Faked food is an umbrella term to describe various concepts and practices related to food. Most of the faked food in this list involves deceptions and inauthenticity. In this case, most of the food is designed to resemble other food but in its essence, they are made from different ingredients. Deception is the keyword here.
I stumbled upon this shocking video while browsing casually through YouTube. This video is shocking so much so that it gained traction of almost 5 million views in less than a week of its release.
According to Business Insider, the owner of this video report, the illicit food industry could be worth up to 40 billion dollars. In other words, food fraud is an intentional action made by certain parties for economic gain. The video itself is 30 minutes long and it includes 11 most counterfeit foods such as truffle, maple syrup, wasabi, parmesan cheese, caviar, vanilla, honey, olive oil, wagyu beef, coffee and saffron. However, this entry will elaborate further on 6 faked foods that you might already have on your kitchen counter because let’s face it, who has caviar lying around for their daily consumption? You do? Bougie.
This is the most faked food on the list. Wasabi is commonly consumed as a condiment with sushi and sashimi. You can buy one in most local stores. However, you might not be aware that this Japanese native plant is rare. It is the most difficult to plant farm commercially in the world. It takes 18 months to grow and the ideal conditions are mild temperatures with enough shade and gravel soil. On top of that, harvesting the wasabi plant is a laborious process where workers should use their hands to pluck it from the gravel soil and break it apart. No machine can do it. This whole process makes the wasabi plant one of the most expensive condiments where it can go up to a whopping $319 per kilogram.
So, what does the real wasabi taste and look like? Once the wasabi rhizome AKA root is grated using a special grater, you will be left with a paste that will start to build up on the tool. According to the video, a real wasabi paste is chunkier with a gritty texture. The colour is pale green and the taste is often described as having a strong pungent flavour. Real wasabi produces a nose-tingling sensation due to the presence of allyl isothiocyanate, the same compound can be found in mustard oil. Though spicy, the taste is more subtle than the fake ones that are readily available. In addition, freshly grated wasabi’s heat and flavour dissipate very quickly upon exposure to air.
Therefore, what is that thing that you usually enjoy with your tuna sashimi? Well, it’s probably horseradish and mustard laced with food dye or according to the video; horseradish, a sweetener and food starch.
Similar to wasabi, to produce a real parmesan cheese means that it involves a traditional and labor-intensive process. A large wheel of parmesan cheese is made from three main ingredients; cow’s milk, salt and rennet (an enzyme used to set cheese during the cheese-making process).
According to the video, there are approximately only 300 certified dairy producers of parmesan cheese in the entire world. On top of that, these producers are put under strict regulations too. Emilia-Romagna, Italy is the only place in the world that has the three bacteria that can give parmesan its unique taste. What does the real parmesan cheese taste like? Like most delicious food, real parmesan has an umami taste that comes from the built-up of crunchy crystals. These crystals are amino acid and it normally forms after at least 12 months of the cheese wheels being kept in the ageing room. The longer they are kept there, the more mature they’ll become (i.e. the more expensive they will be).
But what about the grated cheese that you have in your kitchen? Well, they might be a mix of rice flour and other additives that might affect your health. So how can we avoid these faked parmesan? Firstly, avoid buying the grated ones. If you want grated cheese, simply buy ones that are stamped in dots with ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’ and DOP (protected designation of origin) and grate them yourself. The most amusing part I found from the video is that some of the original parmesan cheese is cheaper than the fake versions. Okay, now I feel foolish for buying those fake ones.
According to the video, it is estimated that only 1% of all vanilla products in the world are real. Shocking? Yes. This might be due to the fact that getting it is a laborious and expensive process and it comes all the way from places like Mexico, Madagascar and any other tropical places. A real vanilla flavour comes from the pods of the vanilla orchid. These long slender pods contain thousands of tiny seeds that produce the sweet, warm, and comforting taste that you usually get from your favourite ice cream.
Now what about the laborious process I have mentioned above? Well, let me summarise the process in the video for you. Firstly, farmers have to pollinate the orchids by hand. Then the beans are boiled and sun-dried at a processing facility. Once the pods are dried, workers have to give the beans a good hand massage to release the chemical called vanillin. Lucky beans for getting a free massage. Anyways, the beans are soaked in a mixture of alcohol and water to make the extract.
What about the vanilla flavouring that you use in your cakes? They are probably vanillin made in a lab. This flavouring is either derived from petroleum or compounds found in clove oil, wood AKA lignin and bark. Not all faked vanilla flavours are made with those. The video spoke briefly about a case in Mexico in 2008 where it was found that Tonka beans were used instead. Now that’s dangerous since they contain coumarin, a toxic substance that can pose danger for people who are on blood thinners.
So how do we identify the real vanilla extract? First, take a look at the ingredients list. If it says ‘vanilla beans extractives’, buy that. The other way is for you to take a close look and smell it briefly. The authentic product smells stronger due to alcohol and it looks cloudier too. For my Muslim readers, if you want to avoid this, you can buy products that have the halal logo along with ‘natural flavour’ in the ingredient list.
This might not come as big news to you since most of the general public is aware of the emergence of fake honey around the world. Fake honey is a widespread phenomenon. Why? Because there is more honey being sold than the world’s bees are capable of making. So what is that thick viscous golden fluid you called honey that you have been consuming? Well, they are most probably imitation honey. Some probably have very little amount of real honey but some might be straight-up corn syrup or other forms of cheap syrups such as glucose, rice, cane or beet.
Economic gain is surely the main reason why artificial honey is abundant in the market. However, on one side, honey production and beekeeping are a lengthy process. The process starts with honeybees collecting nectar from flowers. Each flower provides a distinct flavour and aroma to the honey. Bees, then, store the nectar in their hives’ honeycomb where it undergoes enzymatic changes and evaporation due to the bees’ wing-fanning. This process alone takes about 4 to 6 months. In some cases, it might take a year.
So, how do we avoid buying counterfeit honey? First off, you can buy from your local farmers’ market. Secondly, avoid any labels that say ‘honey blend’ as over processed honey would damage its quality. Truth is, real honey, crystallizes over time. Don’t worry, that is perfectly normal and safe to be consumed.
Olive oil is one of the most expensive oils in the world and it’s easy to imitate too. The video focuses mostly on extra virgin olive oil since it is the least processed form and it carries many health benefits such as antioxidants and vitamins, hence the expensive price tags and lucrative profit. The counterfeit olive oils are normally mixed with other oils such as soybean, vegetable oils and/or lower-grade olive oil. And for an average user like us, it is hard to identify whether they are diluted kinds of oil or not.
So how do we know whether our extra virgin olive oil is the real kind or not? The easiest way is to look at the price. If it’s too cheap, then, it is too good to be true. According to the expert interviewed in the video, you might want to avoid labels that state ‘virgin’, ‘olive oil’ only, ‘olive oil blend’, and ‘light olive oil’. In addition, take a look at the pressed-on date. European oils are harvested in the fall and winter so you might want to avoid oils that are way passed that as they are likely to lose their flavour.
Coffee is a staple drink in most households. It’s mostly consumed for its stimulating and aromatic qualities. If you are a habitual coffee drinker like me, you are probably aware of the variations in its price range. Cheap coffee might not come from the real coffee beans, to begin with. What are they? Well, they are probably ground acorn, barley or wheat. To some great extent, the expert interviewed in the video mentioned that in the past coffee was made from anything brown such as burnt paper, burnt corn and sawdust. Yikes!
Like any other food in this list, coffee production is complex, expensive and labour-intensive. Coffee cherries are harvested by hand. Why? Because the cherries ripen at different times. Only red or deep purple coffees are plucked and processed.
Some coffee producers choose to use mechanical harvesters. In this case, the ripe and unripe ones are stripped from the trees. This directly affects the taste and the quality of the beans. After the beans are harvested, farmers only have 24 hours to process them or else the flavour will be ruined.
To avoid paying more for adulterated coffee, it is best if you read the labels and product descriptions carefully to understand what you are paying for. On the other hand, according to the video, you can choose to buy coffee from reputable sources, verify the origin of your coffee or look for certifications like the Specialty Coffee Association on the packaging.
After spending hours watching the video over and over again in the pursuit of writing this entry, I have concluded that most of the authentic products were duped for economic gain. The real thing requires time, help from nature and hard work from producers. I also learned that the price tags on the authentic products aren’t cheap but the nutrients they provide are worthy of the hefty quoted price.