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What’s in This?: Margarita Mix

All 11 ingredients in this highlighter-green sugar sauce, explained (yep, even sucrose acetate isobutyrate)

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on 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.

This edition: Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix, which is made from 11 separate ingredients that we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on the Target website, since the ingredients are nowhere to be found on the Jose Cuervo site.

The Ingredients

1) Water: This falls from the sky when it rains.

2) High Fructose Corn Syrup: High fructose corn syrup is a commonly used sweetener, and has been linked to obesity and diabetes by many, many studies. So, if possible, you want to avoid foods and drinks containing this ingredient. Speaking of which, a single serving of this margarita mix (which is less than three shot glasses) contains a nauseating 24 grams of sugar. For reference, a whole Snickers contains 27 grams, and since nobody stops at one small margarita, expect to be sweating sugar after an evening spent making margaritas with this mixture.

3) Citric Acid: Citric acid is a sour flavoring agent derived from citrus, and it’s often used to keep products like Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix fresh while they’re sitting on the shelves.

4) Natural Flavors: Natural flavors are quite literally flavors derived from an actual food source — most likely in this particular case, lime flavoring taken from a real lime.

5) Sodium Citrate: Sodium citrate is the sodium salt of citric acid, according to Dagan Xavier, ingredient expert and co-founder of Label Insight. It acts as a preservative and can provide a sour taste when added in high amounts.

6) Sodium Benzoate: Also acting as a preservative, studies show that sodium benzoate may exacerbate hyperactive behavior in young children, which is the other reason to keep your kids away from margaritas.

7) Potassium Sorbate: Yet another preservative, potassium sorbate damages DNA when exposed to human blood cells, according to a 2010 study published in Toxicology in Vitro. However, long-term studies on the effects of regularly consuming the ingredient are required to provide a definitive answer on the matter.

8) Cellulose Gum: This is a thickening agent, which might help explain why margarita mix tends to have a syrup-like consistency. Consuming large amounts of it may add bulk to your stool and have a laxative effect, according to the FDA. Do you really have to worry about the small supply found in this margarita mix, though? Probably not.

9) SAIB: Also known as sucrose acetate isobutyrate, SAIB is frequently added to cocktail mixtures as an emulsifier, which means it helps the many ingredients in this margarita mix blend together. Despite the crazy name, studies suggest that this ingredient is generally safe for consumption.

10) Polysorbate 60: This is another emulsifier. According to several studies, polysorbate 60 can cause organ toxicity and cancer in high doses; however, the FDA classifies this chemical as safe for limited use in food.

11) FD&C Yellow 5: Similar to artificial flavors, artificial colors are created in a lab by chemists. Unfortunately, they’re known to be cancerous. “Because color molecules are a similar shape to some of our DNA structures, they’re able to make their way in there and cause issues,” physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, explained to me during my exploration of the ingredients in candy corn. “That said, I’ve always been of the opinion that studies claiming artificial colors can cause cancer are irrelevant because [in the studies] they use really high amounts of the artificial colors — like, a million times more than you’d ever get [in your] food [throughout your lifetime].” So the average person’s liver should be able to break down whatever minuscule amount of artificial coloring we consume with this stuff.

The Takeaway

The thought of chugging five margaritas being equal to scarfing down five Snickers bars is probably nauseating enough to make you try one of the two alternatives: Make your own margaritas from scratch, or skip them altogether and take shots instead.

I think we all know what the healthiest choice is (it’s shots).