Care for some dihydrogen monoxide with your next meal?
You may have instinctual skepticism to that offer. But that’s the chemical name for H2O; good old-fashioned water.
A recent report reveals 10 percent of young adults want to ban dihydrogen monoxide from food and beverages. Obviously, news like this is frustrating to knowledgeable food scientists—or people who have seen Penn & Teller’s old skit.
The so-called “clean label” trend has been growing in recent years and is driven—at least in part—by hysterical responses to perfectly harmless ingredients that have a chemical name (like “high fructose corn syrup”) instead of a simpler name (like “corn sugar”).
Another recent example involves a lawsuit challenging the trendy La Croix drink for its “100% natural” claim, citing the beverage’s use of ingredients with unfamiliar names, including limonene and linalool. As research from Popular Science details, limonene is an oil extract from orange peels and linalool is an ingredient found in cinnamon and related plants.
Many people are familiar with the vitamin B12, but—per FDA regulations—B12 appears on some food labels as cyanocobalamin, which certainly doesn’t sound like something from the family recipe book, despite being a naturally occurring compound found in beef and tuna.
All this is to say that “clean labels” are not indicative of a food’s quality or how healthy it is.
Clearly, the natural food trend has a certain sentimental appeal, though it carries with it some downright farcical baggage, such as the rejection of any ingredients that don’t pass the “pronounceability test.”
Over the years, food scientists have worked to refine foods in order to reduce spoilage and contamination, allowing consumers to be less wasteful. That work should be celebrated, not shunned over mere terminology. And since we can’t expect consumer to become food technologists, it might be helpful if regulators and ingredient makers agreed to use simpler (but accurate) names instead of technical ones.