We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize what’s in the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.
The Nacho Cheese Sauce
1) Nonfat Milk: From cows.
2) Cheese Whey: Whey is a byproduct of cheese-making, and it makes this sauce creamier.
3) Water: The same stuff that falls from the sky when it rains.
4) Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Soybean Oil): Vegetable oil can be found in most sauces, and it’s okay in moderation. But in large amounts, especially in highly processed foods, it can cause all sorts of problems, including fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and migraines.
5) Modified Food Starch: Modified food starch is made from a variety of foods, usually corn, potatoes and/or tapioca. It also has a variety of uses, but it likely serves to thicken up this sauce.
6) Maltodextrin: A white powder made from corn, rice, potato starch or wheat, maltodextrin is most commonly used as a filler to boost the volume of processed foods or to increase their shelf life. (Maltodextrin itself has a shelf life of two years.)
7) Natural Flavors: Natural flavors are quite literally flavors derived from an actual food source — i.e., cheese flavoring taken from real cheese. (Kinda.)
8) Salt: Salt makes everything more flavorful.
9) Dipotassium Phosphate: As an acidity regulator, antioxidant, stabilizer and sequestrant (a type of preservative), dipotassium phosphate mainly prevents sauces like this one from going all watery and weird. Just try to avoid eating too many foods with this ingredient: Studies suggest those with kidney disease monitor their dipotassium phosphate intake, as too much phosphorus in the blood can contribute to developing bone, heart and kidney disease.
10) Jalapeno Puree: Spicy!
11) Vinegar: It’s acidic, which helps cut through the creamy cheesiness of this sauce.
12) Lactic Acid: Like vinegar, lactic acid can also provide some much-needed acidity to a dish, and it can speed up the coagulation process of cheeses.
13) Cellulose Gum: Cellulose gum is a common thickening agent, and consuming large amounts of it may add bulk to your stool and have a laxative effect, according to several studies. Welcome to Taco Bell.
14) Potassium Citrate: This can be used to make sauces creamier by regulating their acidity levels.
15) Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate: This is an emulsifier, which means it helps the ingredients in this sauce mix together. The FDA says it’s safe, though some sodium stearoyl lactylate consumers have been known to experience an allergic reaction that consists of itching, swelling, mucus production, muscle spasms and hives.
16) Citric Acid: A natural preservative found in citrus fruits.
17) Annatto and Oleoresin Paprika: These are both natural coloring agents that make this sauce look yellow as fuck.
1) Potatoes: This is what fries are before they’re fun.
2) Vegetable Oil (Canola, Soybean, Sunflower, Palm And/or Cottonseed): We talked about this one already.
3) Enriched Flour: It coats the fries for frying.
4) Cornstarch: Cornstarch is especially good for frying, since it turns golden brown and crispy.
5) Salt: Can’t have fries without salt.
6) Sugar: It’s only two grams, which is half a sugar cube, so don’t freak.
7) Rice Flour: Another flour that results in a satisfying crunch once it’s been fried.
8) Leavening: There are all kinds of specific leavening ingredients — yeast, baking powder, baking soda — but they more or less do the same thing: Help the outer crust maintain its form.
9) Modified Corn and Food Starch: We already discussed what this does in the cheese sauce, but when it comes to the fries, it adds more crispiness to the end result. And yes, Taco Bell is really out here trying to create the perfect fry.
10) Dextrin: Dextrin is made from starches. It’s yet another coating to make these fries crispy.
11) Dextrose: Dextrose is a natural form of sugar that helps create a uniform golden-brown color. McDonald’s adds it to their fries, too.
12) Cellulose Gum: Scroll up if you want to read about cellulose gum again.
13) Guar Gum: Guar gum, from the guar tree, can prevent oil from seeping into fries and making them soggy.
14) Disodium Dihydrogen Pyrophosphate: Disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate prevents potatoes from getting discolored during the frying process.
1) Maltodextrin: On fries and other seasoned foods, maltodextrin helps the other seasonings adhere to the product.
2) Garlic: I guess Taco Bell hates vampires.
3) Paprika: Paprika is a bit spicy.
4) Sugar: Sweet.
6) Salt: Naturally.
7) Paprika Extract: Paprika, but more concentrated.
8) Citric Acid: It adds a little zing to the fries.
9) Disodium Guanylate & Inosinate: Both savory flavor enhancers, disodium guanylate and inosinate allow manufacturers to increase the flavor of foods without dumping a literal pile of salt on them.
10) Spices: These are secret.
11) Aged Cayenne Red Peppers: For a little more spice.
12) Vinegar: Vinegar does a great job of balancing various other ingredients.
13) Natural Flavors: We went over this one already.
Why the fuck are there 44 ingredients in my cheese fries?