I always find it interesting when I’m at at an event, showcasing my product line, how one of the first things folks do, is pick up one of my jars of cream, and take in a whiff to enjoy whatever scent I have to offer them. At first people were sometimes disappointed, as most of my products are unscented. My products are intended to be pure, no additives, nothing fake. I don’t use fragrances, sometimes I use essential oils, and only in limited amounts.
I have learned though, that the smell or Raw Rosehip seed oil is not as pleasant as one would like. So rather than leaving out containers that have no scent, I have created products that are scented naturally with essential oils, and leave those out to be whiffed instead. At least that allows me to get a conversation going. At which point, I can then explain I also offer products that are completely scent free.
But I have learned, people are drawn by what the nose is pleased to smell.
If you’ve read Fast Food Nation, then you have probably heard about the use of different perfumes to make food smell good, so that in the end, it tastes good. These ingredients of course do not have to be disclosed as such. If you haven’t read the book, it’s a good start on the realities of how many of your foods, including how fast food is made, and you can find it here:
If you don’t like to read books, you can get the movie that was inspired by the book:
While the book and movie are just “okay” in my opinion, regarding the message about what is in your food, the message is excellent, and that is what you should take away from either the book or movie, should you choose to investigate either of them.
So, with that said, let’s talk about our nose.
Our nose serves many functions such as sounding the bad odor alarm when food is spoiled or rotten. When chemicals smell bad our nose tells us not to ingest it. And then the opposite could be true, pleasant fragrances such as vanilla or lavender, imply to our brain that something is pleasurable, and not bad for us. Other functions serve as protecting us from breathing in bacteria and viruses, such as in our nose hair, or by the process of causing us to sneeze. Even in cases where our immune system is confused, and our nose reacts with an allergic reaction to something it shouldn’t. Hey, I didn’t say our noses were perfect. But our noses could be malleable. Here is a study showing that bees can train their olfactory cells to detect hornets and sound the alarm to avoid attack.1
But an even more important function to our nose is that of taste. Yes, taste.
Do an experiment right now. I want you to go to your fridge and find a potato and apple. Peel and cut them, and make them the same shape and size. First, rinse your mouth out with water to make sure you don’t have any old flavor/scent left. Next, have someone switch them around for you so you don’t know which is the apple and which is the potato. Now pinch your nose with your thumb and forefinger, and close your eyes. Now taste the two foods. Which is which? Can you tell?
Well? Does it taste different? Depending on what you tried, it might have been much less spicy, less lemony, less sweet. Maybe just a tad bland? And that’s because taste and sense of smell are partners in food crime, and both work well together to help you enjoy delicious food.
And I love the taste of delicious food. I feel bad for those who suffer from Anosmia, which is a condition where a person does not have their sense of smell. Many of those folks find food bland. Then there’s a condition called Hyposmia, which is diminished sense of smell, not as full blown as anosmia. I actually found an amusing story here about a man who suffers from Hyposmia.
So why bring this up now? Well, the book mentioned above is where I first learned many years ago that much of our food has scents added, and they don’t have to be disclosed on the ingredients list. As in the smell of much of our food, including store bought food does not smell naturally that way, that scent was added for flavor.
First, a disclaimer. I’m not a food production facility, I’m a food consumer, one who likes to be able to make healthy choices, which includes choosing every ingredient in my food via reading the ingredients list, not just the ones that have to be disclosed.
So back to my complaint, these scents don’t just apply to fast food, but other foods you wouldn’t suspect, such as orange juice. Yep, orange juice has added ingredients that do not have to be disclosed.2 That’s how they make all the juice in the all the bottles taste uniformly the same.
Notice under ingredients, it is listed as: Fragrance.
That’s it. Nothing more.
But what is it made out of? I don’t know, it doesn’t say. But it does say the following: “Fragrance oils that contain vanilla or vanillin will change color. The color change can take days, weeks, or months and can vary from a light ivory to dark brown. Our Crafter’s Choice Vanilla Color Stabilizers and Crafter’s Choice Vanilla Color Neutralizer will prevent some products from changing color. Oils that are dark in color, contain floral notes or spices may in time naturally change color.”2
What are these stabilizers and neutralizers? What are they made from? How much is in them? Are they safe?
All I found was a recent article that basically said this information is not required to be disclosed, though there is hope! A major giant industry, Unilever, is going to disclose what is in their products, including fragrance ingredients!4 While this is a good start, it’s just one, and there’s clearly more work to be done if we want to know everything that is added to our products.
In the mean time, I really started digging. Somewhere this information must be available! But not so easily found. So I found this site and typed in the search box “bacon”, what came up, was a short list of chemical names and structures. So then I tried vanilla as a search, this time a longer list of chemical names and structures, all but one were unrecognizable and unheard of to me. This isn’t stuff we’re putting in our food is it? I decided to click on the vanillin,5 because, well, that sounds most like vanilla to me. Unfortunately, my search went nowhere where I found anything that was food grade. So I tried again. This time I found this site,6 which is basically a list of certified food grade products available. And it’s a very long list, and I don’t see any safety studies done.
Alright, so this is just a very quick search, and only limiting to one laboratory that produces these “fragrances” and “flavors”, and I’m not picking on Sigma-Aldrich, they were just first to come up on the search engine. I’m sure if you do a more thorough search, you’ll discover many laboratories that produce “fragrances” and “flavors”.
But are these “fragrances” really safe?
I don’t know. And without knowing what they’re made of, I can’t figure out if they are safe or not. I can’t easily test them, I can’t study them, I can’t do anything but “trust” that the manufacturer had my best interest in mind, and not their pocket book.
Well, what does that have to do with your nose? It’s the smell that makes you believe that something tastes a certain way. Not the actual flavor. That means that all those foods that smell oh so good, may not taste so good without all the fragrances. What you’re really tasting in much of our food is the added undisclosed perfumes. And what’s in them? Don’t know. They don’t have to say.
Perfumes, aka “fragrances”, do not have to be disclosed in either your food, or personal care products. According to the FDA website, they are supposed to be safe: “The law does not require FDA approval before they go on the market, but they must be safe for consumers when they are used according to labeled directions, or as people customarily use them. Companies and individuals who manufacture or market cosmetics have a legal responsibility for ensuring that their products are safe and properly labeled.”7
So that means that you are trusting the manufacturer to have your best interest at heart, as clearly the FDA has little to do with making sure your products are safe, other than informing the manufacturer that they are to be in compliance with the paragraph above. It means that adding synthetic chemicals can just be listed as “artificial flavor” or even “natural flavor” and you don’t know what you’re really putting in your body. And more importantly, if a chemical is deemed safe in a small quantity, but this chemical is found in four different products, and the person uses each product three times a day, are they now applying a chemical at 12 times the safe amount on their body? How would one be able to determine that if neither the chemical nor the amount is provided to the consumer? No one knows, and even worse, no one can know.
Lastly, as mentioned earlier, some ingredients do not have to be listed to identify what they are from. For example, according to the FDA: “How are spices, natural flavors or artificial flavors declared in ingredient lists?
Answer: These may be declared in ingredient lists by using either specific common or usual names or by using the declarations “spices,” “flavor” or “natural flavor,” or “artificial flavor.”
“INGREDIENTS: Apple Slices, Water, Cane Syrup, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Spices, Salt, Natural Flavor and Artificial Flavor”8
Personally, after reading this, I don’t feel any safer, do you?
What is even more concerning is, unlike food, allergen warnings do not have to be listed on personal care products. At least with food labeling you have that little bit of grace to help you make sure you don’t go into anaphylactic shock. But lotion? Forget it, manufacturers are not required to tell you, not even if it contains phthalates.
So what does all this mean?
Well, it means that what you smell, even if pleasant, isn’t necessarily good for you. And even if it tastes good, doesn’t mean it’s real, or safe.
So what can you do? Educate yourself on both personal care products and your food. Learn what to look for in ingredients listings that you want to avoid, and learn what to look out for in personal care products. Most importantly, don’t trust your nose, because your nose doesn’t really know. How easily fooled it can be.
And if you come by my display table, and don’t get a whiff of something delicious, it’s because my products are pure and safe, with no added synthetic ingredients, no perfumes (aka phalates), and most importantly, we disclose everything that goes into our products. Because I want to know what’s in it, and you have a right to know what’s in it.
1 Wang Z, Qu Y, Dong S, et al. Honey Bees Modulate Their Olfactory Learning in the Presence of Hornet Predators and Alarm Component. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(2):e0150399.
2 Available at: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/08/16/dirty-little-secret-orange-juice-is-artificially-flavored-to-taste-like-oranges.aspx. Accessed March 10, 2017.
3 Available at: http://www.wholesalesuppliesplus.com/products/cinnabun-fragrance-oil.aspx. Accessed March 10, 2017.
4 Available at: http://www.ewg.org/release/game-changing-move-unilever-will-disclose-fragrance-ingredients-consumers. Accessed March 10, 2017.
5 Available at: http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/substance/vanillin1521512133511?lang=en®ion=US. Accessed March 10, 2017.
6 Available at: http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/chemistry/chemistry-products.html?TablePage=110273989. Accessed March 10, 2017.
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