Lessons From Granola #5

RE: Honey It’s Not

In April of 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offered a draft copy of new regulations concerning the labeling of honey sold in the United States. This proposed regulation was a foot-dragging response to a petition filed in 2006 by the American Beekeeper Federation requesting the FDA to specify the definition of honey as being only the substance that comes from bees. After five years (2011) the FDA rejected the request with the reasoning that every reasonable person knows what honey is. Three years later in 2014, the FDA was forced by its weak justification to agree to regulate the labels on honey but only as a gesture of confidence for the consumer, not beekeepers. The regulation is still in draft form as of this writing.

Here are the numbers. In 2013 residents of the United States consumed 400 million pounds of honey. The beekeepers of the United States only produced 149 million pounds. We imported 251 million pounds of honey or at least a golden colored substance called honey. One batch that came through Mexico that year was so adulterated that Customs seized it. The American Beekeeper Federation wanted the definition in place to stop the importation of adulterated honey. Their argument was only if the honey was free of fillers and unadulterated with other non-bee substances should the product be called honey.

In 2013, American honey cost $2.12 a pound for producers. Importing from other countries was much cheaper, especially if the honey was bulked up with inexpensive filler. Imports from Brazil, Mexico and the Soviet Union were impounded by the FDA during the 1990’s but apparently little has been done to stop the flow of adulterated honey in the intervening years.

Honey imports are not inspected because “FDA laboratories do not have the instrumental capability to analyze honey according to the Official Methods of Analysis of AOAC International, AOAC Official Method 991.41, which requires an isotope ration mass spectrometer.” (FDA Import Alert 36-01). This admission of the FDA that they do not own a spectrometer highlights that the honey you see on the shelf in the grocery store is honey-flavored corn syrup or more common, honey-flavored rice syrup. Rice syrup already has a color and consistency similar to honey.

The proposed labeling regulations will be meaningless. The FDA has no equipment to analyze honey and most honey is imported, where there is no monitoring of contents. A food corporation can plead ignorance and there is no follow-up regulation that an importing company must verify the purity of the honey at its source – a willful but legal ignorance.

Rice syrup is just as bad for the human body as corn syrup, which is already documented as harmful. The health benefits of honey, which has been used in wound care and medicine for millennia, are absent from the common products labeled “Honey” on the grocery shelves. Bacteria cannot live in honey. Thus coating an open wound in honey seals the injury from infection. The other words such as “pure”, “genuine”, “100 percent” are all empty, unregulated words by the FDA on honey labels.

Pure honey is expensive. However, purchasing the most expensive honey on the shelf is no guarantee of purity because there is no definition of honey and labeling is worthless. This is one product where the only guarantee is buying from the source, that is to say, direct from the beekeeper.

If this circumstance is not difficult enough, we are experiencing a die-off of European honeybees in the United States. The likely culprit is a pesticide manufactured by Bayer. “The deadly pesticide is one of a fairly new family known as the neonicotinoids—“neonics” for short—developed a decade or so ago to replace organophosphates and carbamates, which are also highly toxic but dissipate far more quickly.” (earthjustice.org) However, lobbyists for the company have convinced the Department of Agriculture not to pull the pesticide from the American market despite the European Union banning the pesticide in 2011. There is a distinct possibility that we will not taste pure honey for years to come in the United States.

My recipe began with a base recipe that called for ¾ cup of honey. Obviously the recipe was written for a more innocent time. By switching to molasses as the source of sweet and gooey, the honey was cut back to two tablespoons, although it could use more. Molasses has a harsher taste, wonderful in barbeque sauce to balance the bite of vinegar; however, using molasses forces the cook to rely on the maple syrup for a gentler, sweet taste. Due to the present lack of confidence in pureness of honey, this recipe must reach out for other sweet ingredients that must be combined to make up for the lack of honey. Tch.

Lessons From Granola #6: The Other Ingredients and Dollars

Lessons from Granola #3

Dietitians recommend oatmeal. Doctors recommend the gummy stuff too because it is good for your heart and an excellent source of nutrition. Oatmeal is one of the ancient recipes that reaches back into the Medieval Period if not earlier, making oatmeal one of those more primitive and therefore more unadulterated recipes that excites food purists. The ancient history is correct but the recent history is a bit more convoluted. I am not sure your ancestors four or five generations back would be pleased with our oats.

The ingredients listed on the round container of Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of Pepsico:

WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS, SUGAR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SALT, CALCIUM CARBONATE, GUAR GUM, CARAMEL COLOR, NIACINAMIDE*, REDUCED IRON, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE*, RIBOFLAVIN*, THIAMIN MONONITRATE*, FOLIC ACID*.

Compare and contrast with a more expensive brand of rolled oats, Bob’s Red Mill:

WHOLE GRAIN OATS.

The irony of this comparison is that the more expensive brand has only one ingredient. There are fifteen ingredients in the cheaper brand and some of them are nearly unpronounceable unless you are a practicing chemist. Why fifteen ingredients?

Quaker Oats is a highly processed product. A byproduct of manipulating the oats in the production process is the loss of nutrients. The more processing, the more loss. The manufacturer adds synthetic nutrients back into the oats to compensate and can actually add more to boost the nutrition claims. There are no impartial definitive studies that prove that the human body ingests synthetic nutrients in any significant quantities although there are studies that we do not absorb all of the synthetic nutrients, purging them from our bodies in our urine. These additives serve another purpose than health though. Food manufacturers are often called out for manipulating the nutrition labels on the side the packaging, trying to fool the consumer into believing that the product is healthier than it actually is.

For consumers the idea of eating whole foods such as WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS is to eat minimally processed foods. A basic formulation of rolled oats is processed to a small degree – oats on the plant are not flat. Health conscious consumers want minimally processed foods. In contrast, a manufacturer wants to increase market share by having more consumers purchase their product and by having the dedicated customer buy more of the product. These two different agendas do not have to be in opposition but overarching greed is enough incentive for a manufacturer to take advantage of the relationship between producer and consumer.

The usual method for increasing sales is not price. Price is a one-shot proposal for coupon-cutting budgeteers. Increasing sales on a broader scale usually means adding salt, fat and sugar. Notice that sugar is second and salt is fourth on the Quaker Oats listing of ingredients. However, there is another powerful weapon for promoting appetite for a product: monosodium glutamate otherwise known as MSG. MSG is flavor and it is addictive. There are four ingredients on the label that definitely contain MSG and a fifth that probably does. The four definite items are natural flavor, artificial flavor, guar gum and caramel color. The probable fifth is salt. MSG is intimately connected to significant and sustained weight gain.

The first and largest ingredient in my granola is oats, and already the recipe is landmine for the unwary. By choosing the wrong manufacturer, you lose nutrition and you gain weight. A bag or a box of ROLLED OATS should be just one ingredient, rolled oats.

Next Episode: Salt Ain’t What It Used To Be