[FOUNTAIN]You are what you addIt is easy to assume that coffee creamer, more commonly known as “prim” among Koreans, is made of milk ― but its main ingredient is oil solids. Abe Tsukasa describes the making of creamer in his book, “The Greatest Human Trick: Food Additives.” First, water is added to the oil solids. Then thickener, emulsifier, pH adjuster, colorants, and flavorings are combined to get the taste, aroma and color of cream. The emulsifier helps water and oil to mix like milk. However, it is not enough to get the unique texture of milk. The solution can be found from the other additives. The thickener creates a sticky texture, and caramel colorant completes the job by giving a hint of brown tone similar to thick milk. Of course, the pH adjuster lengthens the shelflife. You also must not forget the flavorings, which imitate the taste of milk.
How about cake? The main ingredient is lard. Sometimes, you can use oil extracted from dead fish. Huge propellers blow air into pig fat to fluff it up. At this point, it has not yet taken a shape for commercial sale. Here come the additives, and the great problem-solver GMS, glycerol monostearate. GMS is chemically similar to soap. When GMS is present, water and oil get mixed easily. Flour and sugar are added here, but it still looks unappetizing. The cake is covered with coal tar colorants to get a presentable shape. It will still taste pretty unpleasant, so loads of synthetic flavorings are added to make it palatable.
Additives are the modern-day magic powder. They transform trash into a feast, an adulterated product into fancy fare. Low grade salted Pollack roe is watery and flabby, but if it spends a night in additives, it will look glossy and fresh, just like a baby’s skin. In order to transform the Pollack roe, some 20 additives are needed, from the elasticity enhancer, which improves the texture, to the colorants to the flavorings.
Starting this week, every food product is required by law to indicate all of its food additives. Until now, five main additives had to be indicated, but starting Sept. 8, every additive has to be listed. Currently, 615 kinds of food additives are approved in Korea, and 419 are synthetic.
While they are harmless by themselves, no one knows for sure their effects when many of them are combined.
Thanks to this belated measure, Koreans will be informed of what they are actually eating, but we still have no clear idea what we should eat and what we should avoid.
In today’s world, keeping the dining table safe is hardly an easy challenge.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.