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Fiber One Bars--Now with Heart-Healthy Ethanol!

The other day, against my better judgement, I went down to the vending machines because I was hungry. I was looking for something reasonable, but I wasn't in the mood for peanuts (one of the least-processed items). Saw the Fiber One bar, screaming that it supplied 35% of my daily fiber. Okay, maybe this isn't a "too" terrible choice, maybe along the lines of a Nature's Valley granola bar, all full of oaty goodness. Put in my three quarters, selected D7, and was the proud owner of a Fiber One bar.

Well, tastewise this was a minor disaster. Granted it had only 140 calories, but what insipid calories those were. Basically, the Fiber One bar was a sticky gob of sweetness in search of a flavor. Some oats that were unfortunately caught in a Pompeiian flow of gooeyness, unable to escape this sad, sweetened lava. Clearly, I won't be buying these again.

Fast forward about 45 minutes. I am in the middle of grading short essays on an exam I gave. At some point, I need to put down the exams and read something more coherent, like the label on the Fiber One bar. Might as well see what kind of a chemistry experiment I'd eaten. What I found was interesting--one of the ingredients (a component of the "chocolate shellac" ) was ethanol! Yup, the same stuff that local gas stations add to their gasoline. Okay, I know that ethanol is grain alcohol, but I'd never seen it listed on a food label before. I had to run down the hall to tell one of my colleagues! Why doesn't General Mills market this to fraternity brothers, listing "Everclear" as an ingredient?

My eyes came across another interesting ingredient--High Maltose Corn Syrup. Could one of our resident Chowhound chemists elucidate me on exactly was this is? Something to replace High Fructose Corn Syrup so that food labels can read "no HFCS", when instead something equally unfoodlike is in its place? Is this Cargill's newest corn-derived weapon in its arsenal? Someone, fill me in!

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  1. yes, ethanol is grain alcohol, but it's also the same alcohol that's in wine, beer, spirits, etc. etc. as in, it's not toxic (unless of course consumed to excess :)
    i assume that since it's a component of the chocolate shellac (which sounds kind of gross to tell the truth) it's needed to dissolve one of the chocolatey components. i wouldn't be too concerned.

    1. Maltose is a sugar compose to two glucose sugar molecules. Sucrose, by comparison, is composed of a glucose and a fructose molecule. Plain corn syrup is nearly pure glucose. A lot of maltose is produced by sprouting and drying grains such as barley, i.e. malt (think beer, and Grape Nuts). Maltose does not taste as sweet as sucrose or glucose and fructose blends.

      I don't know if this high maltose corn syrup has been produced by further processing the glucose corn syrup, or whether it has been produced in a more traditional manner by first sprouting the corn.

      1. As nzach said, I think you can rest easy about the ethanol. Assuming the product you ingested wasn't a liquid, you didn't consume any 'Everclear' so no need to alert the frat houses. Some chemicals won't go into solution in water but will do so in ethanol. Ethanol can also be used as a preservative. If you've ever consumed any type of alcohol, you've consumed ethanol. Not a big deal.

        7 Replies
        1. re: pollymerase

          Reminds me of the propylene glycol in my late lamented Big Mac.

          I bet the ethanol takes up space that would otherwise used by real food, though.

          Kind of like the melamine debacle.

          Clever, those food manufacturers, are they not?

          1. re: dolores

            I don't follow that 'takes up space' comment. How does it do that? What real food is it replacing? Do we have any idea of what the proportions? A tenth of a percent, maybe?

            With out seeing the full ingredient list, I suspect the ethanol (alcohol) comes from the vanilla flavoring that was added to the chocolate. Look at the extract on your shelf. Does it list alcohol as an ingredient? If so, you have been guilty of 'padding' your baked goods with ethanol for many years.

            I suspect we are seeing a change in labeling requirements, as opposed to a change in formulation. In the past we might have just seen 'vanilla extract', 'vanilla flavoring', or even 'natural flavorings' in the ingredients list, now we are seeing a more detailed listing.

            p.s.
            I pulled up the fiber one ingredients list. I don't see vanilla listed, so I may be wrong about that source. Still, the ethanol is part of the chocolate chips. Those are probably an item the GM buys some someone else. If the ethanol wasn't a carrier for some flavoring, it might have been added to control texture or consistency. Also some ethanol is producing during the fermentation of cacao beans.

            If you are looking for non-food fillers, what about the fiber? Isn't fiber a filler that passes through the digestive tract, contributing bulk without being digested? It may be beneficial, but it isn't food in the sense of contributing calories, vitamins and/or minerals.

            1. re: dolores

              Like paulj, I don't understand how evaporated ethanol is taking up space and replacing the space of real food.

              1. re: pollymerase

                Snark. It shouldn't be there in the first place.

                Just as propylene glycol shouldn't be in a strawberry shake.

                Just as melamine shouldn't be in dog food.

                1. re: dolores

                  Why not?

                  I can see the problem with propylene glycol and melamine. Both are toxic, and neither is a traditional food. Ethanol, on the other hand, is an important solvent that has been used for centuries in everything from tomato sauce (the ethanol in wine or vodka releases certain flavors of the tomato) to baked goods (ethanol is used to allow the volatile oils in vanilla to combine with water-based ingredients).

                  So why shouldn't it be there?

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Propylene glycol isn't toxic to people, cats maybe. It is considered GRAS by the FDA and is used in many food additives. The only way it is poisonous is in enormous amounts consumed in a very short period of time. If you drank as much water as the poisonous level of propylene glycol, the water would kill you too. Ethylene glycol is the poisonous anti-freeze stuff.

                    1. re: JMF

                      You're right. I was thinking of ethylene glycol.

          2. Interesting comments here. I wasn't worried, rather I was amused. I'd never seen ethanol listed as an ingredient in a food product before! I did go to my local Meijer (a midwestern Super Wal-Mart type of place) and looked at the other snack bars--none of them listed ethanol in the list of ingredients. No, I wasn't worried about having to be careful near open flames!

            paulj is correct, it is a small amount--essentially, it's an ingredient in the "chocolate shellac"--whatever that is--so I assume it constitutes a very small proportion of the total ingredients. I think Dolores was trying to make a point about chemical additives in food (and if I'm mistaken, please correct me). BTW, an interesting book on fod additives is Twinkie Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger--some of these things are MINED, not grown! Plus, it's just a fun read (though I haven't finished it yet!)

            2 Replies
            1. re: nofunlatte

              Mined like salt?

              Minerals are an essential part of the diet. We get most of them from plants, which have absorbed from the soil. Soil in turn is weathered rock mixed with decaying organic matter.

              Years ago I read a short Scifi story about a gastronomically obsessed society - using synthesized ingredients. One of judges fainted when he learned that an award winning entry was prepared with an ingredient grown in dirt - garlic.

              1. re: paulj

                Mined like gypsum. I thought it was a neat factoid, because we typically think of our food as being grown, not mined (salt being the obvious exception).

                Thanks for the maltose clarification. And that story sounds like a fun foodie read!

            2. The ethanol might be used to dissolve the shellac, Food Additive E904, which is an insect secretion. It is used to improve the appearance of the chocolate chips.

              http://www.laleva.cc/food/enumbers/E9...
              "The purified form of the resin exuded by the female of the lac insect Laccifer lacca, found in India and the Far East.
              After drying into sheets it is normally supplied as an alcohol solution ...
              Used as a glazing agent and polish it is found on cake decorations, fruit, pills and sweets. "

              1. Funny we should be debating minor ingredients like ethanol. How about the first one on the list, chicory root extract?
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicory_...

                It is primarily inulin, a insoluble fiber
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inulin

                2 Replies
                1. re: paulj

                  What is debatable about chicory root extract? Also, according to wikipedia, inulin is soluble fiber.

                  1. re: Humbucker

                    Maybe nothing. On the other hand, it is classed as a food additive, and some people distrust anything added or processed. But prebiotics may be topic for another thread or forum.

                2. A little off-topic, but next time, get the All-Bran bars. At least they taste awesome.

                  1. I HATED the chocolate fiber one - it tasted like cheap chocolate syrup, not anything at all like chocolate. Caramel's sickly sweet... but if you ever decide to have one again, peanut butter tastes the best, closely followed by the apple one. The 'strawberry' one tastes okay but it doesn't actually have any strawberry in it -they used cranberries with flavouring, so I'm honestly bewildered as to why they didn't just call it a CRANBERRY bar. BTW, looking at the labels, the pseudo-chocolate bar is the only one to contain ethanol - maybe that's why I really didn't like it!

                    1. I saw a soft drink the other day with a big "No HFCS" label on it, picked it up to read the ingredients first came water then "rice syrup". Now I'm not sure what -tose is in that but swapping out one undesirable sweetener for a less known one strikes me as a bit disingenuous. The product had one of those whalesong and incense names that was supposed to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Scrapironchef

                        "Whalesong and incense" is right - the only place I've ever seen rice syrup is at the health food store. It's actually a fairly good choice as sweeteners go because it's minimally processed and has lots of complex carbs, lots of maltose (which breaks down slowly), and just a little glucose.

                        1. re: Scrapironchef

                          BROWN rice syrup is prominent ingredient in 'health' energy bars and sports goo. Cliff, for example, has been using it for years. Theirs is 'organic' too.

                          One of the Cliff bars also has ClifCrunch (tm) - apple fiber, oat fiber, flaxseed, chicory extract, psyllium. If that doesn't keep you regular, nothing will. 5g dietary fiber, 4g insouble fiber.

                        2. I look at these Fiber One bars as candy bars with fiber. That's the only way I can eat them with a clear conscience. I figure if I have a sugar/chocolate craving, it's better to eat one of these and get some fiber than it is to scarf a Snickers bar. Although, I'd much rather have the Snickers.