What’s in a Cookie? Cookie Ingredients Explained.

photo of chocolate chip cookies and milk

What’s In A Cookie?

I admit that I am a huge cookie fan. I know they aren’t healthy. But, really, who doesn’t like a good cookie?
photo of chocolate chip cookies and milk (cookie ingredients)
A few weeks ago, I posted a link to The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies on the Food Construed Facebook page:

Since then, I’ve been thinking about cookie ingredients. It’s easy to look at a recipe or an ingredient list and see what goes into the cookie. The article provides great answers to questions about why specific ingredients are used and what purpose they serve. What I’ve been wondering is how do processed, pre-packaged store bought cookies differ from homemade?

Homemade Cookie Ingredients:

First, lets look at one of my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipes. The cookie ingredients are:

  • All-purpose flour
  • Chocolate chips
  • Dried cranberries
  • Butter
  • Granulated sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Egg
  • Baking soda
  • vanilla
  • salt

Flour

Flour provides most of the cookie’s structure. The ratio of flour to fat (butter in this case) determines how much the cookie will spread out as it bakes.

For those of you who want to take cookie baking very seriously, there are different types of flour you could use to help adjust the cookie’s structure. The main difference between types of flour is the amount of protein. Less protein (cake flour) in the flour means the cookie will be very soft. More protein (bread flour) makes the cookies chewy. All-purpose flour seems to be a good middle ground.

Chocolate Chips

Well, they wouldn’t be chocolate chip cookies if there weren’t any chocolate chips! Here’s what my chocolate chips are made from:

The soy lecithin is an emulsifier that prevents the cocoa and cocoa butter from separating.

Dried Cranberries

Not much to say here. Just dried cranberries.  I think they give the cookie a bit of tang that balances the chocolate.

Butter

All cookies need some sort of fat.  Butter is commonly used, but so is shortening.  The fat serves a number of different purposes in the cookie.

It makes the cookie tender.  It does this by preventing the formation of gluten.  Gluten is a tough stretchy protein formed when flour is mixed with water.  Gluten cannot form is the presence of fats.

The higher the proportion of fat to other ingredients, the more the cookie will spread.

Finally, butter in particular adds colour and flavour to the cookie.  Butter browns and adds nuttiness and butterscotch flavours to cookies.

How the fat is added to the cookie can also affect texture.  If the fat and sugars are creamed, the cookie tends to be lighter.  Melting the fat and adding it to the remaining cookie ingredients results in dense cookies.

Granulated Sugar

White sugar is crystallized sucrose. It has a relatively neutral in pH.
White sugar tends to give up more moisture than other sugars (such as brown sugar). So, cookies made with more white sugar tend to be crisper.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is just white sugar covered with a layer of syrup, usually molasses. Molasses is a byproduct of processing sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. It contains roughly 30% sucrose, 12% glucose, and 12% fructose. It can also contain significant amounts of several minerals making it slightly acidic.

Because of it’s acidity, brown sugar can react with baking soda to create air bubbles. The cookie will rise higher and spread less than a cookie made with white sugar.

Egg

Except for a small amount in the butter, the egg is the main source of moisture in the cookie ingredients. The water combines with the flour to produce gluten.

The egg whites and the gluten are good at trapping air bubbles. The bubbles help the cookie rise.

The egg yolks provide proteins that help make the cookie tender with a brownie or fudge-like consistency.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. It is an alkaline powder. When mixed with a liquid and an acid, the baking soda reacts to produce sodium and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gets trapped in the bubbles formed by the egg whites or gluten. And again, this helps the cookie rise.

Vanilla and Salt

Vanilla and salt are just used to adjust the flavour of the cookie.

Commercially Produced Cookie Ingredients:

I first thing I did was to look at the nutritional information provided on the
Chips Ahoy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies website.

Here is the ingredients list:

  • Unbleached Enriched Flour
  • Semisweet Chocolate Chips
  • Sugar,
  • Soybean oil and/or Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed oil,
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup,
  • Leavening (Baking Soda and/or Ammonium Phosphate),
  • Salt,
  • Whey (from Milk),
  • Natural and Artificial Flavor,
  • Caramel Color.

The flour contains:
Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate {Vitamin b1}, Riboflavin {Vitamin b2}, Folic Acid.

The chocolate chips contain:
Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin)

So, a lot of the ingredients are the same as the homemade cookie ingredients.

The main exceptions seem to be soybean oil and whey used in place of the butter and egg. Another noticeable difference is the use of high fructose corn syrup. These substitutions lower the cost and ease of manufacturing the cookies.

We don’t know what natural or artificial flavours have been added. Ingredient lists can be pretty vague about these things.

The caramel colour is used to make the cookie look better. According to the Center for Science in ihe Public Interest, there is a possibility that the caramel colour may cause cancer. You have to wonder why manufacturers still use it. It would be interesting to see what cookies made without the colour look like. Would people actually buy one version over the other?

Leave a comment and tell your opinion.

Posted in Baking, Cooking, Food Additives, Fresh Food, Ingredients

What is Soy Lecithin?

Photo of Ingredient Label Containing Soy Lecithin

Lecithin

Purpose

Lecithin is a food additive with an E number of 322. It is used as an emulsifier.  An emulsifier is a substance used to stabilize mixtures of oil and water preventing separation.

Description:

Lecithin is very common.  It can be found in both plant and animal tissues.  Lecithin was first discovered in 1846 by Theodore Gobley.  It was first found in egg yolk and the word lecithin comes from the ancient greek word for “egg yolk”.

Sources of lecithin include soy beans, eggs, milk, and sunflower.  Because they are cheap and easy to grow, soy beans are the major source lecithin production.

Common Uses:

Photo of Ingredient Label Containing Soy Lecithin

Soy Lecithin

It is one of the most commonly used additives in processed foods.  It is most often found in cases where an emulsifier is required.  It can also be used to prevent foods from sticking.

Some specific examples include:

  • Baked goods
  • Spreads and dressings
  • Chocolate

Health Issues / Side Effects:

It is a source of choline.  As such, it is sold as a dietary supplement.  There have been studies that seem to indicate it can relieve acne, improve liver function, and lower cholesterol.1

Because it is most often produced from soy oil, people with severe soy allergies may want to avoid it.

Notes:

Anybody who wants to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) may also want to avoid products containing soy lecithin.  This is because most soy bean crops have been genetically modified.

Sources

  1. Choline: An Essential Nutrient for Public Health

Further Reading

Posted in Emulsifier, Food Additives, Ingredients

What are the Ingredients in Mayonnaise?

Picture of adding oil to mayonnaise

Mayonnaise

Have you ever brought home a jar of mayonnaise and looked at the ingredients label?

According to Wikipedia:

Mayonnaise is a thick, creamy sauce often used as a condiment. It is a stable emulsion of oil, egg yolk and either vinegar or lemon juice.

So, what are all of those other label ingredients?  Here is an ingredient label from a popular brand:

Water, soybean oil, sugar, vinegar, modified cornstarch, egg yolks, salt, mustard, potassium sorbate, spices, calcium disodium edta, dried garlic, modified coconut oil or modified palm kernel oil(medium chain triglycerides)

Some of the ingredients are pretty straight forward. We all know water, sugar, vinegar, egg yolks, salt, and mustard. What about the rest? What purpose do these unpronounceable chemicals serve?

Let’s take a look at these ingredients.

Modified Cornstarch

The modified starch is used as a thickener and stabilizer.

Egg Yolks

Lecithin in the egg yolk is the emulsifier. This means it helps the oil and vinegar combine.

Potassium Sorbate

Potassium sorbate is one of the most common food preservatives. It is used to slow the growth of molds and yeasts in foods.

Calcium Disodium EDTA

This is another preservative. It prevents disagreeable odors or tastes from decomposing oils or fats. Because of this, it is often found in salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauces, and sandwich spreads.

Modified Coconut Oil or Modified Palm Kernel Oil

Sometime mayonnaise is sold in squeeze bottles. The coconut oil helps the mayonnaise slide out.

Does it Really Have to Be This Complicated?

All brands are not the same. Another popular brand contains these ingredients:

Canola Oil, Water, Liquid Whole Egg, Vinegar, Salt, Liquid Yolk, Sugar, Spices, Concentrated Lemon Juice, Calcium Disodium EDTA.

Homemade Mayonnaise


Mayonnaise


By Food Construed
Published: June 2, 2014

Mayonnaise is really simple to make at home. Here is a quick and simple recipe:

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 large organic egg yolk
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Using a blender or food processor, combine egg yolk and mustard.
  2. With the blender running, very slowly add the oil in a thin stream.
  3. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Pulse the blender until smooth.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Picture of adding oil to mayonnaise


Slowly add the oil to the mayonnaise

Links:

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise Ingredients

Posted in Cooking, Food Additives, Fresh Food, Ingredients, Preservative

Saccharin

What is Saccharin?

Saccharin is a food additive used as an artificial sweetener. It has an E number of 954.  The name comes from the latin word for sugar, saccharum.

Other artificial sweeteners include:

photo of saccharin

Saccharin

Description:

Sweeteners like saccharin are not broken down by the body at all.  They provide no calories, and are frequently termed “zero-calorie” sweeteners.

It is roughly 300 times sweeter than regular table sugar.

It was discovered in 1878 by two scientists. Constantin Fahlberg and Ira Remsen worked in a laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. This makes it the oldest artificial sweetener.

Saccharin is not stable when heated.  As a result, it is not often used in baked goods.  On the other hand, it has a long shelf life because it does not react with other foods.

It is often combined with other artificial sweeteners.  These blends are produced so that each sweetener can compensate for the weaknesses of the others.

Common Uses:

In countries where it is allowed, saccharin is often used to sweeten drinks, candies, and cookies.  It is also used in medicines, and toothpaste.

Sweet’N Low™ is probably the most familiar form.  The pink packets used to sweeten tea and coffee are often found in restaurants.

Health Issues / Side Effects:

Saccharin has always been controversial.  in the 1970’s studies showed that it could cause bladder cancer in mice.  The U.S. Congress required that all food containing saccharin display the following warning label:

Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

Later studies found that the causes of the cancer in mice did not apply to humans.

In 2000, the legislation was repealed. The warning labels were removed.  The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has been critical of this move.  They still believe that saccharin should be avoided. 

Notes:

Saccharin has been banned in Canada for many years.  In 2014, Health Canada has decided to lift restrictions and allow its use.

Sources

  1. National Cancer Institute – Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer
  2. The National Library of Medicine – The Carcinogenicity of Saccharin
  3. Health Canada – Use of Saccharin in Various Unstandardized Foods
  4. Center for Science in the Public Interest

Further Reading

  1. Wikipedia – Saccharin
  2. Globe and Mail – Reality check: The raw truth about saccharin
Posted in Food Additives, Ingredients, Sweetener

Azodicarbonamide

Sliced Flax Seed Bread

Azodicarbonamide: What is it and Why is it in My Food?

Azodicarbonamide has become known as the “yoga mat” chemical. But, what is it really? It is a chemical compound added to flour as a bleaching and improving agent. It is also used as a foaming agent in the production some plastic products (such as yoga mats).

The fast food chain, Subway, made headlines recently when it stopped using the additive in bread.  This move came after a successful online campaign and petition.

Description

Azodicarbonamide is a crystalline powder. It is yellow to orange red in colour. It is odourless.  The full chemical formula is C2H4O2N4.

Azodicarbonamide structure

Azodicarbonamide structure

Common Uses

Azodicarbonamide is used to bleach and “improve” flour.  It is banned in Europe but allowed in Canada and the U.S. Freshly milled flour has a yellowish colour. When stored for several months, the flour oxidizes.  It becomes whiter and the baking qualities improve. Unfortunately, this process is slow and the results are inconsistent. Aging flour can be costly and time consuming for industrial producers. Azodicarbonamide is used to speed up the oxidation process. This allows companies to produce a more consistent product and get the flour to market sooner. Other bleaching agents include:

other uses

It is used as a foaming agent in the production some plastic products.  It’s use in yoga mats has received a lot of publicity.

It is also used in the rubber that forms seals on glass jars.  In this case, there has been concern that it could break down and contaminate the food stored in the jars.  The World Health Organization has called for data related to the possible health issues.  They are particularly concerned about baby food.  This is because babies eat most of their food from jars.

Health Issues / Side Effects

There really aren’t any known health issues caused by azodicarbonamide itself.  The real concerns are with byproducts semicarbazide and urethane.  Azodicarbonamide breaks down during the baking process.  Both of these chemicals are are potentially cancer causing, but data is limited.

Still, Health Canada has released a statement insisting that it is safe to eat.

In Canada, azodicarbonamide is an approved food additive. It is permitted in bread, flour and whole wheat flour as a bleaching or dough conditioning agent at a maximum level of use of 45 parts per million (ppm) of flour. The permitted conditions of use of the food additive azodicarbonamide are set out in Health Canada’s Lists of Permitted Food Additives.

As with all food additives approved for use in Canada, azodicarbonamide underwent a thorough safety assessment prior to approval. Health Canada’s assessment determined that the body of scientific evidence supports the safety in use of azodicarbonamide, at the levels allowed under the Food and Drug Regulations. Further, the very low levels of semicarbazide that may be formed from the break-down of azodicarbonamide during baking would not be considered to pose a health risk.

Currently, Health Canada is not considering any changes to the approved food additive uses of azodicarbonamide.

E Number

The E number of Azodicarbonamide is 927.

Notes

If you’re concerned about azodicarbonamide, make sure you read ingredient labels.  It is relatively easy to find products that do not list it as an ingredient.  Look for unbleached flour.

Sliced Flax Seed Bread

Sliced Flax Seed Bread

Sources

  1. Subway agrees to end use of controversial chemical after food blogger Vani Hari’s protest
  2. World Health Organization Call for Data on Semicarbazide
  3. Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food on a request from the Commission related to Semicarbazide in food

Links

If you want to read more, try the following links..

Posted in Bleaching Agent, Food Additives, Ingredients

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