Finding the hidden high fructose corn syrup
September 21, 2009 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Why are companies seemingly allowed to hide ingredients in sub-components of food? Or am I totally off base in my thinking.

In looking for a barbeque sauce without High Fructose Corn Syrup, we have noticed that most of the brands that do no list HFCS as an ingredient show "ketchup" as a main ingredient. What seems shaky about that is that most ketchup brands have HFCS as a component. We have noticed similar things with other foods - fish sauce is an example of something that is often listed but potentially has bad for you stuff like MSG in it.

So, the first part of my question is really about how is that legal (or right/ethical may be a better way to put it) to show something like ketchup as an ingredient but not actually list the ingredients of that sub-product? I understand that would be hard-ish to do although I cannot imagine it would be that hard. It just seems like an easy way to skirt having to list anything bad the package by just using a sub-component that contains the bad things. "Hey, eat this protein bar made up of honey and soylent green..."

The second and less important part of my question is if there is any good barbeque sauce without HFCS. We used to be able to find a really good brand at Whole Foods that was HFCS free but they stopped carrying it.
Knowing Mrs. Monkey, she will end up making her own but sometimes it is just easier to buy a bottle.
posted by GrumpyMonkey to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The answer is to make more money. If they save a cent per bottle by gaming the rules to hide stuff, well, that's the american way.

It totally sucks... Especially since whole foods dropped their no hfcs idealogy a few years back.

for For bbq sauce, where are you? It's regional, but down in Austin we had a few good local ones that didn't use hfcs.

Alternatively, if you can break down the regional style(texas sauce is drastically different then georgia sauce) of sauce you want there are a few good and simple ones. You can make a big batch and freeze em.
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:20 AM on September 21, 2009

Seconding making your own BBQ sauce if you can. It's one of the most fun things to cook, because it feels like mad science chemistry.
posted by rokusan at 8:24 AM on September 21, 2009

Ugh, I have been unable to find a good non-HFCS BBQ sauce. I make my own. I'm still working on a good recipe, nothing's been quite right yet.

I did pick up a decent one once at a flea market in Kentucky, but I think it was mostly honey.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 8:26 AM on September 21, 2009

I was unaware that was actually legal in the US. Usually, the ingredients will be nested, as on my box of Trader Joe's Apple Bars:

Apple Filling (Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Apples, Concentrated Fruit Juice [Pineapple, Peach, Pear, Apple], ...

I'd imagine "Ketchup" isn't a distinct enough ingredient that they can just list it like that, unless it's below a certain threshold (2% maybe?)

Tangentially, MSG is not actually "bad for you" any more than table salt. It's not some sort of evil chemical concoction, but a naturally occurring ingredient that is isolated from kelp and provides a "umami" or "savory" flavor. It can be over-used just like salt and sugar, but it's not inherently bad. There are a few people who are sensitive to MSG and it causes reactions in those people, but for just about every food or spice imaginable, you can find someone who's sensitive or allergic to it.
posted by explosion at 8:30 AM on September 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

Seconding explosion's comments above about the harmlessness of MSG for most folks. Otherwise, we need to stop consuming mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, aged cheeses, and a myriad of other natural and perfectly healthy foods.
posted by cha4 at 8:36 AM on September 21, 2009

Just call the 1800 number on the bottle and ask them. If you don't like what you hear, tell them you won't be buying that anymore.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:37 AM on September 21, 2009

Best answer: It's not legal, as far as I can tell. The law is 21 CFR 101.4(b)(2), which basically says they have two options in this case: list ketchup, then list the ingredients of the ketchup in parantheses, or incorporate the ketchup ingredients into the master ingredient list.

For this particular example, the FDA even has a warning letter on their site for one such case:
According to the EIR, the sauces are the standardized food ketchup and the ingredient with the common or usual name of tomato sauce. Both of these foods (ketchup and tomato sauce) are fabricated from two or more ingredients. However, the ingredient statement for this product fails to bear the common or usual name of each ingredient in the ketchup and tomato sauce as required by 21 CFR 101.4(b)(2).
posted by smackfu at 8:40 AM on September 21, 2009 [11 favorites]

I agree with above posts regarding making your own sauce. It's not an exact science and it isn't all that hard to make a reasonably tasty version.

If that isn't an option, Bullseye BBQ sauce no longer contains HFCS and is as good most of the other store bought sauces (IMO). Trader Joe's, if you have one near you, also has one without HFCS that we've had that was equally fine.
posted by Diginati at 8:41 AM on September 21, 2009

I believe Heinz makes a sugar-free (in that it has no sugar added - tomatoes obviously carry a high sugar load) ketchup that gets good reviews but is hard to find in some regions, if that's any help. You can actually call them and they will really and truly call you back to answer your question about HFCS in their ketchup.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:41 AM on September 21, 2009

Seconding making your own BBQ sauce if you can. It's one of the most fun things to cook, because it feels like mad science chemistry.

And if you find a recipe you like, you can can your own.
posted by electroboy at 8:45 AM on September 21, 2009

Looking for an HFC-free BBQ sauce a couple of months ago, I ran across Bone Suckin' Sauce -- probably not as good as making your own, but at least it uses real sugar.
posted by nonliteral at 8:52 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

smackfu has it. If there were evidence that high-fructose corn syrup were actually worse for you than sugar, then there would probably be a bit more attention paid to this issue. You can help the FDA efficiently deal with this case by reporting the improperly labeled food.

Look for a sugar-free sauce as DarlingBri suggests. Switching from corn syrup to cane sugar won't help you.
posted by grouse at 8:53 AM on September 21, 2009

Also, re: Ketchup -- for awhile I was buying Heinz "Organic" ketchup that didn't contain HFCs. Lately tho, I haven't been able to find it in any of my local stores, and have switched to Whole Food's house brand, which isn't bad and also HFC-free.
posted by nonliteral at 8:56 AM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: Funny, I actually deleted and then retyped the MSG comment since it is both controversial and totally tangential to my question. I should have just said "things we choose to avoid".
posted by GrumpyMonkey at 8:59 AM on September 21, 2009

You might be interested in Stubb's BBQ Sauces. No HFCS, no MSG, full list of ingredients online, five flavors.

FWIW, I've always seen nested ingredients, like others mention above. But, Stubb's is pretty good for bottled BBQ sauce.
posted by Houstonian at 9:09 AM on September 21, 2009

HFCS is chemically identical to plain-jane sugar. It's just cheap and easily transported, so it's in everything. That's the problem, not the chemistry.

There are a few people who are sensitive to MSG and it causes reactions in those people

And 90 percent of those people are actually reacting to something in the food that's not the MSG. "Chinese food syndrome" is a reaction to shellfish-based additives, or good ol' food poisoning.

Make your own BBQ sauce. It's really easy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:14 AM on September 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Because there's minimal food regulation in corporate-friendly America.

American food companies have strong lobbies in Washington. Anything they can get away with to make it cheaper and less wholesome, they will do it. Who cares what it tastes like. And most Americans don't know any better when it comes to good-tasting, wholesome food made with the best ingredients. So no one knows what these companies are getting away with, really.
posted by Zambrano at 9:26 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

The generic brand I like is Bullseye. They have a big label saying "No HFCS" on the bottle. I did the same thing one day, looking at every BBQ sauce at the supermarket, and it was the only one (ONLY!) without HFCS as the first or second ingredient. Every other sauce, from low end kraft to high end 10 dollar a bottle ones had HFCS.
posted by cschneid at 9:26 AM on September 21, 2009

HFCS is chemically identical to plain-jane sugar.

No, it is not, assuming that by "plain-jane sugar," you mean table sugar, i.e., sucrose. They may or may not have the same nutritional effects, but they are decidedly not chemically identical. (FWIW, I have degrees in chemistry and biochemistry.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:15 AM on September 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

Dittoing the "make your own" barbecue sauce, it's not too difficult and can be easily customized to your own tastes (yum, speaking from experience :) ).

As for fructose/HFCS, indeed, it is NOT the same as sucrose ("plain" sugar): Lecture on fructose (from this MetaFilter thread).
posted by fraula at 10:18 AM on September 21, 2009

Fructose /= HFCS.
posted by Ouisch at 10:20 AM on September 21, 2009

Fructose /= HFCS.

And neither of them = sucrose.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:22 AM on September 21, 2009

I don't know if it's made its way to Georgia, but Dinosaur BBQ sauce has no HFCS. Available online from the link provided.
posted by knile at 10:35 AM on September 21, 2009

HFCS isn't just fructose though, it's fructose and glucose. The jury is still out on whether the difference between HFCS and cane sugar with regards to your health is significant.

An interesting aside:

Honey is a mixture of different types of sugars, water, and small amounts of other compounds. Honey typically has a fructose/glucose ratio similar to HFCS 55, as well as containing some sucrose and other sugars. Like HFCS, honey contains water and has approximately 3 kcal per gram. Because of its similar sugar profile and its lower price, HFCS has been used illegally to "stretch" honey. As a result, checks for adulteration no longer test for sugar but instead test for minute quantities of proteins that can be used to differentiate between HFCS and honey.
posted by electroboy at 10:37 AM on September 21, 2009

Also, seconding the recommendation for Bone Sucking Sauce. It's been awhile since I've had it, but I remember it being quite good.
posted by electroboy at 10:38 AM on September 21, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - please don't start a HFCS derail, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:44 PM on September 21, 2009

I can testify that Stubbs is some tasty sauce, at least the variety I tried. Can't remember which of the several flavors that was, but it's worth checking out nonetheless.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:15 PM on September 21, 2009

HFCS may not be bad for me, but it is nowhere near as good for barbecue sauce as molasses!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:26 PM on September 21, 2009

Cookie's has no HFCS.
posted by chazlarson at 7:53 PM on September 21, 2009

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