A video titled “Shocking Secrets of the Food Industry” has become popular viewing on social media, serving up a series of context-free observations that masquerade as an exposé of the “food industry.” This video is so misleading that it appears almost proud of its own abject ignorance and total lack of intellectual curiosity:
The video depicts a series of do-it-yourself experiments that purport to reveal nefarious “secrets” the food industry uses which create human health risks. But we're here to provide the context the video so sorely lacks.
Wax Coatings on Apples
A fact popular with people who dabble in chemophobic fear-mongering is that many commercially sold apples (and other fruits) are coated in a protective wax cover. The “Shocking Secrets of the Food Industry” video demonstrates this reality by removing an apple’s coating with warm water. Paired with an image of a Snow White like-figure collapsing from eating a poisoned apple, the video gives viewers the strong impression that something sinister is afoot.
In reality, this process is neither a secret nor at all new: it has been in common use since the 1920s. The chemicals used for this process are uncontroversially safe for human consumption and will in no way cause you to fall into a coma like Snow White's. Contrary to the narrative chosen for this video, the coating process provides several important protective effects in addition to making the fruit appear more aesthetically pleasing, as discussed in a history of the practice published in The Atlantic:
In the orchard, an apple produces its own wax, a bloom as dull-looking as talcum powder. The same natural coating adorns oranges, pears, and all other fruit. Its dusty white traces, made of fat crystals, are easiest to spot on the dark skin of a plum. This natural powdery coat keeps the fruit from drying out or getting saturated with rain as it grows. Once the fruit is picked and washed, though, its natural wax comes off, along with any dirt or chemical residue from the orchard. The fruit then needs a new coating for protection.
Artificial fruit wax merges food preservation and food presentation. It contains fungicides to inhibit mold growth, controls fruit respiration to delay ripening, protects from bruising while the fruit travels, and includes tints and glossy shellac to enhance a fruit’s appearance. Commercial coatings extend the life of a fruit so it can be picked, packed, shipped, and sold weeks or months after it left the tree -- while still looking good in the process.
Fruit wax, the article argued, smooths the divide between the fantasy and the reality of food. People want to eat an apple that delivers the crisp, delicious flavor of a fruit plucked straight from the tree. But they also want the convenience of getting that fruit from a neighborhood grocery store, and at any time of year.
Food Coloring in Beverages
In an effort, apparently to demonstrate that orange soda contains “chemicals,” the video demonstrates that the soda is “full of chemicals and coloring” by pouring the beverage into a bowl and transferring the color to a white napkin.
It is unclear what point the creator of the video is trying to make here, as one would be hard pressed to find a food item that is not accurately described as containing “chemicals and coloring.” While the health risks of soda are well known and well documented, all this video demonstrates is the publicly disclosed fact that artificial coloring is added to already artificial beverages. The safety of the specific coloring agents used in any of these beverages, at least in the United States and most other countries, is strictly regulated and vetted for safety.
Gluten in Flour-Based Products
In the third demonstration, the videos asks an easily answerable question without making any effort to answer it, leaving the viewer with the impression the someone is hiding something. After a demonstration in which a cupcake is broken apart using water and a strainer and leaves a gooey residue behind, the video asks “What is this?” and then guesses “synthetic fibers?”
The answer is gluten, a naturally occurring chemical, which remains after the starch has been washed away. That cake (which is made from wheat flour) contains gluten (a chemical made up of two proteins found in wheat) should be shocking to no one. Here Cook’s Science YouTube channel “America’s Test Kitchen” demonstrates that process while actually providing an answer to the question posed in the video:
Mayonnaise and Starch
Iodine is commonly used to test a substance for the presence of starch, a complex of chemicals naturally occurring in plant tissue and commonly obtained from cereals and potatoes. In the fourth experiment shown, the video demonstrates the iodine test on what it perplexingly describes as “natural” and “harmful” mayonnaise.
The notion that any form of mayonnaise is “natural” requires the belief that an “emulsified semisolid food prepared from vegetable oils” mixed with either acetic acid, citric acid, or malic acid, and combined with “egg yolk containing ingredients” meets the definition of natural.
Regardless, all this video shows is that some forms of mayonnaise, specifically reduced fat mayonnaise, contain starch (generally sourced from rice). This would only be cause for concern if starch were harmful to eat, which -- as it is found in myriad food items including everything that is potato-based-- is generally not the case.
Fake Honey and “Genetic Memory”
The fifth demonstration is perhaps the most perplexing addition of them all. The video accurately describes the fact that some low-quality honey is cut with corn syrup or other non-honey sweeteners, but it does so by inventing a concept termed “genetic memory of honey.” The video alleges you can discern real honey from diluted honey based on the pattern created when water is mixed with it and swirled around for a couple of seconds.
Genetic memory means different things to different fields of study, but each definition requires the presence of genetic material or a process rooted in the transfer of genetic information. Honey, a complex melangé of enzymatically modified plant nectar created by bees to store energy, does not contain any such genetic material. In reality, an actual non-made-up test for adulterated honey is a bit more complex than water swishing and involves spectrographic analysis of different specific polysaccharide chemicals.
Butter vs. Margarine
The sixth demonstration in this video is probably the least developed “complaint” against the food industry of the whole presentation. While margarine and butter are both water and fat mixtures, nobody is claiming that margarine and butter are the same thing. As such, the fact that one acts slightly differently than the other when mixed with water is not an indication of anything sneaky on the part of the “food industry” but is instead a reflection of the fact that they are different products. For more on the difference between margarine and butter, check out our explainer on the margarine production process.
Food Coloring in Beverages, Again
Not content with just one example of a soft drink's containing both water and “chemicals,” the video goes fully redundant, demonstrating that when a water-based soda is run through a filter that is meant to remove impurities from water, the result is filtered water and chemicals separated from that water. Shocking.
Empty Space in Ramen Noodle Cups
On its face, the revelation of ample empty space below the dry noodles in Cup Noodles brand ramen soup or similar products does seem deceptive. In reality, however, it is part of a technological innovation that protects the noodles in transport and allows for a more even softening of the noodles once hot water is added to them. Citing information from the Cup Noodles Museum in Japan, Consumerist reported on the scientific rationale behind that packaging:
Among many other interesting ramen noodle factoids, the [Cup Noodles] museum has a section of the exhibit devoted to the discovery of the suspended noodles technique:
“A method by which the noodles are tightly packed so as to remain suspended in the middle of the container was invented and called 'Middle Suspension.' By using this method, the noodles are less likely to break, and since there is a space at the bottom of the cup, hot water can circulate thoroughly from below, ensuring that the noodles soften evenly.”
Cottage Cheese and Another Pointless Starch Test
Cottage cheese typically does not contain starch, but starch does exist in low concentrations in some brands of cottage cheeses such as Breakstone's Liveactive 2% Cottage Cheese. The comparison shown in the video above is likely between a starchless cottage cheese (i.e., most of them) and a slightly starchy cottage cheese. While the iodine betrays the presence of starch, so too would the ingredient label, making the claim that the food industry is being duplicitous here a bit dubious. As a reminder, starch is a common chemical found naturally in a wide variety of foods that are safe to eat.
Ultimately this viral video relies solely on the innuendo generated by a complete lack of effort to research or contextualize any of the “secrets” it purports to demonstrate. To quote the timeless words of Shakespeare's Macbeth, this video “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”