How to make a fruit yogurt out of pencil shavings?
January 10, 2011 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Today I overheard a guy saying that there's a Japanese patent to make fake fruit bits out of wood chips, by texturizing and adding artificial flavors, and that that's how they make fruit yogurt. Is this true in any way?
posted by uauage to Food & Drink (16 answers total)
No idea, but if they used cellulose it would be undigestible - and therefore, probably calorie-free.
posted by maryr at 3:00 PM on January 10, 2011

Seems extremely unlikely. Why on earth start with wood given that Japan is a net importer of timber (~76% of its timber is imported). A far better choice for artificial 'fruit' bits would be straight cellulose, xanthan gum, agar, etc.

One possible source of confusion is that artificial vanilla flavor (i.e. synthetic vanillin) is often made from lignin, which is in turn made from wood.
posted by jedicus at 3:12 PM on January 10, 2011

If you're wondering about the existence of a literal patent and not just "holy crap, is there wood yogurt?", the Japan Patent Office would be a good place to start.
posted by Zozo at 3:16 PM on January 10, 2011

I hesitated to mention the Japanese Patent Office because its search interface is pretty poor compared to most other major patent offices. Besides which, the patents and applications are all in Japanese, which may be a significant impediment.

For what it's worth, the patent (if it exists) does not seem to have been pursued internationally. I'm not finding much in the US database, at least.
posted by jedicus at 3:20 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of stories out there about fake wooden pips being manufactured to disguise fake jam - but most are historic. I think an episode of the TV show QI mentioned the practice - it is discussed here See the posts from MatC towards the middle. It is also mentioned in the What else is added to jam section in this article.

Would suggest this might be either an old tale or an old actual practice which your friend refers to...
posted by prentiz at 3:22 PM on January 10, 2011

This sort of sounds like a convoluted piece of information from either Fast Food Nation or Food, Inc. - in one of these books I recall them describing how prepackaged "blueberry" muffins in the grocery store were made using dyed and flavored bits of apple fiber (with the juice removed)?
posted by SassHat at 3:23 PM on January 10, 2011

I've heard this rumor too, though not about the Japanese specifically.
Producers of fruit yoghurt use the "residue" (basically, cellulose sludge) from juice-making - the flavorless fruit bits are optimized for consistency and then treated with artificial fruit flavorings. Apparently, wood is sometimes used as a base material for fruit flavors. Maybe this is where the "strawberry/wood chips" idea comes from.
(Sorry, I only have a very sparse German source for this, but I've read about it in several places, most of which seemed reliable).
posted by The Toad at 3:26 PM on January 10, 2011

I can't imagine how one would get a patent on what is only a slight modification of a very common industrial food technique. The "juicy fruit chunks" in lots of processed foods are mostly cellulose, as The Toad says; in addition to remnant food (apple squeezings!), one of the prime sources of food-grade cellulose is wood chips and shavings, so.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:31 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I suspect this is a mangled bit of truth wrapped in a sensational wrapper. Cellulose is commonly used in most yogurt, which can be derived from wood, although is more frequently extracted from cotton.
posted by Lame_username at 4:41 PM on January 10, 2011

I think Barry Glassner covered this in "Everything You Know About Food Is Wrong."
posted by goalyeehah at 4:47 PM on January 10, 2011

My childhood friend's mother used to tell us in the 80s that McDonalds shakes were made from wood... seems the myth has just moved on to another dairy product!
posted by phytage at 5:42 PM on January 10, 2011

I heard that McDonalds apple pies used apple-flavored turnips in their apple pies, because turnips are pretty bland but maintain their firmness, while apples turn to mush. I think if its true, it makes me like McDonalds more.
posted by custard heart at 7:07 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Those of you saying that wood/cotton is used for fake fruit, could you provide a cite? (not that I don't believe you, but my own googling isn't turning up much).
posted by artifarce at 7:45 PM on January 10, 2011

I heard that McDonalds apple pies used apple-flavored turnips in their apple pies, because turnips are pretty bland but maintain their firmness, while apples turn to mush. I think if its true, it makes me like McDonalds more.

Not true, I'm afraid. Here are the ingredients; no turnips. Apples can be kept firm in an apple pie by using the right kind of apple and by slightly undercooking them.
posted by jedicus at 8:10 PM on January 10, 2011

I read a book ("Brush Cat: On Trees, the Wood Economy, and the Most Dangerous Job in America" by Jack McEnany) about the lumber industry in New Hampshire which asserts that McDonald's was among the largest buyers of wood: they use the cellulose in their "shakes."
posted by wenestvedt at 7:36 AM on January 11, 2011

Shelf-stable grated parmesan cheese also has cellulose in it...interestingly enough, a while back there was an uproar about this, so Kraft now asserts that their grated parm is 100% real cheese. However they just moved around the list of ingredients, so that rather than the product be cheese + cellulose, cellulose is an ingredient *in* the cheese. Sneaky.
posted by radioamy at 3:54 PM on January 11, 2011

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