Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The To Do List: Crackers, Part 1

Amazingly crackers are one of the more complex processed foods that reside at my home. When I made the To Do List a couple of weeks ago I took a quick inventory of my refrigerator and pantry items to come up with the list of processed foods and crackers were high at the top of the list. We eat them every week. They kind of overlap pretzels, but this post is dedicated solely to crackers. I was surprised by how many ingredients these seemingly simple items contained. My beloved Kashi crackers have an ingredient list a mile long! Mostly because they use seven different grains and they ALL have to be listed separately in every application that they use them. But the crackers that were curtiously baked for me by the little elves that live in that cute tree had all kinds of strange stuff in them.

For starters, the first ingredient, Enriched Flour, had it's own ingredient list! All these vitamins had been added to the flour, which I suppose is not bad, but unnecessary in my mind. They do list the main ingredient as wheat flour, which is not untrue. But with whole wheat flour being such a sought after ingredient these days (at least among my crowd) I can only believe that there is some hope that you, the consumer, won't notice the omission of the word whole.

They also list something that I have started to see alot of places called TBHQ. And I suppose that is an understandable progression. With so many people saying these days, 'don't eat what you can't pronounce', and if you were a food company have an important ingredient called tert-butylhydroquinone you would want to shorten it to TBHQ too. Hey! Anyone can pronounce TBHQ, right? That means you can eat it!

TBHQ is a preservative. Particularly it is a preservative of unsaturated vegetable oils. It is colorless and odorless, which is good because you can't have a preservative screwing up the original product. The whole point is to preserve shelf life. You might think that is a good thing, because when you buy a box you can keep it open and pick at it for as long as you want and the crackers will taste fresh. But I have a feeling that the TBHQ is added so that the mid level distributors can buy it wholesale and leave it on their shelves for a long time until you mosey in to find that special cracker for your dinner party. A product that goes bad is a product that you can't sell and that is a huge problem.

In trying to research what this additive is, I stumbled across a website called that happened to use a quote from Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. The quote reads as follows:

According to A Consumer's Directory of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (ie-lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food.

I actually found a blog quoting Michael Pollan quoting a different book. How the heck do I notate that?? MLA take me away! The blog continues to say that TBHQ is NOT lighter fluid. However eating it in high doses can make you sick. I am sure that there are no high doses in my elfin baked crackers, and I have full faith that I am not going to get sick from these. However, that is one more mark in the "Throw It Out" column.

Additional suspect ingredients are monocalcium phosphate, high fructose corn syrup (just sugar--people do not be swayed, it is just a highly processed form of sugar!! Don't just look for items that replace the HFCS, look for items that OMIT them) and soy lecithin. Ironically, I took supplements of soy lecithin when I had a clogged milk duct shortly after Thing 2 was born. It cleared me right up. I'll have to do a separate post about that once I figure out what it is!

I have thrown these crackers out. I threw out the Kashi ones too. I actually made my own crackers this weekend. But you are just going to have to check the blog tomorrow morning to find out how they turned out!

tert-butylhydroquinone. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 25 May, 2010.

Molecule of the Day: TBHQ. Science Blogs. 27 March, 2007.


  1. Wow, your blog is very impressive...lots of great info. Thanks for directing me to it. I'e added your blog to my reader, I'm looking forward to more!

  2. Question: Is it necessary to throw out food? Can't you just resolve to not buy it again once it's been consumed? I have a hard time reconciling the need to be organic with the need to not be wasteful. Plus that gives you time to adjust emotionally or say goodbye to some of your faves...just a thought...I understand if you feel you must do it immediately or you will lose your resolve, or if you truly feel that the need to eat well is more important. I'm not trying to judge...I just know for me it would be hard to throw stuff out.

  3. I appreciate your thoughts TQ. I always try to evaluate every situation by cost/ benefit. Some may think that it is irresponsible to throw away food. But honestly, there were like 10 crackers left in the box when I pitched them. So when I weigh throwing out 10 crackers (or even a whole $3 box) against new knowledge about an additive that I don't want to eat, for me the choice is easy. I also am working really hard at not wasting and trying to buy less, and so far doing better.

  4. really loving all of this info.