Have you ever bought something “buttery” only to find that it contains no butter? How about a product with fruit pictured on the label but no fruit inside?
Consumer Reports’ local shopping expedition and its Facebook fans turned up these examples of food fake outs. It asked companies to explain the connections, but most either didn’t respond or were vague.
• McCormick Bac’n Pieces. Bac’n bits have no meat. They’re a blend of soy flour, canola oil, salt, caramel color, maltodextrin (a thickener or filler), natural and artificial flavors, lactic acid, yeast extract, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate (flavor enhancers), and red food dye. On the other hand, they are cholesterol-free.
• International Delight Gourmet Coffee Creamer. “The taste of melted ice cream (from Cold Stone Creamery) in your coffee” the label teases. “Pour it on, buckle up and blast off to the sweet ‘n creamy stratosphere.”
If you’re expecting a dollop of melted ice cream, you’re in for a hard landing. The Food and Drug Administration insists that real ice cream contain at least 10 percent milk fat. This creamer is mostly water, sugar and palm oil.
• Wise Onion Rings. “Packed with delicious, real onion flavor!” the label says. But these rings bear little resemblance to batter-dipped, deep-fried onion slices.
The top three (of 18) ingredients: corn starch, tapioca starch and vegetable oil. There are also four food colorings, one of them blue. As for real onions, a company rep said there aren’t any. These are onion-flavored rings, she noted, with a seasoning that includes garlic powder, paprika and onion powder. It’s applied to the rings after they’re cooked.
• Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats Blueberry. The box pictures blueberries, but the ingredients show no evidence of actual fruit. They include whole-grain wheat, sugar, corn ... and red and blue food coloring.
A Kellogg’s consumer affairs specialist acknowledged the lack of blueberries, saying the cereal gets its flavor from a “confidential and proprietary” blend of natural and artificial flavors. Under FDA labeling rules, the company doesn’t have to be any more specific than that.
• Nabisco Oreos. That white filling lacks milk, butter, eggs or any other dairy component. (When Consumer Reports asked a Kraft customer service rep what makes the filling smooth and creamy, she said the answer was a trade secret.) Oreos have about a dozen ingredients, starting with sugar, flour, various vegetable oils, high-fructose corn syrup and cocoa. Chocolate is the last ingredient.
• Mrs. Butterworth’s Original Syrup. There’s neither butter nor maple syrup in this topping, though a representative from Pinnacle Foods said that Mrs. Butterworth’s did include 2 percent real butter in the 1970s. Today’s version lists high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, salt, cellulose gum (a thickener) and molasses before a generic reference to “natural and artificial” flavor.
Many commercially prepared products are loaded with the stuff of chemistry class and tend to be high in calories from added sugars. Consumer Reports’ advice:
• Look past pretty pictures and tasty names. Photos of fruit and words such as “butter” may convey a false impression of what’s inside. The truth is on the label. The FDA requires that ingredients be listed in descending order by weight.
• Compare labels. Some processed foods have more extras than others. In addition to milk and cream, Kraft Simply Cottage Cheese includes whey; salt; modified food starch; guar, xanthan and carob bean gums; and carrageenan. Daisy Cottage Cheese, on the other hand, has three ingredients: skim milk, cream and salt.
• Beware of buzzwords. There’s a reason companies use “bac’n” instead of bacon: It’s not the real deal. Potato “crisps” such as Lay’s can’t be “chips” because the FDA requires a chip to consist of a thinly sliced potato fried in deep fat, not something fabricated from dried potatoes with cornstarch, sugar and soy lecithin.