingredients were "natural" or not. Water is "natural" surely, in all cases, surely. If I make it by mixing hydrogen gas and oxygen gas, it is stuff "natural" surely?

    Of course, at one end of the spectrum, unless you consider people to be "unnatural", anything we make is no different to honey made by bees. It is made by a being that occurred naturally on this planet.

  5. "I and sure there are cooking processes that use high temperature and pressure."

    500C and several atmospheres of pressure?

    Chemically the end-product might be nearly identical - but that doesn't make it appealing or right - and there's always something that's missing from the mix (or something unwelcome present in minute quanities even as an impurity by virtue of the manufacturing process).

    As for industrially manufactured beer - that's why it tastes of nothing and has to be served so cold - to hide it's inadequacy as a product.

    In case you think I'm a sandal-wearing yoghurt-weaving beardy type... the truth is quite the opposite... I'm just a regular bloke that likes to know exactly where his food (and beer and cider) came from and what's been done to it since it was growing in the field/orchard.

  6. Indeed, if there is in fact a difference, then there is a difference. A tasting different is indeed one reason why you would want things made in one way rather than another. Of course, better understanding of the chemistry has allowed us to make things that are better by "artificial means" that they were traditionally made as well. Nobody arguses are using water that came out of the tap rather than the river as an ingredient in their food!

  7. To clarify, sorry, I was not saying natural is "better" or "worse", just that there is no clear and obvious place to "draw the line", IMHO.

  8. IMHO, if it requires specialised industrial equipment, processes or chemicals that cannot be achieved in same or similar methods at home - it's not natural.

    For example, take bread. You can make bread at home with flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar and little butter.

    That loaf of bread you buy in the store as all these as well, but it also has things like Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate to make it easier for the machines to process the dough, Mono & Di-glycerides to make it stay softer for longer, Azodicarbonamide as a bulking agent and Calcium propionate as a preservative. Some of these chemicals have no origin in nature and are entirely synthetic and have been linked to causes of asthma, heightened allergic reactions and even tumour growth.