Halloween is a time when we let go of long-held standards such as “no candy bars for breakfast” and “no slasher-movie imagery for 18-month-olds.”
And most parents look the other way when another parent steals all of a child’s Almond Joys and pilfers a Twix or two.
But you might want to think twice before sharing in your kids’ take, or letting the kids eat it, because this stuff isn’t entirely made of food anymore.
Some major chocolate brands have taken out the cocoa butter and replaced it with … well, the derivative of a product that sometimes serves as a laxative (like those times Mussolini used it as a way to torture, embarrass and occasionally kill prisoners) or an outright poison, like when it’s used to make ricin, Walter White’s poison of choice on “Breaking Bad.”
Do you want food that comes in close proximity to it? It is made from the very useful castor bean plant, which is widely considered one of the most dangerous plants in the world, and also makes really nifty biodiesel and lubricates machines and engines well. This exciting ingredient is called PGPR, Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate. (See? It even has ricin in the name.)
The FDA knows about it, and deems it all OK. PGPR didn’t kill any rats or give them cancer in the 1950s and 1960s. (And we know how advanced detection of rat cancer must have been in the 1950s and 1960s.) It also helps manufacturers use more soy lecithin. If we eat more of this filler, candy companies can have a better bottom line, and we’ll get less … cocoa butter. I love when companies remove a major component of an item and sell it to me with less of it. Don’t you?
That’s OK, right? You may enjoy eating a viscous, yellow product you would never even touch as a raw ingredient so the company can alter the candy’s thickness for less. And then they can leave out those pesky ingredients that occur naturally in chocolate production, like cocoa butter, that are just so expensive and gooey and hard to use for the beleaguered chocolate company. Wouldn’t you rather they got some extra money by selling off that ingredient to cosmetic companies for other products, rather than giving you the stuff you think you’re already paying for and eating?
On its Web site, Hershey’s explains that it uses PGPR “to improve processing characteristics of chocolate.” It also helps in molding chocolate. Right. Because we know that there were such difficulties with that before 2006, when Hershey’s altered the formula by giving us less cocoa product — and more chemicals that had to be studied in many labs so companies would know how much they could safely feed to us.
It makes you think. How did Hershey’s ever manage to mold chocolate for the 106 years before that? It couldn’t have been that difficult.
It’s merely more expensive.
Hey, chocolate makers: How about you not add products that are fantastic for greasing engines to your products without checking with us first, OK? Maybe you could add a little tag that says “Now, with even more emulsifiers!” or “Rich in ricin derivatives.”
I suppose it is reassuring that the FDA has labeled PGPR as GRAS, Generally Regarded as Safe. An even better idea might be to lobby to change that label to “Generally Regarded as Chocolate.” You know, generally. Or “Now! Even more like chocolate!”
That might be a good distinction to make, since studies that say that chocolate has great health-enhancing qualities all count on it being, you know, made from actual chocolate and actual cocoa butter, and not just the FDA legal minimum of each, along with a substance created in a lab.
As usual, my mother was horrified to hear the news about this quiet switcheroo. “Why are theyputting that in there?”
As usual, the answer was not uplifting. “Because it’s cheaper,” I told her. “Because they can.”
And, finally, they can do this because only a few buyers are reading ingredient labels and asking questions. If you see an acronym, look it up. You may not like what you find.
Some products that do contain PGPR:
Hershey’s with Almonds
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Cadbury Fruit & Nut
Cadbury Dairy Milk
Some products that don’t contain PGPR:
Previously posted on my consumer protection blog, The Old Shoe (oldshoemag.com)