Saturday, June 14, 2014

10 Food Additives from the "Good" Old Days

           #5 is Particularly Bad!

       In light of the recent ruling (and subsequent backtracking) by the FDA to make it illegal for artisan cheese-makers to cure cheeses on wooden boards, citing possible pathogen contamination to the cheese from potentially unsanitary wood, I immediately became enraged that the government would want to put an end to a centuries’ old tradition. Then, I thought about all of the good that the FDA in the US and the equivalent regulatory agencies of other countries do to keep us safe. Here is a list of potentially dangerous food additives that were quite common into the 19th century. This list makes anyone who hearkens back to the good old days think twice before firing up the time machine and going back even just 100 years!

1. Alum and chalk was added to flour to whiten it.

2. White mashed potatoes, plaster of Paris, pipe clay, sawdust was used to increase the weight of bread loaves.

3. Rye flour or dried powdered beans could be used to replace wheat flour.

4. The sour taste of stale flour could be disguised with ammonium carbonate.

5. Strychnine was used to 'improve' the taste of beer and save on the cost of hops.

6. Spent (used) tea leaves were boiled with copperas (ferrous sulphate) and sheep's dung, then colored with prussian blue (ferric ferrocyanide), verdigris (basic copper acetate), logwood, tannin or carbon black, before being resold.

7. Some varieties of cheap teas were made entirely from the dried leaves of non-tea (camellia sinensis) plants.

8. Used coffee grounds were rejuvenated with roasted beans, sand/gravel, and mixed with chicory, the dried root of wild endive, a plant of the dandelion family. Chicory itself was sometimes adulterated with roasted carrots or turnips and the dark brown coffee color was achieved by using 'black jack' (burnt sugar).

9. A substance called “bittern" was added to batches of bitter beer in large quantities. It contained copperas (ferrous sulphate), extracts of Cocculus indicus, quassia and liquorice juice. There was also a preparation of ground coriander seeds, with Nux vomica and quassia, again to impart bitterness to the brew. Most of these are poisonous!

10. Anchovies were colored with Armenian bole (red clay), Venetian red, red ochre.

· L. Jackson, The Victorian Dictionary, 29 Sept 2005, <>
· Royal Society of Chemistry,

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