4 Common Foods That Are Full Of Secrets And Lies

Many of us know surprisingly little about the food we devour.
4 Common Foods That Are Full Of Secrets And Lies

Though eating has long evolved beyond a necessity and into America's #1 hobby, many of us know surprisingly little about the food we devour. And because our doctors have warned us that there's a theoretical limit to the number of microwave burritos we can consume in one sitting, we've taken a break to assemble some especially strange food knowledge just for you. Learn how ...

Sugary Breakfast Cereals All Taste The Same, Regardless Of What Color They Are

Arguments over what color of Froot Loops taste best have ruined many a childhood friendship, but like so many sectarian disputes before them, it's all based around differences that don't really exist. Froot Loops, Trix, Fruity Pebbles, our short-lived Crackos, and other cereals that are part of a balanced approach to developing hypertension only have one flavor. When Toucan Sam declares that Froot Loops are "frootylicious," he's not being wacky; that's just toucan for "They taste like sugar-drenched particle board." Note that the ads emphasize how colorful the cereal is, not that it offers up an artificial fruit salad of flavor. Also, we guess Toucan Sam is an archaeologist now? Good for him.

"Yumfully Coloricious" is some fine wordplay, but kind of lacks as a descriptor.

Similar, and very viral, accusations were made about Skittles and gummy bears, but the truth there is more complicated. Unlike Froot Loops, differently colored Skittles clearly smell different, and color and smell are such a huge part of the sensory experience that they're used to fill in the blanks of taste (this is why food tastes worse when a cold shuts down your sense of smell). When you take those elements away, it becomes harder to determine what flavor is which in a blind taste test.

But all the tests that have been done have been tiny and not terribly scientific, and they haven't reached any definitive conclusions. The makers of Skittles and gummy bears insist that each color has its own distinct flavor, and while there's no reason to doubt them it does appear that their color and scent are doing a lot of the heavy lifting. You can try it yourself by pinching your nose and covering your eyes when you eat candy, but we'll only know for sure when the government finally accepts our proposal for a two-year Skittles study with a modest $500,000 budget.

Related: The 6 Creepiest Lies The Food Industry Is Feeding You

Many Foods Aren't Naturally The Color We Think They Are

Cheese is such a key American food group that no one questions why much of it is orange. Shouldn't it be white, since milk is white and that's what it's, you know, made of? Well buckle the fuck up and prepare yourself for a crash course on English and American cheese, because shit's about to get historical.

For many of Britain's dairy-eating days, cheese was yellowy orange because of the beta-Carotene in the grass eaten by cows. This pigment was transferred to the milk and cheese, and the more vibrant the color, the better quality the cheese was presumed to be. After all, you don't want cheese from some sad, underfed cow. But during the 17th century, cheese makers started removing the cream to sell or churn into butter. And because the beta-Carotene was carried in the cream, they were left with low-fat white cheese.

This was centuries before "low-fat" was a selling point, so white cheese was colored with carrot juice and other additives to look like the real deal. That tradition made it to America, and has stuck around. Consumers expect orange cheese, so they get orange cheese. It also worked as a marketing gimmick, helping cheese stand out from competition that decided to go au naturel, because cheese is apparently purchased with the same "Color makes it better!" logic as comic books. The trend didn't catch on everywhere (Vermont is a notable exception), which is why some are still white. And of course, for some cheeses, that's become part of their own image. Bright orange brie would just look weird.

4 Common Foods That Are Full Of Secrets And Lies
David Pimborough/Adobe Stock
"What do you mean 'Dye it?' If Stilton didn't look like a bar of soap full of dead ants, who would want to eat it?"

Other foods, like dried apricots and tuna, are treated to keep their color as they journey to your grocery store; otherwise they turn brown. Remember the link between color and taste? No one wants to eat brown tuna, even if we know it's still perfectly fine, because it looks weird.

But the greatest trick the food devil ever pulled is with oranges. An orange that's turned orange is already over the orange hill and beginning to rot. Generally, an orange is ripe when it's green or greenish-yellow. They only turn orange when their access to chlorophyll is weak, so oranges stay green throughout the year in warmer countries, while in the United States, oranges only naturally become orange in the early spring or late fall. But North American and European consumers associate green with unripened fruits, so oranges are "de-greened," usually with ethylene or cold exposure.

The name of the fruit has a long and winding history that traces back to a Sanskrit word for "fragrant," but it took on the meaning of the color in Europe, because when the continent was exposed to oranges, they had over-ripened from their long journey and become orange, and orange was a rare enough color that there was no word for orange yet there. We hope you understood all of that.

Related: The 6 Most Horrifying Lies The Food Industry Is Feeding You

Honeybees Aren't Native To North America, And Aren't Really Endangered

You've no doubt heard from the news, or perhaps from Bee Movie, that bees are in trouble. This is a problem, because bees play a key role in a carefully balanced environment -- or if you're more of a "What's in it for me?" person, they make us delicious honey. This is why, if you want to help with conservation efforts, you're told you should buy local honey and wax products, or perhaps sponsor a beehive so they can all go to bee college together and get their Bee-As.

While we all know there are countless varieties of ants and spiders, we tend to assume that there is only one kind of bee: the kind that makes us the best toast topping. But there are actually thousands of bee species, and honeybees are by far the least endangered of the bunch. While honeybee populations are down, worrying about them is like worrying about a decline in cows. They're a carefully managed agricultural product. They're not even native to North America; they were brought over from Europe, and there's an entire industry that has the resources and incentives they need to manage their populations.

It's all the other bee species, like digger bees, carpenter bees, mason bees, sweat bees (named because they like to drink human sweat, don't worry about it), and that one Transformer who's also a bee that are responsible for the majority of the pollination that make bees an essential part of the ecosystem, and they're not getting a lot of help. They need more wildflowers and fewer pesticides, but general ignorance around their existence and the way they live isn't making them an attractive cause. Many bee species don't live in colonies, some only pollinate a few specific kinds of flowers, and in general, the whole bee realm is a complicated one. But all of our efforts are focused on honeybees, which science writer Chris Helzer compared to raising more turkeys out of concern for overall bird populations.

So if you're really worried about bees, you should plant some wildflowers, let some tasty weeds grow among them, don't swat unfamiliar bugs just because they're buzzing around you, and if a bee wants to drink your sweat like it's bee Gatorade, let them go for it. You'll be doing way more than the people who are stocking up on honey they'll never get around to eating.

Related: 6 Of Your Favorite Foods (That Have Horrible Secrets)

Cashew Farming Is An Intense, Dangerous Experience

Cashews are delicious, but you likely haven't given them any thought beyond that. If you ever considered where they come from, you probably assumed they grew on a nut farm, giggled at the term "nut farm," and moved on with your life. But there are a few things you should know about cashews that will enrich your life, or at least make you a know-it-all at parties. First, they look like Lovecraftian fruit monsters.

4 Common Foods That Are Full Of Secrets And Lies
Abhishek Jacob/Wikimedia Commons
Enjoy the crunchy goodness of nature's dangling ball sack.

Cashew nuts are the seeds of the cashew apple, which can also be eaten. You won't find them in American grocery stores because they bruise easily and spoil fast, but in countries like India and Brazil, they're eaten raw, made into jams or chutneys, tossed into curries, and even fermented into feni, a potent alcohol. Cashew apple juice, which is bitter but nutritious, can be used in mixed juice drinks; in 2014, Pepsi started adding it to Tropicana products sold in India as a replacement for more expensive pineapple and banana juices. In Thailand, cashew juice is sold as both a health drink and, more dubiously, as a sexual performance enhancer. You'd think they would focus on the nuts, because the puns are right there, but maybe that doesn't translate.

Anyway, the nuts are also good for you as long as you don't drown them in salt, but like all good things in life, they come with a horrible catch. Cashew nuts are hard to bust (heh). They're protected by a double-layered hard shell with caustic acids between them, plus the dust of the shells can irritate your lungs. Protective equipment can solve this problem -- it's not exactly Alien blood -- but guess what poorly paid workers in the developing world routinely aren't provided with?

Indian cashew harvesters have suffered permanent hand damage from constant acid exposure. A 2015 strike helped address some of their problems, but India isn't the only problematic cashew source. A 2011 Human Rights Watch report found that Vietnam's cashew industry is powered by drug addicts locked up in forced labor camps, where people who refuse to work or inquire about those pesky "rights" they supposedly have are beaten, shocked, starved, and thrown into isolation. Vietnam is one of the world's largest cashew exporters, and there's no sign that conditions there have improved, so look for fair trade cashews if you don't want to risk human tears and blood being figuratively or perhaps literally found in your nuts.

Mark is on Twitter and wrote a book.

For more, check out If Fast Food Commercials Were Honest - Honest Ads (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell):

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