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You put WHAT in my food?

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Would you drink chocolate milk with seaweed in it? Eat pudding flavored with wood pulp? Or drink pink grapefruit juice colored with bugs? Don't say "yuck!" You've probably already eaten them! Read on....

SEAWEED, ANYONE? It's likely that you've eaten something with seaweed in it today. That's because seaweed is a very common food ingredient. It's been used for centuries. Look for it in the list of ingredients in chocolate milk, ice cream, pudding, cottage cheese, salad dressing, even packaged luncheon meats, to name a few.

But don't look for "seaweed" on the label. It's carrageenan (KAIR-uh-GHEE-nun). You may also see it listed as "carrageen" or "carragheen." To make it, a type of red seaweed is harvested along the coasts of New England and Canada.

The seaweed is raked into boats and rinsed off. Then it's taken to processing plants where it is turned into a tasteless, off-white powder. The powder dissolves quickly in water and becomes jellylike when it comes into contact with substances (proteins) found in milk.

Carrageenan acts as an emulsifier. Emulsifiers keep food particles evenly distributed in a liquid. Without carrageenan, the cocoa particles in chocolate milk would all sink to the bottom, and pudding wouldn't be as creamy. It also keeps large ice crystals from forming in ice cream, and helps hold together cakes, pastries, and luncheon meats.

One more thing: Recipes don't use much seaweed. In fact, your chocolate milk is 99.97 percent carrageenan-free, by weight.

GENUINE 'BUG JUICE' What does a tiny, reddish-brown insect that lives on prickly pear cacti in Mexico and South America have to do with candy and grapefruit juice? Answer: the color.

The insects are made into a crimson dye that's safe to use to color candy, juices, soft drinks, jellies, and dairy products. But don't look for "bugs" on the ingredient label. It will be listed as "cochineal" (COK-uh-neel) or "carmine" (a cochineal extract).

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