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wildpotato's avatar

Can you name some food additives that are synthesized from non-edible substances?

Asked by wildpotato (15121points) October 7th, 2014

The grosser the non-edible substance, the better. Background story:

My coworker sees me buying a Naked juice and tells me they use formaldehyde to stabilize the drink and lengthen its shelf life. Skeptical, I do some googling when I get home and find that this myth is an amalgamation of two truths: 1) formaldehyde is sometimes used as a shelf-life extender… but in Southeast Asia, and it’s not like it’s on the up-and-up, but is something they are trying to eradicate. And 2) Naked adds vitamin B5 to their juice, which is synthesized from formaldehyde – but they do not, of course, add actual formaldehyde. (This caused a furor last year and Naked took the all-natural stamp off their label).

So I go back and explain this to my coworker, who responds with willful irrationality: to her, “formaldehyde derivative” = “formaldehyde,” even though she agreed with me when I pointed out that compounds do not retain properties of their chemical precursors and that you can really make anything into anything with the magic of multiple titration. She says, Yeah that’s true, but I’m still not going to drink it – formaldehyde, yuck.

Her response and others like it drive me nuts because I happen to be a big proponent of healthy eating, unprocessed foods, organic and local foods, etc etc, and responses like hers weaken our side’s position and fuel the other side’s by making us look like irrational, reactionary hypochondriacs. This is an image health food folks ought to discourage if we want to be taken seriously.

But this particular conversation about Naked not containing formaldehyde has obviously hit a brick wall, so my plan is to inundate my coworker with knowledge of other commonly eaten compounds that come from scary-sounding non-edible substances. This is an unsurprisingly difficult thing to google, though, so…any chem majors out there?

Other suggestions for combatting willful irrationality are also welcome.

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7 Answers

Dutchess_III's avatar

Ask her if she’d eat anything that had these properties:

“Lycopene is a type of Carotene, substances which transmit light energy in photosynthesis. With the chemical formula C40H56, they produce lycopene from 8 instances of isoprene (C5H8), which is itself made from a series of chemical reactions called the MEP pathway in the chloroplast.”

(It’s a tomato.)

thorninmud's avatar

Vanillin, which gives a vanilla-ish flavor to most cheap chocolate, candy and baked goods, is derived either from wood or creosote. It’s the same molecule that gives real vanilla much of its aroma, but it’s much, much cheaper to get it from wood. Smell a bag of marshmallows and you’re smelling vanillin.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Gold and aluminium are both used as food colourings. Those little silver balls you see on wedding cakes are sugar covered in aluminium (unless you bought expensive ones in which case it might be silver).

As for formaldehyde vitamin b5 thing. You can pretty much start with any organic molecule and turn it it into another organic molecule if you have the resources. You can make formaldehyde out of sugar for example. Doesn’t mean sugar is as dangerous as formaldehyde. Good luck trying to explain that to the scientifically illiterate though.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Send her here. ”The red food colorants cochineal and carmine are made from ground bugs.

Dutchess_III's avatar

And one atom is the difference between NaCl (table salt) and HCl (hydrochloric acid.)

gasman's avatar

Milk chocolate sometimes contains wax to hold it together, especially in candy bars.

RocketGuy's avatar

Na and Cl2 are bad for you. But both NaCl and HCl are ok to eat in small quantities. In fact, most people have HCl in their stomach right now.

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