7 Food Industry Secrets From A Professional Research Chef

Chef Wendy Busts Popular Food Myths Regarding MSG, Label Codes & Safe Ingredients

Posted by on Jan 6

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The folks over at CHOW recently interviewed a research chef, hereto named Chef Wendy, willing to divulge some often-overlooked secrets of the processed food industry. Chef Wendy (who did not reveal her last name) is an integral part of a private-firm company overseeing products made by Whole Foods Market, Safeway, General Mills and McDonald's.

Here are seven popular assumptions that Chef Wendy finds are often untrue in her line of work:

1. People who say they're allergic to MSG usually aren't.

Consider broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, inosinate, guanylate, and autolyzed yeast extract. "What do all of these foods have in common? They're all sources of monosodium glutamate," says Chef Wendy. She believes the probability of a food allergy is much more common than an allergy to just MSG. For those who still question their allergen source, "look for these ingredients whether or not the label says 'no added MSG'," Wendy adds.

2: Most cartons of orange juice aren't simply filled with juice.

"Orange juice is orange juice right? Not so much," says Wendy. It's more of a "mad scientist" creative experiment, where food developers adjust the levels of sweetness and color until they find an ideal (and unique) consistency that they can sell. "They juice the orange and then distill all the oils out of the peel. I was in an OJ plant where they had over 300 formulas for not-from-concentrate orange juice," she remembers.

3: Consumers often are scared of the wrong ingredients.

Chef Wendy believes that the rising popularity of all-natural, organic foods has made a lot of customers paranoid about the ingredients they read on a package label. "One of my faves is carrageenan," she says. "Carrageenan is on a lot of labels, and I'm often asked, 'What is that chemical?' It's not a chemical. It's seaweed!" This seaweed is a thickening agent that can hold over 10 times its weight in water, which makes it an ideal ingredient for prepared foods such as frozen sauces.

4: Labels have secret codes that you can crack.

If someone really wants to know where their food product came from, there's almost always a way to track down that information. "It's all in code," reveals Chef Wendy. According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service website, manufactured foods with meat, eggs, or poultry ingredients are required by law to include an establishment number or name on their packaging. It may be a company plant name or a small number hidden in a plastic flap. "If there's no meat it's a little harder, but it can still be done," she adds. "There are addresses and various numeric codes that will give it away."

5: Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are difficult to work with, and that's a good thing.

The reason is because both companies have a list of secret ingredients for their foods that they don't want duplicated by other companies. Chef Wendy agrees. "They have their standards and they are very high and they mean it. Whether they want a high-end item or a bargain-priced item, the rules are the same."

6: Sometimes research chefs are grossed out by what they make.

Over the years, Chef Wendy learned to stick to the frozen foods industry, since the freezer is an effective preservative. "I don't, as a rule, take jobs that compromise my belief systems. No chemical feasts allowed," she says.

7: A really great frozen meal could actually exist, but you're too cheap to pay for it.

Here's where Chef Wendy talked shop, expressing the capabilities vs. the need for better-quality frozen foods in the future. "It's absolutely possible to make a frozen meal that will knock you out of your chair with greatness," she acknowledges. "But that entree needs to cost $7 to $10. People are willing to spend that much in a restaurant for something mediocre, but not for something fabulous from the grocery store."

Source:  CHOW.com

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