No Good Read Goes Unpunished

Greetings Ninjas in Training,

Eleka nahmen nahmen ah tum ah tum eleka nahmen.

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No idea, Elphaba. But a lot of the time, that’s how I feel when I’m trying to read labels.

Buckle down, ninjalings. We’re gonna learn a few tricks to make it a little easier! This is long, but stick out the tutorial, it will help you in life and stuff, AND there’s a chance for a prize at the end!

Step One

The first rule of label reading is to always read the label.

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Ok, so I searched “label reading gif” and this is what came up. This is just my personal opinion, but I think it’s a bit too late for this person to be reading labels. Either they have serious gangrene, or it’s Elphaba, in which case I’m sorry.

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Anyways, I’m serious. Read it. Every time.

Ingredients for the same food item can vary from brand to brand, and ingredients in any product vary by region. That is, Oreos in California do not have the same ingredients as Oreos in Missouri; they are manufactured in different facilities, and the non-main ingredients they use are different. (Also, don’t eat Oreos, they are not safe for ninjas or anyone wishing to live past age 50.)

Furthermore, ingredients in any product can change without notice. For example, one of my favorite brands of “safe” chocolate added soy to their product, which means it is no longer “safe” and no longer my favorite because they took away my chocolate.

Step Two

Once you’ve got that label in hand, your next step is to look for the most conspicuous of perpetrators: citric acid or citrates.

In order to demonstrate, we will look at the stuff of my nightmares:

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I’m not kidding, I’ve had actual nightmares about Death by Doritos. You will see why very quickly.

Let’s take a look: any citric acid or citrates?

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Yep. So right there, you should put down the Deathritos and run. But since we have a few more steps to learn, we’re going to keep looking. Be brave, ninjalings.

Step Three

Look for foods that are above your tolerance level. Since I’m the one writing this tutorial, we are going to use my tolerance level, which is negative zero.

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Let’s take a look at each of these perpetrators in detail:

Corn – Contains about 0.2% citric acid, so #nope
Vegetable oil – Corn oil is one of three possibilities here, making this a #no
Cheddar cheese – Made with milk (0.2%) and additional citric acid, bringing it to 0.4% of #nope
Buttermilk – Again with the milk, plus it probably has other strange additives #no
Romano cheese – We don’t have a specific number for this cheese, but it’s cheese #nope
Onion powder – Onions can have 0.1-0.3% citric acid #nothanks
Corn flour – #nope
Tomato powder – Tomatoes are in the 0.4-0.5% range, but here’s the thing: this is percent by weight, and water adds a lot of weight to tomatoes. The CA content of powdered tomato (and any powdered thing, including the onions above and others below) are likely much higher than for the whole food. #nopenopenope
Spices – Vague enough for you? As a general rule, I assume leaf spices to be safe and root or other spices to be unsafe, since root vegetables etc. all contain citric acid. However, I don’t have any numbers to verify this, and even if I did, that would do nothing for determining the safety of the mystery spices in here #vague #nope
Garlic powder – 1.0% plus the rule of powdered things make this a #no
Red and green bell pepper powder – 0.2 and 0.1% respectively, plus powder rule #nope

Are you having nightmares yet?

Step Four

If you have very low tolerance like me, it’s time to check for ingredients derived from citric acid-containing things. I keep a running list of sneaky additives here, but said list is nowhere near complete. Please let me know if you discover new things to add to the Nope-dom.

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Sunflower or canola oil – These are safe when expeller expressed, but when this process is used, it almost always specifies this on the label. These oils are likely cold pressed, which is a chemical extraction process that often uses citric acid #nope
Maltodextrin – For once the label does the work for us! It says right there, “made from corn” #bye
Enzymes – What even? Why you gotta be so vague, Doritos? Enzymes can be derived from anything, oftentimes fruits or vegetables, so #nope
Whey – Extracted from milk #nope
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – Often made by doing strange things to beets #no
Enzymes again – #why #no
Whey protein concentrate – More whey? #excessive #no
Natural flavors – Citric acid is considered a “natural” flavor because it is made with corn and mold. You can’t make this stuff up. #ew #nOpe
Dextrose – Derived from corn in the U.S., but may be made from wheat elsewhere #redwhiteandnope
Lactose – Derived from milk #no
Lactic acid – Derived from milk #noagain
Sugar – Can be derived from either cane (safe) or beets (unsafe). “Healthy,” organic, less processed foods are more likely to use cane, but in a junk food like this, beet is a likely source #nope

Something to keep in mind while reading labels: things are listed in order from “most stuff in here” to “least stuff in here.” Someone with a moderate tolerance might be able to tolerate something with corn as a last ingredient, but not as a first ingredient. Figuring out what you can tolerate in what positions takes a little trial and error, so if you’re going to experiment, be safe and make sure you won’t be anywhere near your celebrity crush/Elphaba/other people you want to impress in the near future.

Ok, so using my -0 tolerance level, it looks like we’re left with…

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Cheese cultures (bacteria), salt, more cheese cultures, more salt, artificial color, and two weird chemical things.

Yum. #not

Step Five

You thought you were done?

Alas, ninjalings. I don’t know about other countries, but in America, we don’t tell people what’s in their food unless it’s 1% or more of the total weight.

If you are ridiculously sensitive, you might want to call the manufacturer to ask what else is in their food. They probably won’t tell you, but it’s worth a try for certain items, like unprocessed meat (which is often washed in citric acid for sanitation). I’ve been pretty consistently able to get responses from meat manufacturers, but not from manufacturers of processed foods.

Story time: once upon a time I found a cereal whose label indicated total safeness. I was thrilled, but called the manufacturer anyways to make sure there was no sneaky citric acid. They assured me there was not, so I ate it.

My body was not pleased. I called again, and asked them to please tell me all ingredients that were not on the label; they insisted they could not do so because it was “proprietary information” (my least favorite words). I tried it again. I got sick again. So I wrote to my doctor, who wrote to them with all the authority of his M.D.

Two months later, I got a letter stating that I would be sued for eternity and my doctor would lose his license if I shared the super secret information they were about to share with me. The cereal contained 0.12 ppb citric acid.

0.12. Parts. Per. Billion.

Moral of the story: trust no witch.

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Except Elphaba. She knows what’s up.

Alternate moral of the story: if you’re ridiculously sensitive and will die from eating 0.12 ppb citric acid, do your best to stay away from processed foods. However, for the vast majority of ninjas, this should not be a problem, so don’t worry about it!

The Contest

Ok ninjalings, now it’s YOUR turn to read a label!

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Using my tolerance level, please comment on this post with a list of ninja-unfriendly ingredients.

Whoever gets the closest by April 1st gets a special prize!

What is this prize, you ask? Well, I’ve gotten approximately 50 million emails as of late requesting more recipes.

So, recipes you shall have! Winner gets their favorite recipe modified into a ninja-friendly version. I will contact you by email and we’ll work together until it’s delicious. If more than one of you gets it right, I’ll be selecting a random winner.

Happy label reading!
Until next time, when life gives you lemons, RUN!!!
The Lemon Ninja

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19 thoughts on “No Good Read Goes Unpunished

  1. Wow tough label. Several things I am not familiar with. Sugar (since you marked it on another) Soy lecithin, oleic oil, corn syrup.
    That is all I have without cheating. I do not normally eat sweets. Really going to learn a lot on this one.

  2. Sugar, enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, folic acid, high oleic canola oil and/or palm oil and/or canola oil, and/or soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, leavening (baking soda and/or calcium phosphate, soy lecithin, vanillin, chocolate

  3. HF Corn syrup,

    soy lecithin,

    vanillin (bc it says “Artifical flavor” so we’re not actually 100% sure of its contents?),
    the oils because they don’t specify “expeller expressed” and when it has various different possible oils listed you don’t know which ones were *actually* used (an aside, this comes up at Passover for potato chips, you have to carefully read to make sure the potatoes were fried in sunflower oil and not something else),

    sugar bc it doesn’t specify what the sugar is derived from,

    cornstarch-I assume if corn contains citric acid then cornstarch would too?

    cocoa and chocolate-because of your note above about some chocolate being safe and some not, and in such a mass produced product better to err on the assumption that it’s not the safe kind

    ummm, I’m going to go ahead and put flour down because what if it’s bleached?

    (Is there actually anything friendly to ninjas in oreos? Can salt and baking soda be trusted?)

    • Thank you for this wonderful, in-depth analysis, Kosher Ninja!

      I will give you one hint: flour bleaching is actually not an issue for ninjas, as it’s done with gross chemicals that are all synthetic and not related to/derived from/synthesized with citric acid 🙂

  4. Sugar (the source is unknown), canola oil (unknown if cold or expeller pressed), soybean oil (soy), high fructose corn syrup (corn), cornstarch (corn), leavening (baking soda maybe contain corn), soy lecithin (soy).

  5. Sugar, enriched flour, high oleic canola oil, palm oil, soybeans oil, cocoa, high fructose corn syrup, cornstartch, leavening, soy lecithin, vanillin, and chocolate. Some of these might be safe if we knew more about them. The chocolate for instance. But most chocolates have some type of allergen in them. There’s my best guess!

    • Well done, Ninja Cadie! You are right, a lot of ingredients are mysteries – they may or may not be safe, and there is usually not a way to find out for sure. How rude! Thanks for participating, and stay tuned for the answers 🙂

  6. Hi there

    Yes I too have had troubles with Citric acid and msg.
    I’m a sleep walker and have found out it’s mainly due to the food I eat.
    Anyway my diet is going much better now
    Thanks for your article
    Regards
    Joel

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