Saturday, April 14, 2007

Rich, creamy...or, maybe not

Most people don't know that the government has something called a "Standard of Identity" for lots of the food we eat. And it might seem odd, but back around the turn of the century, one could add say, plaster of Paris into flour to increase bread weight -- or, okay, maybe poison -- and still call it "white bread." (And, maybe not just during the turn of the century but in modern day China using melamine to boost the protein content of wheat or rice gluten?!)

So. The Pure Foods and Drug Act of 1906, and eventually the birth of the FDA right around 1938. It's supposed to be an independent entity, not subject to politics, but the business over Plan B (the morning after pill) has once again proven that it just isn't so. The FDA is also supposed to inspect loads of food, but only looks at 1% of the billions of pounds of ingredient products entering our ports each year so it's all working out just swell. Or, was that Customs who was supposed to do that? USDA? Who can tell? Of course we could just grow our own damned ingredients, but we're all busy sending manufacturing and farming jobs overseas where they're cheaper. Just what is it we're doing around here anyway? (I'm starting to rant. Reh).

Anyway, to transition to something not quite as compelling, the chocolate titans are clashing over potential changes to the standard of identity for chocolate (take the link, type in "chocolate" and read the second listing if you dare). Recently this issue came up when Kraft was found to be making guacamole with no avocados. The standards for chocolate include how much cocoa content, milk fat, etc. one must use to call the product "milk chocolate" (10% chocolate liquor; 3.39% milkfat) or "bittersweet chocolate" (35% chocolate liquor; generally no milk).

At stake: if the standard of identity changes and the government allows less milk fat in favor of canola oil and milk protein concentrate -- as the Grocery Manufacturers of America would like -- manufacturers can make cheap, and perhaps even lower fat chocolates (dark and milk varieties). This might undercut the growth of premium chocolate sales, so See's (YUM!) and Guittard (acc. to the L.A. Times) are peeved in the extreme. Funny though, Hershey's is all for it, which isn't surprising except that they recently purchased the giant yumminess that is Scharffenberger. I guess diversification means not having to worry.

From a food science perspective, they really have little to worry about, because chocolate made with cheaper ingredients and lower fat generally means lower quality and taste. It might work for a chocolate coating I guess. But if I'm eating 12 pounds of chocolate per year, as the article suggests we all do in America (and I'm guessing that I'm busting the average upward, especially during baking season), I'm eating the real thing.

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