February 22, 2010
A close inspection of the nutrition label on most processed foods will usually turn up—among other disturbingly-named ingredients whose function is unclear—something known as "hydrolyzed soy protein" or "hydrolyzed wheat protein".
What is it, and why is it added to so many processed food products?
What Is Protein, Anyway?
"Protein" is a generic term for an animal or plant tissue made out of individual proteins. These individual "proteins" are just long chains of amino acids linked together, end to end.
There are 20 amino acids in our genetic code, each an individual molecule with its own shape—and the sequence of amino acids in…
Most interesting. Is soy lecithin a hydrolyzed soy protein? With my limited knowledge, I would suppose not. All the same, I increasingly find it listed as an ingredient in a range of things you find in a supermarket, including butter!
June 14, 2011
Nice work! It brought a smile to my face when reflecting on the verdent imagery so often associated with veg*anism.
My disgust at what passes as (processed) food for veg*ans far surpasses any digust I have experienced in the killing and butchering of animals (although I've only hunted fish and birds).
There is a veg*an argument that if we could but see what is involved in meat-eating we'd all go veg*an overnight.
If veg*ans could see the chemistry involved in their diet, I'm sure they would recoil in horror. Everything from the pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and insecticides of monocropping, through to the hexane based extraction of seed oils, and on to the boiling of proteins in vats of sulfuric acid for hours at a time!
I mistrust long food chains – be they physical or transactional. It is one thing having farmers and butchers, and then traders and other middlemen involved in your food chain – but putting chemists and food scientists in to the mix as well is rather disconcerting.
Better to reduce the time from 'hoof to tooth' as there is usually greater transparency and less chance of adulteration and deterioration in food quality.
Like a lot of what you publish this is disturbing...and enlightening. I give you credit not for the disturbing part (that's due to the ag and food science industries) but definitely for the enlightening part.
Thanks for this great piece. Yet another ingredient to be on high alert for when people go shopping for "food".
Soy lecithin is lecithin derived from soy. Lecithin is an emulsifier and therefore you'll find it in many products that involve an oil-and-water mixture: butter, chocolate, probably salad dressings, etc. Lecithin is one of the things that is responsible for egg yolks allowing you to make mayonnaise, and serves a beneficial role in the diet (choline, a substance that is of great value to liver health, is a component of lecithin).
The question is whether there's anything else piggy-backing with the soy lecithin (eg, soy proteins), and unfortunately I don't know that. I've been operating on the assumption that it's generally safe.
@ Ray Pete: I'm looking forward to hearing the answer to that, too. I checked my whey protein the other day, and the only additive is soy lecithin.
Wow, I had known for a while that processed food often had the right mix of sweet, salty, and fatty to make out taste buds sing, but I didn't know that all that hydrolyzed protein was having a similar effect. Yeesh, combine that with the incomplete and unsatisfying nature of "snack" food (as per your other article), and it's a wonder that any of us can put the box of crackers down.
Nice work! Your descriptions are so clean.
I'm glad you wrote this article actually because I've just so happened to have some questions about hydrolized products lately.
First, how much is too much? Clearly some amount of free amino acids are perfectly natural. I'm guessing glutamate is even formed to some degree in slow cooked soups by the process of hydrolytic cleavage (the separating of amino acids by trapped moisture) but I'm not entirely sure if the amino acids are broken down far enough. I'm not sure how much glutamate would actually be released or how long it might take.
Second, I wonder how much free amino acids it takes to cause the nerve damage (migrains, diziness, memory loss) that can be caused by eating these products.
Third, prepared gelatin is essentially hydrolyzed collagen. Does this have the same unami-stimulating, nerve damaging effect?
another great article, J -- and very timely! my husband, MIL and i are visiting the son's farm (VERY small, with pastured poultry, goats and pigs). MIL owns wheat farms in KS, and WILL NOT believe there's anything wrong with the stuff....
Oops, typo. Should have said, "if the proteins are broken down far enough." :P
JS, great job as usual!
@Peggy, I believe what JS was conveying was not that the amino acid glutamate was dangerous on its own (aside from tricking our taste buds into consuming something lacking in nutrition and possibly toxic), but that there might still be peptides or longer chain proteins not completely broken down in the processes that are still present in the "food". It is those gluten proteins that may still be present that are dangerous to all of us potentially, celiacs and gluten-sensitive individuals particularly.
Our umami taste receptor presumably evolved for the specific function to lead us to consume foods that naturally contain glutamate. Glutamate is an amino acid that acts as a signal for all the other nutrients in the food (meat, shellfish, seaweed, etc.). Bone broths are rich in collagen, and thus rich in glutamate. Thus, they're the real deal (without gluten), and should be consumed daily for optimal health. In fact, the next time you make bone stock, add a few strips of kombu (kelp) into the pot to extract yet more umami, and of course more minerals as well.
Trust all is well with you.
"add a few strips of kombu (kelp) into the pot to extract yet more umami, and of course more minerals as well."
I've never done this...do you still use vinegar when you use the Kombu?
Yes, about 1/4 cup of raw apple cider vinegar. I've read that it helps extract the minerals from the bones. I also throw scraps of wilted vegetables and carrot tops and the like in there, too.
regarding bone broth, I can attest that if you cook it long enough say, 24+ hrs, there is a lot of free glutamate. Just like msg it upsets my stomach. This is a problem for me, since I want broths for minerals and gut health. I would love to know if anyone has a suggestion for reducing that kind of sensitivity.
Superb and comprehensive post! There's more to this industrial/agricultural additive than the name implies. I'm left with the savory desire to eat the real deal instead - shellfish, meat, fish.
September 24, 2011
Gluey is def the correct description there. I once made the mistake of putting wheat noodles down my disposal (long time ago, very long) and then I spent the next several hrs taking apart the plumbing and cleaning out the pipes. What a sticky nasty mess!
February 22, 2010
Lecithin is a slurry of fatty residues like phospholipids, glycolipids, choline, phosphoric acid, glycerol, etc. Commercial soy lecithin is basically "the fatty gunk left over when you refine it out of soybean oil"…
…which isn't all bad, because a significant amount of the "gunk" is phosphadityl choline! Sadly, soy lecithin is probably the major source of choline in the American diet.
However, while quantities will be minute, it cannot be 100% guaranteed that there won't be a few stray protein molecules in it…so people with strong allergies or sensitivities to soy could still have an issue.
Absolutely! When people say they're trying to avoid highly processed foods, I tell them "Bread is a highly processed food." And fake meat is far worse…as you say, the industrial processing required to create veg*an "foods" out of birdseed is complex, intense, and environmentally destructive.
Even the worst industrial meat products, like hot dogs, are simple in comparison: they're just shredded meat, flavored and pressed into shape. (No acid vats required.) And even the much-maligned "pink slime" isn't dipped in any vats of sulfuric acid: it's just sprayed with puffs of ammonia gas as a disinfectant.
Hydrolyzed soy and wheat protein aren't the worst of the industrial food additives by far…but they're a solid reminder of the consequences of heavy grain subsidies, which is a huge financial incentive to replace real food with industrial products derived from birdseed (aka "heart-healthy whole grains").
Quite correct. As I said above, any proteins remaining in soy lecithin should be in vanishingly small amounts. I don't worry about it myself. However, there is a movement to other sources of lecithin, like sunflower seeds, in order to label products "soy-free" for the growing number of people with diagnosed allergies.
Exactly. Hydrolyzed protein is basically a way to create the same taste as MSG ("umami") without the ingredient label scaring people.
I don't know enough about glutamate/glutamine chemistry to make any judgments about "how much free glutamate is too much". I do know that our blood levels are highly regulated, our intestines suck up something like 90% of dietary glutamate and glutamine, and they also convert glutamate into glutamine (via glutamine synthetase), so it's likely to be a lot.
Gelatin has a very low amount of free glutamate. It's low in glutamine by comparison to other meat proteins, let alone seed proteins. Furthemore, the proteins aren't fully hydrolyzed, because otherwise they wouldn't gel. This article on gelatin chemistry goes into the details.
February 22, 2010
Wheat protein really is of remarkably low quality. There's a reason that wheat and beef always went together in the Neolithic European cultural package: wheat absolutely will not support human life on its own, and requires supplemental animal protein.
Thank you! I'm glad my explanations meet your approval for scientific rigor.
And thanks for the clarification: that's indeed what I was trying to get across. Anything with "hydrolyzed wheat protein" is not guaranteed to be "gluten-free"...and unprocessed foods that naturally contain free glutamate are both nutritious and delicious.
I take it, from your love of bone broth and umami, that you're not on the "OMG EXCITOTOXINS!!1!!1!" bus :)
I honestly have no idea: perhaps someone else can contribute?
Absolutely. It's not a ubiquitous ingredient for no reason: ingredient costs for industrial foods are calculated to the fractional cent.
If the pasta dried in that state, you probably would have had to replace some pipes!
Thanks, everyone, for contributing. There's a rule of thumb to be applied: if there's an ingredient on the label you don't understand, it's either a preservative, a stabilizer, a flavor enhancer, or it's cheaper than food. In the case of hydrolyzed protein, it's both a flavor enhancer and cheaper than food.
June 5, 2011
Funny, just yesterday at work, a colleague who is paleo curious and tries to do the right thing was reading the ingredient list on the back of something or other that he'd got for lunch. "Hydrolysed something or other", which he said, "that doesn't sound good ... sounds like MSG in disguise", or words to that effect. How close he was!
I know many paleos have a distrust of food that comes in packaging, but I wonder whether we really should be a more united on this one. Food that comes in packages is processed. We don't eat processed food.
There is a real freedom in eating real food. J said it really well the other day on another thread where I talked about my ingredient principle - do the ingredients reflect the description of the food? J said that real food IS ingredients, and how true that is.
Back to the article - very useful, J. Covert processing in the ingredients really is something to watch out for. I'm pretty sure I mentioned it before, but "meat glue" is something to be increasingly aware of. Transglutaminase, if anyone wants to look it up - your next marbled steak might just be frankenfood!
kudo. you have a way to explain complex matters that is easy to understand for laymen.
i also wonder about soy lecithin. it is everywhere, even in high end chocolate. i supposed lecithin from eggs are too expensive?
i switched just dry roasted my own cacao (beans). it tastes bitter but i have acquired a taste for it.
i also use kelp in broth for taste & minerals. also since Hubby does not like sea vegetables. this is the way to sneak it in. XD.
is MSG naturally occuring in some food, like kelp?
i find the "umami" taste in my home made broth has more body, more savory. the umami from added MSG is a bit empty & quite salty.
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