We, Filipinos need to be more aware of the food that we eat and buy. Many of our nanays just buy from grocery shelves and sari-saris without studying product labels, driven by what they see on TV commercials or what they hear from friends.
When a customer is misinformed, they tend to buy products that aren’t what they really are. For instance, some of us may not know that natural is not always organic. Products that claim to be 100% natural or all natural aren’t regulated, so the best thing you can expect them to be is that they don’t contain artificial flavors or hormones.
On the other end, the organic product industry is heavily regulated, and so there’s a good chance that products labeled as organic are indeed free from toxic substances, artificial ingredients, hormones, antibiotics, and other inorganic additives. Still, the best way you can guarantee the organic-ness of your food is to produce them yourselves. You grow them and process them in such a way of preserving their organic features.
Since we are a tropical country where figs aren’t popular or are very expensive, we placed this at #10. Anyway, figs is perhaps the second most popular fruit in the Bible next to grapes. A certain peculiarity about figs make it rather gross or interesting – the fruit contains remnants of an insect called fig wasp. How does this happen? It’s all about pollination and survival. The fig wasps depend on figs to survive and the figs depend on the fig wasps to bear fruit in the so-called mutualism relationship.
The fig flower is inverted so it can’t be pollinated by wind or bees, only fig wasps can do the job. The female fig wasp needs to lay its eggs inside the membrane of the male fig flower (caprifig) where it’s kind of hollow and spacious. However, the female fig wasp can’t tell whether the flower is male or female (which turns into edible figs after pollination). The flower opening is so small that the female fig wasp loses its wings as it enters it.
When it enters a male flower, it successfully lays its eggs and dies. The eggs hatch, the male and female wasps mate, the wingless males dig tunnels out of the caprifig and the winged females go out and then start the reproduction process again. These female fig wasps bring with them precious pollen from caprifigs and into edible figs, however, when female fig wasps enter edible figs, they can’t lay their eggs and they die inside the edible fruit. Their death isn’t futile because in turn, they pollinate the female flower, which becomes edible fruit that we eat. It is for this reason that figs aren’t vegan.
9. Gelatin vs Gulaman
Speaking of vegan, did you know that gelatin isn’t vegan or plant-based? It’s actually a by-product of boiling various animal parts including bones, marrow, cartilage, etc. Notice beef or pork soup that turns jelly-ish when you put it in the fridge? That’s gelatin at work right there. Far different from “sebo” or animal fat, gelatin is actually not fatty. It contains zero fats and zero cholesterol, as well as zero fiber. On the other hand, gulaman or agar agar is derived from seaweeds or algae. It sets very well, and is very dynamic to use, too. It’s used in various other products like toothpaste, shampoo, etc. Gulaman is vegan, and also contains zero fat and zero cholesterol, but it’s 80% fiber and four times less expensive than gelatin, which makes it a better jelly than gelatin. As a side note, although agar and carrageenan both come from seaweed, agar is harder to melt than carrageenan.
Japanese food is already expensive as it is. It requires the freshest and finest of ingredients, particularly sashimi and sushi. That is why, here in the Philippines, it’s normal for a couple to spend at least P500 each for a Japanese dinner. When you go to a Japanese restaurant, you may notice a green paste placed alongside most of the dishes served. That’s wasabi, a plant with heart-shaped leaves like our gabi or taro, but smaller, and its roots (actually water-submerged stems) are then processed into wasabi paste. Wasabi paste is very pungent and spicy like hot mustard. Because wasabi plant is hard to grow outside of Japan, it’s a very expensive condiment. So what people did is to make counterfeit wasabi made from the plant’s cousin, horseradish, added green color and some flavor, and voila! You have commercial, affordable wasabi paste (western wasabi).
7. Parmesan Cheese with Wood Pulp
Parmesan cheese is another expensive cheese that many Filipinos can’t afford to buy. It is widely used in pasta dishes, fresh salads, soups, risottos, and many other dishes. Authentic parmesan is called Parmigiano-Reggiano and comes from Italy in Europe. Parmesan is the term used for cheeses that imitate the original’s flavor and texture. Commercially available parmesan cheeses are actually great because they are relatively more affordable. However, some cheese producers want to increase their profit margins by using undesirable additives or extenders to their products, most notably grated parmesan cheese. Four years back, the US FDA found out that parmesan cheese suppliers add more cellulose fibers or wood pulp fillers to their products than what is permitted, some of their products no longer have traces of real parmesan at all. According to experts, to ensure the authenticity of parmesan cheese, buyers must buy them in blocks or slices. The grated ones are likely to contain out-of-bounds amounts of wood pulp.
Most commercially sold canned and bottled fruit juices are labeled “from concentrate” but those with The Philippine Brand (PRO Foods) say they are “NOT from concentrate.” To the common tao, when they read labels, they might think that the cheaper yet less popular brand is way better, more natural than the likes of Del Monte and Dole. But a clearer inspection of both juice concentrate and not from concentrate indicates no one is better, that they are both the same. Juice concentrate is simply fresh fruit juice that was rid of its water content thus concentrating its flavor and making logistics easier. Once the concentrate reaches the canning or bottling plant, it’s then re-mixed with water.
Not from concentrate, on the other hand ,simply means the fresh fruit juice was used without extracting its water content. Both products are mixed with certain amounts of liquid and sugar to achieve desired consistency and taste. Care advised to overlook such labels as concentrate and not from concentrate, but focus more on the amount of sugar, artificial flavors and preservatives to their fruit juice products.
5. Civet Cat Coffee
Civet cat coffee or kopi luwak, dubbed as the most expensive coffee in the world sold at more than $1,000 per kilo, is produced from coffee beans that have been ingested and pre-fermented inside the guts of civet cats or Asian palm civet. Kopi luwak famers, or more like gatherers, gather civet cat droppings in the wild and collect the beans, which are processed to make coffee. According to marketers, civet cat coffee tastes unique because of the fermentation process that happens inside the cat’s body and because civet cats are very particular of the quality of coffee fruits they eat, choosing only the ripest ones.
Because of the high demand for kopi luwak, farmers begin to commercially produce the coffee by caging civet cats, force feeding them, and collecting their droppings on a regular basis. This act is condemned by animal welfare groups, disturbing the civet cat’s natural way of life, which is to hunt for its food, to protect its territory of more than a square kilometer per animal. Because civet cats do not adapt well to cages, they become sick, fight with their cage mates, and produce low quality coffee.
Aside from that, experts say that drinking civet cat coffee actually does more harm than good to the body. They added that dropping should be collected less than 24 hours after the cat excretes it, otherwise the beans could be contaminated with molds and fungi. But this is impossible with wild civet cat coffee, which commands higher price value over caged ones. It’s difficult for farmers to follow on wild cats overnight. Also, civet cats, caged or not, may carry certain germs and viruses that could harm humans.
I personally tasted civet cat coffee 10 years ago, and to me, it was nothing special. Thinking that it came from an animal’s poop, that made finishing a cup that much harder. Also, when we climbed a mountain in Argao, our guide pointed us to pile of droppings, and told us they contain coffee beans, arguably from wild civet cats that still live in Cebu’s heavily damaged forests.
4. Artificial Vanilla Flavoring
Most Pinoys grow up using vanilla extract or vanilla flavoring, which are most likely artificial flavoring. But real vanilla bean is a native of Madagascar, as well as in South Pacific and South America. It is commands a very high price because commercially produced vanilla bean is the product of individually hand pollinated vanilla flower. Now, back to artificial vanilla. Vanillin is natural vanilla extract mixed with synthetic additives to create a less expensive alternative. However, the artificial vanilla flavoring also known as castoreum, the castor sacs of mature beavers, is also allegedly used for food flavoring, in addition to the production of perfumes. Manufacturers, of course, deny this – they say that castoreum isn’t used on any food products. Nevertheless, no one can be sure what’s in a bottle of artificial vanilla extract, or what kind of vanilla was used to flavor our pastries.
3. Cheese with Molds and Maggots
Cheese is fermented or processed milk, and the cheese making process usually involves the use of certain types of bacteria to stimulate coagulation and curdling. Since bacteria is too small for our eyes to see, it’s relatively okay to eat cheese, also because cheese tastes really great. What is pizza and pasta without the cheese? Anyway, some cheese go over the top from being “normal” cheeses to those having gross living things like molds and maggots.
Speaking of molds, not all molds are harmful, but most of them are. Gorgonzola and stilton are among the several types of blue cheeses that were intentionally made with Penicillin molds that give the cheese blue specks and veins. Brie and camembert cheeses, on the other hand, contain white molds. Understand that only naturally moldy cheeses and hard cheeses with molds (molds carefully removed) are safe to eat. Moldy soft cheeses aren’t.
Meanwhile, casu marzu is pecorino cheese made from Sardinia sheep milk that is deliberately left open for insect larvae or maggots to thrive and help soften the cheese by breaking down its fat content. The maggots are a third of an inch long, translucent white in color, and may be eaten alongside the cheese. It’s considered an aphrodisiac.
Not only do candies have high sugar content and artificial flavoring (could be castoreum for all we know), they may also contain insect secretions, which made them look captivatingly shiny. Shellac not only refers to the hardware product used to finish wood materials, but also refers to the bug secretions also known as confectioner’s glaze sourced from a certain type of insect from Thailand. So the next time you pop a glossy piece of candy in your mouth, think of those pitiful little insects that secrete the valuable confectioner’s glaze. Or better yet, to make your child stop eating too much candy, tell them the story of the bug from Thailand.
1. Honey and Bee Vomit
Honey is essentially a non-vegan food because bees are exploited to produce and harvest honey. Perhaps many of you know this thanks to the film Bee Movie. Apart from that, there are other gross angles to honey production, which you might not know yet. Bees collect nectar from flowers. They use some of the collected nectar for their own consumption during flight, but most of it, they regurgitate or vomit to stock to the beehive as stored food for the colony. If bee vomit in honey isn’t gross enough, the traditional way of collecting honey often include bee casualties with their body parts and fluids mixed with the harvested honey. Then too, honey is the bee’s natural food, and harvesting would entail intentional destruction to their hive (especially in wild honey production) – a violation against the insects’ existence.
Food is really bizarre isn’t it? It can contain a list of “undesirable” ingredients from chef’s saliva and dead tissues, to mold and insect secretions. It may even come from poop! Anyway, humans have individual tastes, and so some of us may have appetite for peculiar foodstuff, while some of us may not be as adventure or as inquisitive.
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