Crud in Food
I’ve been messing with the flora in my body; or basically, I’ve been ingesting bacteria and yeasts for the purpose of establishing various colonies inside my digestive system. Some people find this strange, and have tried to convince me I shouldn’t mess with that stuff. I have a single response to this criticism: Commercial, processed food contains all sorts of crud that serve to kill things or prevent things from reproducing or just keep food presentable.
Let’s look at something as innocuous as bread. Bread might contain, say, “whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% of less of: soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness).” Let’s examine this.
Wheat, water, wheat gluten, corn syrup, all normal stuff; bread contains mainly sugars, proteins, and water. Likewise, for healthy yeast reproduction and activity (necessary for rising), we have sugars such as molasses, malted barley and corn; fats such as fats such as soybean oil, mono/di/triglycerides; gluten binders and yeast controlling chemicals such as salt; and nutrient sources such as ammonium sulfate (nitrogen) and diammonium phosphate (aka DAP, for nitrogen and phosphorus).
Sci-Toys has a nice article on bread and what goes into it. For example, what is sodium stearoyl lactylate(2)? It’s an emulsifier that makes dough bind better, absorbs more water, and tastes somewhat sweet. It’s particularly a sodium salt. Because it binds gluten better, disperses fat, absorbs water, and increases sweetness, it reduces the needed quantities of many ingredients, making the bread cheaper. As for health effects, I found none; you risk, at worst, a poor manufacture process introducing crud into the raw product. Same with Calcium Iodate, Calcium Dioxide, Calcium Sulfate, and DATEM.
I find DATEM interesting because it basically contains acids that help soften and strengthen the dough. More dough conditioning. Effectively it performs the job of more kneading and more gluten, allowing the use of lower-quality flour and lower-quality processes to get the same quality output.
Two preservatives show up here: Dicalcium Phosphate and Calcium Propionate. Both act to prevent mold and bacteria growth, particularly of a certain bacteria that makes bread seem to have rope in it (“rope” being chains of bacteria in a colony). Vinegar serves the same purpose, as acidifying the bread retards bacteria and mold growth too.
Overall bread contains fairly uninteresting ingredients; as a solid product it doesn’t go bad very easily, save for mold growth. However, commercial bread contains a lot of dough conditioners and preservatives that make up a small percentage of the product, typically “less than 2%” but all those 0.15%-0.45% and 0.05% amounts add up to come very close! It’s still a stretch to try to find anything truly harmful in a solid product like bread or icing (which, being mostly sugar, will kill anything it touches anyway), but still a good try.
Now, if you use, say, King Arthur bread flour and a sourdough starter (leave 1 cup water + 1 cup flour out to bubble), you’ll have a bread containing unbleached hard white wheat; cane or corn sugar; butter or oil (mono-, di-, triglycerides); milk; water; wild yeast; and lactobacillius bacteria. You can even go a step farther with the yeast nutrient and add Fermaid K(2), a wine yeast nutrient blend that includes DAP, organic nitrogen sources derived from dead yeast, magnesium sulfate, thiamine, folic acid, niacin, biotin calcium pantothenate, and more dead yeast; not only does the yeast use all this stuff (especially DAP), but most of the non-dead-yeast stuff comprises of essential vitamins and nutrients that you’d benefit from ingesting anyway. In either case, your final product contains lactic acid (from the lactobacillius bacteria), which makes it sour (hence sourdough), and prevents mold and bacteria growth.
Soda, Fruit Juice, Syrup, and Jelly
Liquid products such as soda, fruit juice, jellies, and syrups are more at-risk for infection, and thus need better preservatives. Think about it for a second: you can ferment apple juice into hard cider, and you can ferment crushed grapes into wine. Bread isn’t going to start fermenting and liquefy itself until a fungus or mold starts digesting it, and it’s going to get moldy first, and very slowly; animals will probably get to it first, or it’ll go stale. Liquids with lower starch, higher sugar content naturally provide more hospitable environments for bacteria and yeast growth.
Anything tart like apple cider, orange juice, or lemonade probably contains Ascorbic Acid or Citric Acid. Ascorbic acid acts as a vitamin C supplement, while Citric Acid performs a vital biological function in the Citric Acid Cycle. Both act as acids; extremely acidic environments prevent bacteria and mold growth, as we saw with sourdough. Powdered drinks also likely contain citric acid if anything; as a powder, they dehydrate microorganisms and thus act as their own preservatives. In either case, a strong inoculation of yeast (i.e. from a packet of 50 billion cells) will still ferment the liquid.
Soda often contains Potassium Benzoate or Sodium Benzoate, which can eventually become Benzine. Several health claims have come up for these products in their raw form (i.e. before they decay into Benzine), most of which do not have conclusive evidence; apparently there’s enough evidence that Coca-Cola wants to remove them from their soft drinks as soon as they find a workable alternative. I make my own soda, using extracts meant for yeast carbonation, meaning no preservatives i.e. no Sodium Benzoate (imagine that).
A lot of pancake syrup contains Potassium Sorbate or Sorbic Acid. You can also find this stuff in Hershey’s chocolate syrup, fruit juices and some (non-alcoholic) apple ciders, many jams and jellies, and even cheese and yogurt and dried meats (jerky). Potassium Sorbate helps stabilize wine as well. The major mechanism prevents fungus (yeast), mold, and bacterial growth by inhibiting cellular reproduction; in other words, the microbes don’t make more copies of themselves, and when they eventually die there’s no more to take their place.
None of this stuff gets used in levels harmful to humans; but consider the overall effect. You eat cheese, some fruit juice, chocolate milk, a jelly donut or sandwich, some soda, whatever. Most of the stuff you eat contains some Sorbate or Benzoate in it. The sheer amount of stuff you put in your body won’t harm you, but it’ll keep the flora in your digestive tract somewhat stressed. Those things thrive in hot, acidic, sugary environments; as strange as it seems, your stomach and intestines are not toxic environments, not until you dump toxic crud into them– which is exactly what you’re doing consuming all these preservatives!
I’m going to continue on with the bacterial inoculations, mostly with benign stuff. Lactobacillus delbrueckii floating in my stomach allowed me to drink milk for 16 days before I got horrible pains from it (seems I’m lactose intolerant). I’m currently growing a Kefir culture, planning on blending a relatively large amount of that in with a smoothie; that should permanently colonize my intestines and help digest fats and other things. I think, given the nominal damage that can occur from too much processed food coupled with the consideration that we actually advertise live lactobacillus acidophilus cultures in milk and in freeze-dried pills, I can safely continue dumping things into my body that might provide useful independent biological function.
Also on a similar topic, I’m going to continue drinking mixed powder drinks and home-made soda, and baking my own bread. I could probably can my own jams too, if I wanted to buy fruit from the farmer’s market.