We like “natural”; so what’s not “natural”?

a natural food, just don’t cook in hydrogenated oil

Many years ago, someone gave me a cookbook with “natural” in the title: “The (blah blah blah) Natural Foods Cookbook.”  Buried somewhere in the middle was a recipe for fruit bats.  Yes, that’s right.  Fruit bats, as in the flying animal.  The cookbook author figured, you never know when you’ll run into a fruit bat for sale at the meat counter.  Apparently more likely in Southeast Asia, but just in case, here’s a recipe.  And technically, fruit bats are just as “natural” as chicken or whole wheat flour or organic spinach.  So why not?

Did you know: there’s no official definition of “natural”.  Fruit bats qualify as natural.  So do insects.  The word “natural” is a feel good marketing tool, not a meaningful description of food quality or healthfulness.  If you think about it, much of what we eat could be described as natural.
But thanks to our misconceptions about what natural means, we get nonsense labeling, like Skippy “natural” peanut butter.  What exactly does “natural” mean here, besides a marketing ploy?  It definitely doesn’t mean unprocessed, since this product is homogenized with added palm oil to prevent the oil from separating.  But palm oil is technically also natural.  Does this mean the other Skippy peanut butters are unnatural?  They’re homogenized with hydrogenated fat.

Unnatural: not existing in nature.  That’s an official dictionary definition.  Perhaps hydrogenated vegetable oils are unnatural, since they don’t exist in nature.  Hydrogenated vegetable oil is also used in shortening, margarine, and anything made with these (from peanut butter to bakery products to snack foods to deep frier oil to convenience foods, and on and on).  Another unnatural ingredient: artificial sweeteners.  The term artificial says it all (diet soda pop and other beverages, diet and low calorie desserts, “lite” yoghurt and other foods)

What about additives?  Surely preservatives, texturizers, flavors, colors and other additives are unnatural.  Not all.  Some, like salt, exist in nature.  Corn starch is another example.  The presence of additives doesn’t necessarily make a food unnatural.   Consider Cheetos “Natural” White Cheddar puffs.  Now what could be more natural?  An expeller-pressed snack puff, of course.  Here are the natural ingredients:

organic corn meal, expeller-pressed sunflower oil, whey, cheddar cheese, maltodextrin (a “natural” sweetener), sea salt, natural flavors, disodium phosphate (whaa?), sour cream (thickened with corn starch?  whaa?), yeast, lactic acid and citric acid.

Well, thank goodness there are “natural” snack foods like this around.  Who needs apples?  Now we’ll all be healthier.

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