When it comes to food, you can’t always believe the label.
Food manufacturers just want to sell products. Intentionally misleading consumers seems like a rotten trick, but most people fail to notice that what they’re eating is just an imposter. Whether it’s cutting a pure product with cheap ingredients or completely replicating the taste and texture with something different, manufacturers will do anything to save a buck.
Here are 18 foods you’re eating that most likely aren’t what they say they are.
1. Bacon bits
Did you know bacon bits are vegan? That’s because they contain no actual meat. They’re really made from soy flour and a bunch of artificial additives and chemicals that mimic the taste of bacon. (“Soy flour bits” just didn’t have the same ring to it).
2. Parmesan cheese
The expensive cheese from Parma, Italy, tastes nothing like the cheap stuff you’ll find in a plastic shaker bottle at the grocery store. Even grosser? Most grated Parmesan cheese in America is cut with cheaper cheeses or even wood pulp (that’s what “cellulose” means).
3. Extra virgin olive oil
One of the most common fake foods in America is probably sitting on your pantry shelf right now. Pure extra virgin olive oil has plenty of healthy fats, but the stuff you buy at the grocery store is usually diluted with cheap peanut and soybean oil. This can prove dangerous for people with peanut allergies.
Is that fake fish in your tuna roll? Probably.
Larry Olmstead, author of the book Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It, found that tuna is usually substituted for cheaper escolar in sushi. “Consumers ordering white tuna get a completely different animal, no kind of tuna at all, 94 percent of the time,” he writes.
5. Maple syrup
It’s illegal to sell fake syrup and call it maple syrup, so some brands (ahem, Aunt Jemima) came up with the brilliant idea to call it “pancake syrup” and hope customers didn’t notice. Most commercial syrups contain corn syrup and not much else.
As with most things, label reading is crucial. If it doesn’t say 100% pure maple syrup, then it doesn’t have the nutritious value of the stuff that comes from maple trees.
Before you add that cute plastic bear bottle to your cart, check the label. There’s a good chance it has cheap ingredients like high fructose corn syrup in it. The product that’s worth your money should only contain one ingredient: honey.
Want to make sure you’re not getting duped? Buy your honey from a local farmers market instead.
Coffee drinkers, beware: your beloved beverage might be cut with cheap fillers.
Olmstead writes, “Contemporary researchers have found twigs, roasted corn, ground roasted barley, and even roasted ground parchment. Adulteration is more extreme in powdered instant coffee, where substances found have included chicory, cereals, caramel, parchment, starch, malt, and figs.”
The Congressional Research Service filed a report in 2014 that stated food manufacturers often add sawdust, leaves, and other plant matter to tea to make it last longer.
Your turmeric might have corn, your nutmeg might have pepper, and your oregano could be polluted with straight up weeds. Since most spices are imported, it’s difficult to regulate how they’re harvested or packaged.
The best way to ensure your spices are undiluted is to break out the mortar and pestle and grind them up yourself.
Check the label on your favorite exotic berry juice blend — most of the time, you’ll find it’s cut with cheap apple juice. And while you may think that’s healthy enough, take heed. Most apple juice in the United States is made with concentrate from China, which often contains banned pesticides and chemicals.
11. Red snapper
This expensive fish is faked all the time, which can be a real problem for young children and pregnant women since mercury-laden tilefish is often used in its place. Unless you catch it yourself, it’s safest to just skip purchasing this type of seafood.
12. Kobe beef
There are only nine restaurants in the United States that carry this pricey beef. If you’re not dining at one of them, you’re most likely not eating it.
13. Truffle oil
There’s something about ordering “truffle fries” that just sounds so fancy. But since genuine truffle oil is so expensive, most of the time you’re really eating chemicals that have been made to taste like truffles.
Chances are that bottle of bubbly you popped in celebration isn’t Champagne after all — it’s a sparkling wine.
“By some estimates, more than half of the wine labeled ‘Champagne’ sold in this country is not the real deal, and there are many producers, from Long Island to the Finger Lakes to California, with the biggest being Cook’s, André, Great Western, and Korbel,” Olmstead writes.
That little green blob on your sushi tray is leagues apart from the traditional Japanese wasabi that can cost up to $100 per pound. To mimic the taste (but not the price), 95 to 99 percent of American sushi restaurants use a mix of mustard, horseradish, and green food coloring to create their wasabi-like substance.
Crab meat is faked all the time to save money in everything from sushi to soup. Imitation crab, also called kamaboko, is made from ground up white fish that’s dyed to look real. It’s been referred to as, “the hot dog of the seafood world.”
17. Veggie burger
Opting for a veggie burger may sound like the healthier option, but most of the time these don’t have many vegetables in them at all. Veggie burgers are usually made with processed ingredients such as wheat gluten, soy, and vegetable oil, so they’ll taste like meat.
18. Popcorn butter
Butter isn’t bad for you — but the scary liquid they squirt onto your popcorn at the movie theater is a far cry from the dairy item made from cow milk. Buttery topping is made from hydrogenated soybean oil (a trans fat), artificial flavoring, beta carotene, and preservatives.