Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cultured Celery Extract in 'Natural Selections'

Consumers may have been please to notice the lack of Nitrates/Nitrites in Maple Leaf Foods' Natural Selections Line of processed meats. This same product line lists an ingredient new to most consumers, Cultured Celery Extract. Celery is a natural source of nitrites/nitrates. This was introduced to American consumers through 'no nitrate' added hot dogs with Celery Juice as a source of nitrates.

Cultured Celery Extract - What is it?
While I have no sources to understand exactly what Cultured Celery Extract is, we can deduce a few things from its name and Canadian labelling regulations.

'Natural Selections' products are definitely making a Natural claim. Let's see what the CFIA guide to labelling tells us about use of the word Natural.

"Foods or ingredients of foods submitted to processes that have significantly altered their original physical, chemical or biological state should not be described as "natural"."
and

"Advertisements should not convey the impression that "Nature" has, by some miraculous process, made some foods nutritionally superior to others or has engineered some foods specially to take care of human needs."

In my opinion, this is exactly what every product with the word 'Natural' is doing. Unfortunately Pure and Natural claims have no specific guidelines and are enforced on a case to case basis. We are provided with a list of processes which do and do not make a product 'natural'.

Cultured - Since this product is using a natural claim, one must assume that this ingredient is naturally derived. Cultured refers to the addition of a microbial culture in order to achieve a biochemical change (acidification of cheese, alcohol production in wine, etc). Non-chemical fermentation is a 'natural' process according to Canadian labelling regulations.

Extract - This could indicate some measures are taken to only extract or concentrate certain fractions of the vegetable, perhaps because of the high water content in celery. The following definition is listed by the CFIA as a process that still qualifies as 'Natural' Separating (including screening, clarifying, centrifugation, decanting, extraction, filtering, shelling, trimming).

Misleading?

Nitrates are a commercial standardcomponent of processed meats for safety (inhibits growth of botulism causing bacteria and quality (responsible for the red colour in ham, hot dogs, salami, etc) reasons. Many consumers are aware of recent links between red and processed meats and cancers, in which the role of nitrates is often a topic for discussion.

Whether nitrate containing meat will one day be declared 100% safe, I don't know, but I do think there are consumers who would not have purchased this product if it was clearly labelled Cultured Celery Extract (Nitrates). Consumers could easily mistake this ingredient for a natural-sounding flavouring ingredient.

Going back to the 'Natural' status of this food, you can decide for yourself if this ingredient has been "submitted to processes that have significantly altered (its) original physical, chemical or biological state".

Of course, many analogous ingredients exist due to consumers avoidance of unwanted label ingredients. hydrolyzed vegetable protein for MSG,

Some additional information from a group with an obvious bias. source: http://www.meatsafety.org/ht/d/sp/i/45243/pid/45243

"Some uncured products available today use vegetable-based ingredients like celery juice, which may contain nitrate naturally, to deliver a color and flavor similar to traditionally cured meats. When the sodium nitrate in celery, or other sodium nitrate-containing vegetables, is exposed to certain types of bacteria in the product, the nitrate is converted to sodium nitrite, which results in product characteristics similar to traditionally cured meat products. The amount of sodium nitrite consumed from these types of products versus traditionally cured meat products is virtually the same."


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