Sometimes I find that I learn more from an interviewer then I give them, and this was exactly what happened when I was interviewed by a food scientist recently.
At the end of the interview he talked about his life in food technology. He left the industry when he found out how it really worked a felt he couldn’t support it anymore. We discussed how the processing of foods and substances used in the process are not put on the ingredient list as it’s seen as a ‘process’ rather than an ‘ingredient.’ I knew this happened during the sanitisation of lettuce and leafy greens with ‘NatureSeal’.
But I wasn’t prepared for the bombshell he was about to drop.
He said that when he was younger, a colour of canned peas was khaki. I remember those days, too – they were never bright green, like today. Because today, some manufacturers add green dye to their peas!
The dye in the peas is classified as a process rather than an added ingredient and that’s why you never see green colouring on the ingredient list of tinned or frozen peas.
When you look up the ingredients of green food dye they are as follows: Glycerine, Emulsifier (E433 Polysorbate 80), Water, Carrier (E1520 Propylene Glycol), Spirulina Concentrate, Preservative (E330 Citric Acid), Colour (E100 Curcumin). This is how they process our peas before sale.
This got me thinking…with processes like NatureSeal and the green dye, how many others are happening to our fruits and vegetables – fresh, tinned or frozen – that we are unaware of?
I don’t understand the sneakiness of food manufacturers. If they think such processes are safe, then be truthful and tell us that the food has been sanitised or coloured or preserved with a wash or solution.
Don’t lie – let us, the consumer, make the decision as to whether we are prepared to put up with that process. Don’t deny or neglect to tell us that such a process happens.
I decided to email the largest and most famous tin and frozen pea company. I asked their customer service department if they dyed their green peas. This is the answer I got back via email:
“…All ingredients present in both products are listed on the pack for your convenience…”
So I called them and asked if they were sure that their peas were not coloured green in a ‘process’ (not on the ingredient list). Their customer service department said “definitely not”.
How to Check Your Peas for Food Dye
I called my food scientist friend who told me that customer service would not know, as that information could only be accessed via their recipe development software, or at the factory. He then said the easiest way to check if green colouring is still added is to open a can and see if the peas are green or khaki. The canning process makes the colour a dull khaki so if they are a vibrant green, chances are a colouring has been added.
You can also test whether your frozen peas have been dyed. I got this information from Gaurav Narang – he is the founder of City Greens in India, which is on a mission to enable city dwellers to access safe, healthy and fresh food. There are three different methods that you can use:
1. Tissue paper or paper towel test – leave some green peas on white tissue paper or a paper towel for a couple of hours. The dye will leave green spots on the tissue paper or paper towel showing the presence of a dye.
2. Water boiling test – boil green peas in a small amount of water for five minutes. If the water turns green, it will show the presence of ‘malachite green’. Malachite green is an organic compound that is used as a dyestuff and controversially as an antimicrobial in aquaculture. It is traditionally used as a dye for materials such as silk, leather and paper.
3. Water dip test – put some green peas in a clear glass. Fill it up with water and leave it overnight. If the dye is present, the water will turn green.
So the question you have to ask is, what about everything else in our grocery stores that is packaged or tinned or frozen? The mind boggles.
To alleviate unknown processes and ingredients, stick to your farmers markets for fresh foods, join a community-supported agricultural group, grow your own, or visit a local food store that you trust.