Not on the label
- 23 Jan 07, 11:26 AM
Ethical Man has discovered a whole range of food additives don’t even get listed on the ingredients.
I’m spending a month as vegan to see how cutting animal products out of my diet will affect my environmental footprint. It is surpisingly difficult to avoid animals; you'd be amazed how many foods contain animal products in some form or other.
There was a huge response when I wrote about my concerns that an amino acid used as an additive in bread is sometimes manufactured from human hair. I was reassured to discover that it is possible to avoid the substance – called L-Cysteine or E920 – because it is listed on the ingredients.
Then last week Britain’s leading organic baker, Andrew Whitely, wrote to me to warn of what he calls of “baking’s big secret” – the use of enzymes.
Andrew describes the use of these enzymes as secret because they do not appear on the label. Industrial bakers use a loophole to classify them as “processing aids”. The problem for a vegan like me – or for that matter for Jews, Muslims and vegetarians – is that some of these enzymes are manufactured from animals, including pigs.
These enzymes are one reason modern bread stays so light and soft for so long. Under the UK’s food labelling rules they don’t need to appear on the label because they are broken down in the manufacturing process and therefore they are not considered to be present in the final product.
Andrew describes this as: “a deception that allows the food industry to manipulate what we eat without telling us.”
Andrew’s got a whole list of enzymes he’s concerned about but – as a vegan – a particularly worrying one is phospholipase. That’s because phospholipase was originally derived from pigs' pancreas.
He concedes that there are probably not infinitesimal amounts of pig guts in most people’s breads because of the way enzymes are synthesised from original organisms. However he believes many vegans and vegetarians, not to mention Muslims and Jews, would be revolted by the idea that pig husbandry has any part at all in baking or the development of bakery additives.
Is he is right?
And if you were thinking that by buying an organic loaf you might escape these “aids”, think again. Food enzymes are allowed in organic products so long as they are not derived from GM or GM methods have not been used at any stage in their manufacture.
The only way to be certain is to contact whoever baked your bread and ask them what processing aids they have used.
I’ll be honest, I haven't gone to those lengths. I have been very scrupulous about avoiding animal products but bread has stayed on the menu – enzymes from pigs stomachs or not. Life as a vegan is hard enough already.
Take Saturday night. My wife and I took our three daughters out to our favourite local Italian restaurant – Marine Ices in Camden Town. I thought at the very least I’d be able to a pizza without mozzarella. No such luck. I was told they use eggs in the pizza base.
My courgette linguini was tasty – glistening with olive oil and packing a hefty punch of garlic - but three weeks into my animal-free existence and the sight of my family tucking into crusty pizzas covered in wonderful stringy cheese made me feel faint. As Bee, Eva and Zola ate ice-creams, I sipped a black coffee.
I was a smoker for many years. The deep urge I felt that night to reach over a grab one of those slices of pizza or to elbow a daughter aside and feast on mint-choc-chip reminded me of the powerful physical yearning I used to feel for a cigarette.
But the sensation that has surprised me most has been a powerful desire for a Big Mac. I am not a big hamburger eater but last week I found myself immobile outside McDonald’s as my body was gripped with lust for the fleshy delights within.
The only way to deal with these yearnings is to cook myself up wonderful vegan treats. And vegans can eat very well. I’ve sampled a few delicious recipes from my blog appeal. The aubergine curry is excellent and for a hearty family supper the shepherd’s pie is hard to beat. If you are still hungry (and I usually am) the vegan brownies are great.
But we vegans need diversity so any other animal-free recipes will be gratefully received.