Food glorious fake food! Wait, what?! Yes, you read that correctly. Not everything you eat is what it appears to be, and no, I'm not talking about gummy bears and Quorn. Oh no. It turns out that our kitchen cupboards are crammed full of fake foods that none of us know are fake. In fact, for most of us, consuming these foods is akin to choosing an organic and healthy option.
The disconcerting reality of what we're actually eating, however, was revealed in Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don't Know What You're Eating by Larry Olmsted. In which, Olmsted writes that while some fake foods are innocuous enough, others could be doing some serious damage to our health - and that's not to mention the damage that they're doing to the planet too. So, without further ado, here are 14 fake foods that we have all unknowingly been eating on an almost daily basis.
1. Extra-virgin olive oil
The vast majority of EVOO bottles out there are fake. This is a massive problem as everything that makes EVOO good is typically removed and replaced with dangerous substitutions. In short, Instead of being filled with healthy fats, fake bottles of EVOO contain cheaper oils like peanut and soybean, both of which have bee known to cause allergic reactions.
"This is one of the most pervasive Fake Foods in America, reaching deep into home kitchens, restaurants, and supermarkets, and not unfamiliar to the government agencies supposedly watching over our food supply," Olmsted writes.
You might be a massive fan of tuna rolls, but it's more than likely that the ones you're eating don't actually contain any tuna. A study done by nonprofit marine conservation group Oceana collected samples from New York sushi restaurants - and they were all serving fake fish. So what are they using instead? Escolar, nicknamed "Ex-Lax fish." Why? Because it tends to cause bouts of violent diarrhea in people who eat it. Delicious.
"Consumers ordering white tuna get a completely different animal, no kind of tuna at all, 94 percent of the time," Olmsted writes. "Your odds of getting served real white tuna in a restaurant are about the same as hitting zero/double zero on a Vegas roulette wheel, which is to say, not good."
3. Parmesan Cheese
My heart is breaking as I write this. Real Parmesan cheese is an expensive delicacy produced in Parma, Italy. The stuff we're sprinkling over our pasta is actually cut with cheaper cheese, or worse, wood shavings. Apparently, if you're looking for the real deal - and to be honest, who would want the fake thing now? - Olmsted suggests looking for a "Made in Italy" stamp.
Want to avoid eating fake food? In the video below, Olmsted explains how you can do it:
Shockingly, there are no standards in existence which regulate what does and does not constitute honey. As a result, it's easy for companies to dilute the actual honey they're selling with sweeteners - including like high-fructose corn syrup or illegal antibiotics - and face no repercussions.
If you thought things couldn't get any worse, you were wrong. Even coffee is fake and cut with cheaper substances.
"Contemporary researchers have found twigs, roasted corn, ground roasted barley, and even roasted ground parchment," Olmsted writes. "Adulteration is more extreme in powdered instant coffee, where substances found have included chicory, cereals, caramel, parchment, starch, malt, and figs."
It's bad news for tea lovers too, I'm afraid. The Congressional Research Service filed a report to Congress in 2014 which found that a number of teas had sawdust and leaves from other plants added to them to increase their longevity.
7. Dry Spices
Turmeric has corn in it. Nutmeg is occasionally cut with pepper and oregano has been found to contain crushed up weeds. Yikes.
8. Fruit juice
Out of everything mentioned on this list, this is the one foodstuff where it's of the utmost importance to read the label. Legally, there's no requirement for manufacturers to list the percentages of ingredients in fruit juice - and apple juice is much cheaper than the likes of pomegranate or blueberry. As a result, a lot of fruit juices are simply diluted with apple.
"Even if the apple juice you buy happens to be real apple juice, you still may not want to drink it," Olmsted writes. "The vast majority of apple juice sold in the United States is from Chinese-made concentrate, which as I have mentioned has repeatedly been found to contain banned pesticides and other chemicals."
9. Red Snapper
According to Olmstead, this is one food that you should avoid altogether. In the US, this fish is almost always not what it appears to be and the substitutes used might not be fit for consumption by pregnant women and children.
"It has many different imitators, including mercury-rich tilefish, which is on the FDA's do-not-eat list for sensitive groups such as children and pregnant women," he writes.
10. Kobe beef
Treating yourself to a nice steak or chunk of meat can feel like a real luxury, but if your carnivorous fare of choice is Kobe beef, then you are more than likely eating a fake as the US banned imports of meat from Japan for a very long time. While this ban has now been lifted, there are only eight restaurants in the US which have been certified as selling the real thing.
11. Truffle oil
Sorry, truffle fries lovers, but this ain't truffle oil - it's not even cut with cheaper products. It's actually made from chemicals which have been engineered to taste like truffle oil. The real thing is far too expensive to be economical for most restaurants.
"Almost no truffle oil is real," Olmsted writes. "Most chefs are fully aware that what they are selling is not a valuable fungi harvested by pigs in Alba but rather a cheap chemical cocktail from a laboratory. The truth about truffle oil, while kept from consumers, is well known in the restaurant business."
While there is a rumor that it's illegal to advertise sparkling wines as champagne from France Champagne, this isn't exactly true, Olmsted revealed. What's more is that the fakers don't specify where the knock-offs are made.
"By some estimates, more than half of the wine labeled 'Champagne' sold in this country is not the real deal, and there are many producers, from Long Island to the Finger Lakes to California, with the biggest being Cook's, André, Great Western, and Korbel," he writes.
If you're lucky enough to catch real grouper off the Florida coast, you're in a for a treat, but the majority of stores selling the fish are trying to pass off cheaper fish as the real deal. According to Olmsted, replacements have included like Asian catfish, tilapia, hake and "one creepy fish that according to DNA testing belonged to an unknown species and could not even be identified."
Depending on where you're getting your lobster from, you could be eating a fake. If you frequent chain restaurants like Red Lobster and Long John Silver's, it's more than likely that you'll be served "langostino" - it's a species of crab and shrimp, but it's not lobster.
Now, I don't know about you, but this list has left me reeling. You'd think that in today's consumer-driven society, we'd at least be buying what's on the tin - but nope. One thing's for sure, once the reality of "fake foods" becomes more widely known, it's only a matter of time before manufacturers have to bow to public pressure and start giving us what we're paying for, even if that means raising the cost.