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Jun 8, 2014 08:19 AM

Clear or unclear on the meaning of "artificial" in foods?

A new thread to continue conversation on a contested claim that I made in another thread. My claim: "I do think that the term 'artificial,' like 'authentic,' is a rabbit hole. One needs to work from specifics and evidence [before denigrating a food ingredient for being artificial]." (The square-brackets part is added here to clarify meaning.)

I genuinely wonder whether any shared principle can be generated on this question. For example, is dry- or wet-cured ham artificial? Baking soda (which can be mined or manufactured)? MSG? Pickled items? Brisket cured with saltpeter?

Also, I think we might start from an assumption that some people see this as an issue of flavor and/or nutrition while others skew more toward the "health" or ecological end of the spectrum (which can also include nutrition).

CH doesn't want to be a forum for arguments about health, but I think it would be constructive and not over-the-line if people express whether the term "artificial ingredient" is meaningful to them mainly in a health sense (like, "Something loaded with artificial ingredients can taste awesome, but I regard it as unwholesome").

To put my own cards on the table: I'm no purist, but I steer clear of packaged foods with lists of ingredients when many chemical rather than familiar names are totally running the show. Indeed, I don't buy many packaged foods. But I'm also not into being sanctimonious about it. It's just how I roll, because I find most packaged foods to be less appealing in taste.

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  1. Looks like you don't have any takers so far on this hot-potato topic.

    I'm on both the health and the quality/tastiness sides of things, with a serving of disgust for what manufacturers want to pass off as good food.

      1. re: GH1618

        This. Just like the term "natural" has no useful meaning.

      2. B2 --
        your initial volley was too reasonable to generate a flurry of contrarian responses.

        1. Thanks, All. I did notice, but did not take personally, the lack of immediate uptake on this thread idea.

          On the one hand, I fault myself for having built in perhaps too much into the initial post, as Kris in Beijing suggests. But, on the other hand, perhaps we would have learned nothing more from a more wide-open invitation which managed to solicit a flurry of opinions, adding up to much the same thing. We have little clarity and agreement on what the term "artificial" nor when and how its meanings matter!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bada Bing

            I have a bigger issue with people using 'chemicals' to describe ingredients like guar gum, carageenan, etc. that may be not-stricly-necessary additives, but are natural thickeners, not created in a lab out of other components.

          2. What you should be more concerned about is the (VERY loose) definition of "natural flavorings" in food products.