My first rule for Real Food newbies is so simple. Become a label nazi. The only thing I ask is this: that you start looking at the ingredients label of everything (and I mean everything) that you buy or eat. You’d think it’d be easy. But sometimes we self-delude. Or perhaps we just don’t know what all the ingredients on a label actually are, so they don’t scare us (or disgust us) like they should.
Well, I thought you might enjoy a series of posts in which I examine the labels of some of the more popular “healthy” foods out there. In that spirit, I’m starting a weekly Decoding Labels post. In this series, I’ll highlight deceptive labeling practices, hidden ingredients, and more! If you’ve got a particular label pet-peeve you’d like me to share, please feel free to email me with your idea.
This week’s villain? Better Than Bouillon.
Better Than Bouillon is marketed as an MSG-free, better-tasting alternative to bouillon. You can use it as a replacement for bouillon in recipes.
Here’s what the label claims:
“Better Than Bouillon concentrated bases are made from meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables. This gives them a richer, more robust flavor than ordinary bouillons. No added MSG, low or no fat, lower sodium: Better Than Bouillon bases have 1/3 less salt than ordinary bouillons.”
Better Than Bouillon: Ingredients
- Chicken meat including natural chicken juices,
- corn syrup solids,
- chicken fat,
- hydrolyzed soy protein,
- dried whey (milk),
- disodium inosinate and guanylate,
Better Than Bouillon: DECODED
At first glance, the product looks somewhat promising. After all, it’s made from real meat. Surely that’s a plus right there? It sounds like it’s just a concentrated form of broth. It doesn’t have MSG! Surely that’s a plus, too? Maybe if you’re trying to eat less processed foods, you’d see this label and think that perhaps this was a healthier alternative to bouillon.
But the actual ingredients give the product away. The first thing we can say with certainty is that there is plenty of MSG in this product! (Read about why MSG is dangerous.)
How do I know that? Because hydrolyzed soy protein is an ingredient that always contains MSG! (source) Because the manufacturer didn’t add an ingredient called “mono-sodium glutamate,” they can “truthfully” claim “No MSG added” on their label. Yet, nothing is stopping them from adding ingredients that contain MSG. In that case, the manufacturer only has to list the name of the actual ingredient added, not the ingredients within those ingredients.
Because of this little-known fact, another ingredient on this label should give us pause: flavoring. MSG often hides in “flavoring,” “natural flavoring,” or “spices.” (source) Furthermore, the process used to create the dried whey produces — you guessed it — MSG!
And, as if that isn’t damning enough, the presence of disodium inosinate and guanylate alone would convince the savvy label-reader that MSG is certainly present. Why is that? Because these food additives are completely ineffective and useless without MSG! These are flavor enhancers that work in conjunction with MSG. There’s absolutely no reason for them to be there unless MSG is also there. (source)
For more on where MSG may be hiding in your food labels, I’ve created a handy, downloadable, easy-to-print guide for you.
Aside from all the MSG-containing and complimenting ingredients, the rest of the label is spotty as well. Corn syrup solids? Hello, highly-refined, genetically-engineered corn! Sugar? While this may seem harmless enough, chances are good that even this ingredient is made from genetically-engineered sugar beets. These highly-processed ingredients have no place in the Real Food kitchen.
Better Than Bouillon: THE VERDICT
So, what should you use instead?
Homemade broth, of course! Want to know how bouillon came to usurp the traditional, nutrient-rich bone broth? Read America Needs More Brothals.
Making homemade broth is easy! Check out this post on how to make beef broth.