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What’s in This?: Turkey Gravy Mix

All 14 ingredients in the one thing that saves Thanksgiving dinner, explained (yep, even silicon dioxide)

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) themselves with the help of an expert.

This edition: McCormick Turkey Gravy Mix, which is made from 14 separate ingredients that we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on their website.

The Ingredients

1) Lactose: Lactose is the sugar found in dairy.

2) Enriched Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid): As we learned in our exploration of the many, many, many ingredients in the McDonald’s Big Mac, enriched flour isn’t actually “enriched” at all. In addition to containing more calories than whole wheat flour, the bleaching process enriched flour undergoes produces an unfortunate byproduct: A chemical called alloxan, which has been found to induce diabetes in lab-animal test subjects by destroying their pancreas.

3) Wheat Starch: This is probably added to thicken the gravy.

4) Salt: For flavor.

5) Chicken Fat: For more flavor.

6) Turkey Meat: Because why not smother your turkey with even more turkey? Also, it’s virtually impossible to figure out which parts of the turkey this actually is, but frankly, the idea of unrefrigerated turkey in a bag doesn’t sit well with me either way.

7) Onion: For even more flavor.

8) Silicon Dioxide: This is an anti-caking agent that prevents clumping.

9) Torula Yeast: This is a type of yeast that has a smoky and savory flavor. It’s recently become a popular replacement for the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG), since it improves the texture and flavor of most foods. Fortunately, it’s healthier than MSG, too (more on that here).

10) Caramel Color: As we discovered in our exploration of the eight ingredients that make up Diet Coke, caramel coloring has an incredibly controversial byproduct called  4-methylimidazole (4-MEI): A 2007 study found that mice fed a diet of 4-MEI developed cancerous lung tumors as a result. The FDA quickly pushed back, noting that a human would have to consume more than 1,000 cans of soft drinks (which are notoriously high in caramel coloring) every day for two years to reach comparable levels of 4-MEI.

Who’s right is still unclear . More recent studies argue that levels of 4-MEI are, in fact, high enough in soda and consumed in sufficient quantities by Americans to increase the risk of developing cancer. Do you really have to worry about this in your dollop of turkey gravy, though? Probably not.

11) Disodium Inosinate and Guanylate (Flavor Enhancers): Disodium inosinate is a savory flavor enhancer that’s almost always used in conjunction with MSG and disodium guanylate. It’s a purine, meaning it’s one of the building blocks of DNA, and thus, it’s often derived from animal origin like beef, pork, poultry and fish.

Also used in conjunction with MSG and disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate has a savory taste that essentially allows manufacturers to increase the flavor of food without loading it with sodium. The risk of consuming too much of this stuff is more or less the same as MSG — i.e., headaches and nausea.

12) Natural Flavor: Natural flavors are quite literally flavors derived from an actual food source — i.e., turkey flavoring taken from a real turkey.

13) Spices: As we learned in our exploration of the ingredients in nacho-flavored Doritos, the FDA doesn’t require food labelers to list each spice by their specific name (as a means of protecting their recipes) so long as it follows their definition of the word “spice”:

“The term spice means any aromatic vegetable substance in the whole, broken, or ground form, except for those substances which have been traditionally regarded as foods, such as onions, garlic and celery; whose significant function in food is seasoning rather than nutritional; that is true to name; and from which no portion of any volatile oil or other flavoring principle has been removed.”

14) Extractives of Paprika: An oil-soluble version of the common household spice used for flavoring and coloring.

The Takeaway

McCormick Turkey Gravy Mix has numerous problem ingredients — namely, enriched wheat flour, caramel color, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate. Frankly, you’re much better off making your own turkey gravy to avoid these overprocessed additives. Here’s Gordon Ramsay to show you how: