Most processed foods contain a long list of additives — but have you ever wondered what they would really look like if you broke down a food into its component ingredients? How blue is Blue No 1? What form does pure riboflavin take?
A new book, Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives and 25 Food Products, separates each of the ingredients that make up some of our favorite snacks, and explains what these additives really are.
Here, for example, are the 34 ingredients that make up a Cool Ranch Dorito:
"One thing we clearly oppose is chemophobia," wrote co-author Steve Ettlinger.
"The idea that everything with a long chemical name is definitely bad for you is just plain stupid,"
Additives are used "for at least one of four reasons: to make the food product more nutritious, to make it easier to prepare, to make it more appealing, or to make it stay fresh longer." Most of the time, the goal is to makes foods more cost efficient.
For instance, azodicarbonamide (ADA), or the so-called "yoga mat chemical" found in breads, "gives strength to dough and makes baked goods lighter because it helps with gas retention," Ingredients explains. Yet "technically speaking, you are never actually eating ADA; once it hits the moisture in dough, it converts into harmless biurea, an organic water-insoluble chemical compound that passes through your body without effect."
Here are the 12 ingredients in a Hebrew National Hot Dog:
A historic document
Ettlinger and co-author Dwight Eschliman, who photographed the additives, said panic about chemicals is often unwarranted, although "everyone should know to eat mostly fruit, vegetables, and whole grains."
Many companies, from food manufacturers like General Mills to fast food chains like Taco Bell, are removing artificial ingredients from their products. The book profiles 75 of the most commonly used additives today, but things may change. "It's possible that our book will become a historic document," Eschliman told BuzzFeed News.
Ettlinger and Eschliman don't say whether any of these additives are good for you, but point out that in the end, all foods, processed or natural, are really just a delicious medley of chemicals. Take, for example, a beloved McDonald's staple.