I am so excited about the upcoming Expo West Trade show in Anaheim, California– I can’t wait to walk the miles of aisles all teeming with entrepreneurs who are eager and hopeful about bringing their ideas to market. I love hearing their stories, their successes and their regrets about the path they took to get to where they are- and hearing about their challenges ahead! As a food scientist my job is to help entrepreneurs navigate the confusing food industry waters and figure out the right path and the right order of steps within that path! The more stories of confusion I hear, the more chapters I can add to my E-book The Food Business Tool-Kit for entrepreneurs-How To Research, Develop and Produce A New Food Product to alleviate that confusion!

I want to share a common practice that many entrepreneurs partake in that not only is a waste of time and money but can lead to incorrect assumptions about the food product you want to bring to market. This practice involves trying to develop a product on your own at home without any professional supervision. I am not talking about super early stage creations-sure you can make a few fun batches that represent your “concept” and show it to your family and friends—get some feedback. But it needs to stop there! I have had many entrepreneurs tell me about the months they have spent trying to get their product “just right” and they are ready to go to a manufacturer and make a go for it. When I look at their formula I sadly shake my head and tell them they have a long way to go to make it “commercial ready”. Here are some of the common mistakes that entrepreneurs make when developing products from their home (without professional food science supervision!)

Not Using Industrial Ingredients- Unless you are working with extremely commodity ingredients (sugar, vegetable oil, salt and perhaps water) anything you get from the supermarket is not going to be the same ingredient used at the manufacturing plant. Even something simple like the organic gluten free flour from whole foods- will perform differently in production. When you start using more complicated ingredients like pureed fruit, spices and protein powders – The supermarket brands are not the same, not even close! Spices in the supermarket are not nearly as fresh as what the manufacturer made, fruit purees are often concentrated to various brix levels for consistency and and most protein powders on the market are blended with flavorings and other sweeteners. The solution here is to work with industrial ingredients only. You will have to track down the ingredient suppliers that sell to manufacturers, request samples and work with those ingredients.

Not Using a Proper Scale: I have some sad news… the $25 dollar scale you bought online is not accurate. It usually measures to the nearest gram and in production, those half grams and partial grams are important. Spices and other lightweight items that you weighed out with your inexpensive scale are going to be inaccurate. You may think you weighted out 1 gram of oregano, but it could just as easily have been 1.5, but you will never know because your scale only went out to the 1-gram accuracy. My advice is to spend $300-$500 on a good scale that goes out to the 100th decimal point. So your 1.53 gram of spice weighs out to exactly that.

Relying On Nutritional Information Provided On The Supermarket Label Ingredient: I already mentioned you should not be using supermarket ingredients but for those who are or did, they also tend to rely on that nutritional information on the label. That nutritional label has already been extrapolated down and rounded to match up with the serving size on the package. The FDA regulations have lots of rounding rules that can result in a teaspoon of spice having no calories when actually Oregano has 38 calories per 100 grams and its 9% protein, 69% carbohydrates and 42% fiber. But if you look at a label on a spice jar in the store- it will probably say zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero fiber. Yes, that may be the case for the tiny 3 gram serving that is recommended.

Not Knowing The Process: You can’t really develop a product if you don’t know how it will be ultimately processed. Unless you have millions of dollars and plan to build your own manufacturing plant and bring in special equipment from Italy- chances are the unique process you created by boiling, dehydrating, freezing, crumbling and adding back into your cake is just not going to fly at the manufacturing plant. Food manufacturers are not going to adapt their process to fit your idea unless you plan to pay for those adaptations. Your process needs to reflect the manufacturers process, not the other way around. I recommend that you find your manufacturer first- understand how they make the product and try to simulate your process to match theirs. This can be done by online research, checking out co-packer websites or simply networking and finding a local food scientist or food science university and asking the professors there for some assistance. Don’t assume that your method can be done in mass production (it probably can’t!)

Spending months perfecting your formula in your own kitchen is not an efficient use of time or funding. After a few initial basic prototypes that you show your family and friends, your next steps should be to either contact a food science consultant or find a manufacturer who can guide you through their processing steps so you understand how to create the product in a commercially viable way. If you hand over your homemade recipe with your own fruit concentrates and vanilla flavored protein powder from whole foods your co packer will probably tell you to recreate the formula so it can be made commercially. What does that mean though? It means follow the points I mention in this article.

Rachel Zemser is a food scientist who helps entrepreneurs bring their food products to market. Her website is www.alacarteconnections.com

Energy Bars, Health Bars, Nutrition Bars, Gym Bars—- Mommy Bars, Kid Bars and More! The bar industry is exploding and it seems like anyone who is on the go, wants a bar that fits their specific nutritional needs- and anyone with specific nutritional needs has a bar that they have created and want to bring to market.

Carbs Were Still Ok: Years ago there used to be granola bars—lots of oats, sugar, grains and fruit. They tasted pretty good and it was essentially granola cereal all baked together with sugar. A bar that emerged from the granola era—An era where we used to eat carbohydrates without guilt. Fat was the enemy and granola bars were fat free! Nature Valley comes to mind.


Protein: Then the athletics came in- and they wanted a bar that would fit their workout needs. Thus was born the high protein “Power Bars” with lots of whey protein in there. But we were still anti fat and ok with sugar so the power bars were high in sugar. These no-bake bars were held together by their sugar-glue and were very hard and chewy. Lots of soy and whey pushed into a very small concentrated place. These bars didn’t need to be baked, with all that sugar the low water activity held them all together.


Source: Getty Images








Sugar Alcohol: It then became unpopular to consume carbohydrates and the bar landscape changed. Companies like Quest emerged and replaced the sugar syrups with sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols used to be something that was consumed in small quantities by diabetics- so they could enjoy a small piece of chocolate but now sugar alcohols were being consumed in larger amounts and used to replace most or all of the sugar syrups found in bars.


Source: Bodybuilding.com





Soluble Fibers: Sugar alcohols started getting a bad rep because of the gastro-distress they caused. Bar companies turned to soluble fibers like chicory root, inulin, 0ligiosaccharides, prebiotic fiber, soluble corn fiber. There were lots of names and varieties but ultimately it translated to carbs that are not digested.

Fat is Ok: Guess what, we get to eat fats again- and not just olive oil but the stuff that used to be bad for us like saturated fats from coconut oil and palm oil. Remember when the CSPI said coconut oil and saturated fats were bad—well, now we are told its good! The bar market continued to emerge with bars very high in fat like coconut oil, palm oil and MCT (medium chain triglycerides). This was all propelled forward by Dave Asprey and his  Bullet Proof Coffee. Now we see bars emerging that are just dripping with oil and fat. This is ok—this is acceptable because there are no carbs, there are healthy fats and all the protein comes from nuts. Of course a bit of sugar is needed to keep it from getting moldy so the soluble fibers and sugar alcohols are used for water activity control.


Source: Cavefoodkitchen.com








Soluble Fiber Rules Change: In 2016 the FDA put out their updates including noting that not all soluble fibers would count as dietary fiber on the label. Fibers that count include natural fibers from fruits and vegetables but processed inulin fiber may not count. The FDA says, and I quote:

“The F.D.A. plans to publish a separate notice that will seek comment on the available scientific data on non-digestible carbohydrates. Publicly available clinical trial data will be identified and summarized for non-digestible carbohydrates, including inulin, bamboo fiber, soy fiber, pea fiber, wheat fiber, cotton seed fiber, sugar cane fiber, sugar beet fiber and oat fiber”

Glycemic Index: But what about glycemic index?! That’s the new buzz word in the health bar space. Glycemic index and blood sugar are important and the emerging thought now is, its ok if the carbs are actually GASP* digested- but wouldn’t it be nice if it didn’t’ affect our blood sugar levels! The bars are now high in fat (from nuts and coconut- it’s so great not to have to worry about saturated fat anymore!)

Sugar Is Back– FODMAP friendly bars: We have come full circle with a new bar trend- the latest bar trend uses actual glucose syrup (and in the spirit of keeping it real—let’s all agree that corn syrup, tapioca syrup, brown rice syrup and glucose syrup are all the same thing-just because its not high fructose corn syrup doesn’t mean its healthier) The goal of these bars is to get the FODMAPs, an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, AKA poorly absorbed carbohydrates- that cause severe abdominal pain, bloating, gas and constipation. I shake my head and wonder—how is this different from the very same high protein low fiber, high sugar Powerbars we used to eat so long ago. Its not– its the same concept, with a brand new marketing twist! Powerbar should have marketed their 90’s bar to the FODMAP sensitive people!


Source: Nicerfoods.com








Allulose Bars: A new emerging trend on the horizon. Allulose is a natural rare sugar that is created in bulk by enzymatically extracting it from Non-GMO corn. Allulose is not a sugar alcohol and it is not a soluble fiber. It is actually a sugar, you just pee it out. It tastes great, it lowers water activity, it doesn’t cause FODMAP issues. Could allulose be the answer to our prayers? It probably will once consumers can be educated to understand that the sugar from allulose listed on a label doesn’t count – not much anyway. It’s about 0.29 calories per gram. The FDA has some recommended levels on it that may or may not be followed- we don’t really know yet because no one has actually put out any products with allulose—YET! That will change in 2017!


Refrigerated Bars
It started with Core Foods (they were doing it back in 2009!) and now we have Perfect Bar– both bars don’t rely on high sugar (or sugar alcohols or soluble fibers) to lower water activity to inhibit mold—because they have the cold refrigerated air to keep the bacteria at bay. What a novel, new and exciting idea—refrigeration! Fresh Food! This emerging bar category is one to keep an eye on! A move away from bars that need some form of sugar (digestible or not) to keep it safe won’t be necessary if we keep it cold. A short shelf life will be involved though!



Source: A Dancer In the Kitchen Blogspot








The energy bar world has evolved and changed over the past 10 years and we are now at a point where the trend is basically to eat and excrete. The less food from that bar that you eat and the more you push out of your body—the more popular the bar becomes. Bar entrepreneurs consider anything that is a fiber or sugar alcohol as not counting towards the net carbs- or they think it’s not going to be digested. (this is not totally true as parts of some fibers are digested –as the FDA is beginning to regulate-but no one really talks about that!)

2017 and Beyond

What’s Next

What kind of bar will be next—I have an idea! How about a RETORT bar— yes, this would be a bar that would be pushed into flexible pouch packaging, heated to 250’F to ensure no botulism and to make the product completely sterile. Water activity won’t be a concern, it won’t need refrigeration and pH won’t matter. It will be like the cans of tuna fish that are now in a pouch- on the shelf. Shelf stable retorted energy bars- you heard it from me first!

“It’s his evident cult of personality that’s most chilling. Tetrick used anti-Big Food, pro-animal rights rhetoric to whip his employees and brand ambassadors into a fervor, and the technique was so successful his shady schemes often went unquestioned.” The New Food Economy 9.23.2016

There has been lots of talk about Hampton Creek, buyback programs and other shenanigans! But as a food scientist I have a few obvious thoughts to point out:

Why was everyone so impressed with the following:

• Vegan spread made from oil and modified food starch and flavorings

• Cookies made from sugar, flour and oil

• Salad dressing made from oil, vinegar, xanthan gum and other commonly used hydrocolloids

These are all common stock food items that have been made by food scientists and mommy bloggers alike across the universe. There is nothing unique, special or new-scientific about these products. The famous pea protein that Josh and his team said was such a game changer- has nothing to do with their functionality- it all comes from the sugar, processed white flour, xanthan gum and modified food starch—ingredients that are seen as “unclean” in this day and age.

Investors: Stop being fooled by start-up entrepreneurs who don’t know a thing about food science or how to develop food products. Just because a 30 something year old hoodie wearing kid tells you that he is going to save all the chickens, doesn’t mean that they know how to actually do it!

Do your homework- crosscheck with real food scientists and stop believing the hype!

Yours Truly,

Rachel Zemser, Food Scientist (BS, MS, CCS, CFS)

For years I have been going to the IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) show because it’s the biggest ingredient show for food scientists and a great opportunity to source industrial ingredients like starches, gums, flavors, colors and organic ingredients. BUT for the last few years another ingredient show is slowly emerging on the food science scene.

The Supply Side show! Years ago no one except people in the vitamin and supplement world used to go to Supply Side, held every year in early October in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. But that is all changing as more and more ingredient supplier companies like David Michael Flavors, TIC Gums and Danisco/Dupont are slowly beginning to take over. As a matter of fact, one of my friends, a flavor sales rep who lives in the Vegas area told me he was SHOCKED at the new ticket price to attend Supply Side because in the past, “They had to practically pay people to attend”.

But as the old saying goes— where the ingredient suppliers exhibit the money from those exhibiting ingredient suppliers will follow — the organization that runs Supply Side (which also, I just learned runs one of the industrial food trade journals food product design) is realizing how much the food industry is growing and the big trend in start up companies that want to combine both food and supplements (why swallow a boring pill when you can have naturally nutrient infused full fat paleo style ice cream!?)

So it seems like every trade show I attend has a growing “ingredient supplier section” – like Expo West formerly a hippie all natural finished product show, now has a whole separate WING referred to as Engredia dedicated to helping those start ups find industrial ingredients (flavors, sweeteners, organic ingredients, gums, starches, vitamin mixes, gluten free flours) and co packers (private label energy bars, pouch co packers, bakeries). I think Expo West realized that if the show is to keep growing they need serious cash and ingredient companies have that kinda cash! It’s a win-win for everyone because not only can the small start ups in the basement of Expo West show their exciting new wares but they can then wander over and source out new ingredient suppliers as well.

Too bad Supply Side is only two days long, I could have wandered that show that show for several days! Here are a few interesting trends I noticed

Probiotics—dry form, powdered form, liquid form, shelf stable form. Yogurt is so 2010—we just need to mix it into a freeze dry powder now!

CBD’s– The NON psychoactive part of the marijuana plant. It gives you a body high and not a mental high.

New Age Ingrdients: Maca, Spirulina, Chia, Matcha, Hemp, Tumeric and Omega-3’s. Its not like these ingredients didn’t exist before but now they are slowly showing up as value added food ingredients.

Honorable mention and KUDOS to the ONE non-edible trade show exhibitor that dared to exhibit at an ingredient foodie show. The Health Mate Infrared Saunas! I had a chance to take a break and sit in their sauna box for awhile and rest my feet in their sauna foot box. The booth reps were extremely friendly and fun and they told me if any of my readers are interested in such an item, they will extend their trade show discount (just tell them you heard about their products through Rachel the food scientist). Sometimes its nice to have a booth where you can just sit and rest your feet without feeling like you have to talk biz with the booth owners.


Supply Side West will now be part of my regular yearly trade show tour. The attendance fee varies but check in with me in 2016 and I may be able to forward you a pass from one of the kind vendors that offer up 2-day floor passes for $75. Rooms can be as expensive or as cheap as you want (just be sure to stay at a hotel that has tram or easy access to the convention center or else you will have serious taxi fees (Vegas just started allowing Uber and Lyft— the economical way to get around vegas!)

As a food scientist who works directly with MANY start up companies (My book The Food Business Toolkit was designed just for them!) I am happy that the FDA has finally taken a stand and pointed out Hampton Creek label violations including mislabeling the product as “mayo” when it clearly is not as well as multiple other violations related to fat grams and health claims.

For those who have not seen this letter– It can be read HERE:


I have been working as a consultant for the past 7 years for large companies like Plum Organics and Kraft foods and with multiple smaller start ups and I have found that the larger the company (or the “Big Food” companies) the more inclined they are to try their hardest to follow the rules and go by the book. Not because they want to—after all FDA regulations are designed to prevent marketing from “misleading” us — but because they don’t want to get caught and have their product pulled from the shelves in a major FDA recall, be the focus of articles and have their reputation destroyed.

It’s always the smaller companies that feel that they can get away with or deserve to get away with regulation violations. Some companies feel that they are so small that no one will notice their health claims or too big serving sizes (the bigger the serving the more protein in your portion right?) But start ups also believe that because they are not a large corporation and are using what they feel are healthier or more sustainable ingredients- they deserve to be able to bend the rules—just a tiny bit—after all they are saving the world, whats a minor label infraction or two.

Bending the rules in my mind means misleading the consumer. Misleading the consumer gives Hampton Creek a competitive edge and allows them to sell more product. In this case their product is essentially oil and modified food starch.  I am sure most people who read the news are well aware that “Just Mayo” does not contain eggs  but still there are lots of people out there that don’t read up on food media and are not aware that it is not really a mayonnaise and they are being deceived. At what point do we draw the line on deception?

Hampton Creek has a picture of an egg on the label—if I didn’t read the news I would think that meant there were eggs in it! Yes there is a pea plant growing within the egg but I am not a botanist so to me it just looks like an egg on the label with a cute flower design.

I guess I am left with confusion. Was the mislabel intentional? Was it done to help sell more products—or was it done out of pure ignorance and human error as expressed in Josh’s August 7 blog about other Hampton Creek issues (calling lemon juice concentrate “lemon juice”, short changed shelf life studies and unlisted preservatives). Hampton Creek has published their 120 million +investment money from Bill Gates and others. With that kind of funding, one could hire a regulatory team to ensure your label is error free.  I bet for under $5,000 they could have had a compliant label with accurate information that did not mislead consumers into thinking Just Mayo has fresh lemon juice and eggs.

That is – if they WANTED to have that accuracy.

Lots of small companies get away with label violations ALL THE TIME! I see the errors at trade shows and with my clients who ask me to review their labels. But Hampton Creek has been big news for awhile, lots of media attention. Attention was drawn to this matter by the Unilever dropped lawsuit and Hampton Creek was actually happy for the publicity which made them look like the underdog getting kicked around by “Big Food” companies—that attention may have gotten them into Walmart and my local Lundardi’s but it also got the attention of the FDA.

But now Hampton Creek (or Josh) is saying that they WON’T change the label. They don’t think its deceptive. They say check out the small print on the back.

Their goal is to fight “Big Food Companies” and make sustainable food and “start over” but all I see are Mayonnaise with less than 2% pea protein and Cookies with less than 2% Sorghum– their two MAGIC ingredients are in the “less than” 2% category which means (as all trained food scientists know) that it really could be as low as 0.02%.

I feel the need to reiterate this: The sorghum and the pea protein have nothing to do with the functional success of this product. They are just in there for marketing.

Do you know what the REAL magic ingredients are– the real magic here is modified food starch and sugar and fat. I am willing to bet that anyone reading this blog, be it mommy bloggers to experienced chefs could make a egg free cookie or a food starch thickened oil and toss in a sprinkle of pea protein and sorghum. As a matter of fact, I think I may make some tomorrow and post the recipes here. Stay tuned for that!

I wonder– is modified food starch sustainable? I have spent the last 9 years fulfilling client requests to take it OUT of their product but we all know its a superior emulsifier so I don’t blame Hampton creek for keeping it in since pea protein is not known for its amazing emulsification properties.

Three years ago I got a inquiry from a Hampton Creek recruiter. She asked me if I knew anyone looking for a food science job. The salary levels she quoted were embarrassingly low – I had to tell her that I could only recommend entry level interns for what they were offering to pay. Perhaps this is why they have ended up with a 9th grade food science fair project similar to the ones I judge every year in Golden Gate Park.

Companies like Hampton Creek and Sandhill Foods and many others are beginning to come across as all talk. Smooth talking sale folk hiding in university professor clothing and hipster hoodies have been able to hypnotize investors into handing over fortunes but neither pitcher nor investor ever do their homework. They just assume that because BIG FOOD has not put it out on the market yet it must be because they were not sustainable enough to think of it. I hate to break the news but Kraft Foods and Unilever actually hire really smart food scientists. I have worked in both places (my first job ever was at Unilever in 1996 and I was at Kraft foods in 2012) and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from the best of the best!

My words of advice to Hampton Creek– hire some real food scientists and pay them a real bay area salary (that would be at least 120K a year for someone with 8 years experience). Some of the smartest food scientists I ever worked with were at Kraft Foods and a whole bunch of them recently lost their jobs in the Kraft-Heinz merger so they may be available to hire if you give them something HARD to work on– like Science!





In early 2012 the International Maple Syrup institute (IMSI) put out a  recommendation to unify the maple syrup grades among maple syrup producing jurisdictions. Currently the USDA, CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), and the Agencies of Agricultures have adopted rules based on the recommendation of IMSI. Most States and Provinces are transitioning to the new system over the course of 2015. The USDA standards are available online and have been official since March 2, 2015.

Just so everyone is clear, what is maple syrup? It is the liquid food derived by concentrating and heat-treating sap from the maple tree (Acer) as defined in the U.S. FDA standard of Identity for Maple Syrup (they used to spell it Sirup but now it has been officially changed to Sirup!) The solids content of the finished maple syrup shall not be less than 66 percent by weight (Brix) (21 CFR 168.140)

All maple syrup is now Grade A. U.S. Grade A is the quality of maple syrup that has not more than 69.9% solids (brix) content by weight, has a good uniform color, has good flavor and odor, and intensity of flavor (maple taste) normally associated with the color class. It is free from off flavors and odors considered as damage and is free from cloudiness, turbidity, sediment and it is clean. No deviants for damage shall be allowed in Grade A. (USDA Section 52.5962)

Grade A is now divided into several categories. There is a Grade A- Light Amber that has a buttery vanilla taste, light flavor and is often perceived as sweeter due to lack of the strong maple flavor profile. Grade A Amber should be used on ice cream, crepes or other foods that you may not want the maple flavor to overpower but just be subtly there. Then there is Grade A-Amber Rich, which has a solid base maple flavor- this is good for all around usage on pancakes, French toast and in beverages. Next in line is the Grade A-Dark Robust which has stronger maple, caramel and brown sugar flavor notes. This is a good grade to use for oatmeal, formulated into beer, brownies and cakes.

There is no longer really a Grade B- it is referred to as “Processing Grade” now. Processing grade means (by USDA definition) that it does not meet Grade A requirements but meets the requirements of Processing Grade for use in the manufacturing of other products. Maple Syrup for processing can be packed in containers of 5 gallons or 20 liters or larger. It cannot be packed into consumer size containers for retail sale. Obviously if someone were buying a 5 gallon container that is ok since it would typically be used in a processing scenario at that minimum volume. The Processing Grade can’t have more than 68.9% brix, it can contain some off flavors and odors and it can have a very strong taste.

What does this mean for you (the consumer and the artisan food maker?) Don’t disregard commercial or processing grade maple syrup just because you may perceive it as a lower value. A Grade A Light Amber may not work well at all in your maple syrup oatmeal cookies- the flavor may not come through. Alternatively don’t use the commercial grade if you have a delicate tasting product that you plan to add it on to.

Talk to your maple syrup provider/manufacturer and set up a tasting so you can see for yourself how the different versions of “A” will taste and which is the best version for the best price to incorporate into your food product.

For more information on Maple Syrup- here are a few links

I am getting bored here— bored and tired of waiting for these start up marketing (oh- I mean FOOD) companies to come out with their promised non meat substitutes.

A company called Impossible Foods (Sandhill something or other) has been “talking” for years about their so called FAKE beef- that is just like the real thing– YET despite the millions of dollars they have been given by clueless venture capitalists, they have only put out some lame vegan cheese on the market– same as what many other companies have been doing for years.

Hampton Creek– for all their talk- has only made an egg free mayo (big deal) and cookies made with amaranth– (and… so? the cookies are not that great they just taste like dry egg free cookies– and whatever, throw some chocolate chips into anything and it will taste good)

I have news— all these fake meats and dairy products that will supposedly taste like the real thing– the WON’T— they will taste good enough to brainwash you into thinking it taste similar, but it won’t.

Both Sandhill (Impossible Foods?) and Hampton Creek have one goal only– to get their name out there, raise money and then waste it making silly products that have already been made before. The millions that they raise (and then spend) could be put to better use.  Why can’t these companies admit that they are just trying to create products to help them prove their agenda (which have nothing to do with health and everything to do with animal treatment) and their philosophy and the only way they know how to do this is -how to spread their agenda… is to make something tangible– a food product–

I wish the talkers and dreamers would do just that and not spend good money on making bad tasting food products.

More on this when its not 3 AM




I have been a food scientist since 1996— well, really I was born a food scientist but I didn’t know it till the 90’s– It then took a team of experts at the University of Massachusetts Food Science Department and my mentor at U-Illinois (Dr. Scott E. Martin) and all good (and bad) bosses I have had– plus all the fellow food scientists, ingredient suppliers, organizations — It took all these people plus 20 years of crazy experiences to get to where I am today– brave enough to say what I really think on the Justin Hall Show—  Justin Hall  must have felt my food science excitement vibe because he asked if I would do a video interview with him as part of his interview series.

Hopefully in 20 years I will still feel the same way!



Yea– this product looks like a whole lotta fun!

I just got back from Expo West in Anaheim, CA– and I feel like it may be time for a Jerry McGuire style manifesto! Yes, me—the food scientist who is probably more part of the problem than part of the solution – was rather shocked at the ridiculous abundance of processed food products on demo at the Natural Products Expo. Even that sentence sounds wrong– natural food show and processed foods– Processed is what the Natural Foodies want to avoid-but yet they cannot escape it!  I feel like the packaged food world has gone completely over the edge and its no longer about the food at all- its just about putting out something… anything… on the shelf that meets a marketing claim. I feel like I may even want to become good friends with Michael Pollen now—or start my own organic farm—or do something. Anything to balance out the universe again.

From what I understand, back in the day the Natural Product Expo was way smaller—with lots of hippies trying to make a difference—I don’t know because I never went to the show back in the 80’s- I can only talk about Expo now—and what it has become!

Show Size

The show was HUGE this year. Not only did they have the main floor and the basement, but there was also the attic area and a whole other section in the Hilton Hotel next door. It was like every food company was multiplying at an exponential rate and every time one turned around there were 100 more companies born right there on the expo floor. I am just so relieved that maybe at best only 5% of the products at the show will make it to the market and the rest will end up in a dollar store somewhere. Who has time to make that many choices at Whole Foods?


Hardly anything tasted good at this show. But apparently taste has nothing to do with natural products. As long as it hits a claim and eliminates the bad “sounding” ingredient of the day—then it’s ok to spend millions to manufacture it and serve it to the masses. Why eat potato chips made with salt and oil when you can have a NON GMO VERIFIED processed gluten free ancient grain powder based kale chip infused with vitamins, fiber and protein made in a local sustainable factory in the Midwest? AND if you are lucky it will go down easily with a shot of nasty HPP’d (high pressure processed) beet, coconut oil and carrot puree? Hey, its Paleo right? It HAS to be good for us. Taste means nothing. I tasted so many bitter, sour and over processed food products at this show—yes, processed— imagine that, processed foods at a natural food product expo.  You know how there are all those articles about how the BIG EVIL corporate food industry is manipulating food ingredients and tricking our minds into thinking it taste good— well, yes- they are– and Oreo’s DO taste good. But making a really BAD tasting version of an Oreo with apple fiber and sugar alcohol is NOT going to convert the masses.

Fake Claims

Candy that will make you smart because it’s infused with Vitamin B? Labels with portion sizes that are double what they should be so you can supposedly be getting in “good” amounts of protein and fiber? Then the opposite- candy portions being cut in half and claiming “low sugar”— since when do soccer moms get to decide what is and is not an appropriate portion size? Oh right, they all have degrees in nutrition now- children nutrition, adult nutrition and athletic nutrition.

All Natural?

There is nothing natural about dehydrating vegetables and then mixing them up with starch and running them through an extruder and turning it into a cardboard chip. Even if the starch is “unmodified” (could a caveman make unmodified food starch with two sticks and fire?) Adding  flavors and colors even if those flavors and colors are natural themselves… is not really natural. Yes, the FDA may sort of say it is (although they don’t have a real definition of natural either) but lets all be honest here– buying freeze dried fruit from an industrial supplier and repackaging it into a foil bag is just not something that naturally happens in life.

The Stories

I can’t take any more stories. The mom that just want better foods for her nutritionally deprived children and the only way to make that happen was to create the food herself gosh darn it! The ego-maniac super rich former executive who MUST create his/her own line of sauces with their face all over it, the hipster who spent the last 3 years farming in Africa and discovered the latest super fruit and has now turned it into a line of energy bars— The body builder who “created” an exact blend of sugar alcohols that saved his life– and cured several diseases-The doctor who wants to promote her own line of allergen-friendly products– I think pretty much all 2500 companies exhibiting at Expo West fall under one of those story categories. You know what my favorite story is? The one about the guy who came up with the idea that HEAT killed bacteria– yes, my hero– Louis Pasteur.

Clean Label

In an effort to keep ingredient statements clean (and lets all agree here- clean has nothing to do with the whether the ingredient is good for you or not, it only means that everyone and their grandmother can understand the legal definition) we have compromised on flavor. Companies would rather shove in massive amounts of spinach powder to hit a calcium claim then to use a soluble calcium powder. End result—bitter tasting spinach chips. To make a label clean we are essentially heavily processing ingredients that people know—and manipulating them to be functional in the product. Don’t use 0.5% starch, starch is not “clean”- lets use 30% vegetable powder instead. Its “cleaner” and we can call it “carrot” on the label. Even though it’s not really a carrot anymore, no more than corn starch is “corn”. Sure it taste like crap now but Homer Simpson understands carrots and doesn’t understand starch or soluble corn fiber. DOH!!!!!


Everyone has a different take on what sweetener should be used. The low carb people use stomach grinding sugar alcohols (provide the bulk, but not the calories!). Those that want to be “natural”, just use evaporated cane syrup (that’s sugar by the way in case you thought cane meant something besides sugar), those that don’t want any sugar (but are ok with carbs) can use maltodextrin and monk fruit. Monk fruit is not organic, so if you want a high intensity “natural” and organic sweetener—you use Stevia. Then there are those that pray to the food gods that somehow making something with all pea protein and artificial sweetener will taste like a Hostess cupcake and sell equally as well. It won’t taste like Hostess, because Hostess cupcakes are really good, I just ate some the other day. Hostess has corn syrup and sugar and wheat gluten similar ingredients seen in the supposedly much better products at Expo West.


Ever notice how the probiotic drinks all say the number of good bacteria at the time of bottling—right, that’s because most of them die off by the time you drink it. So congrats on paying a fortune for a vinegar-tasting beverage that may not have many good bugs in it. I am actually excited about the newest wave of vinegar drinks on the market– at least they are what they say they are, diluted vinegar (with some fruit juice added to make it palpable)– yum!

Maybe its because I am a food scientist that I am so disillusioned. Is all this my fault? Did I help create these products? I always keep an unbiased and open mind when it comes to these shows but the natural products food industry is on the brink of insanity now and I left the show hungry.

Lets End This on A Positive Note

Despite all that has been written, and despite almost everything tasting like packaging peanuts sprinkled with vegetable powder, Expo West is a big fun scientific experiment party. We have music and booth babes and young cool hipsters doling out nutrition advice with a bored superior look on their face- the show is super charged with energy and excitement and everyone is trying SO HARD to make their product healthy and shelf stable. The rules of shelf stability are fairly simple—you can dehydrate it, you can freeze it, you can cook the crap out of it, you can HPP it, you can throw in a bunch of acid and lower the pH to 4.1- you can retort it. Food Scientists invented short cuts and industrial ingredients to make the food taste good and the new wave of non food scientists (that would be the hipsters, soccer moms, former financial executives and body builders) are reversing all our hard work to make it appear healthier- even if no one can eat it.

I don’t think that everyone was in such bad shape 50 years ago when we were all eating  Mac & Cheese, Pop-tarts and condensed canned soups.  I think we were actually healthier and thinner back then– this was before fat and cholesterol became bad (and then became good again) – I think Expo West-the organization making millions and millions putting on this show– needs to stop instigating the creation of all these food products and start putting a cap on how many items can be allowed in. Instead of limiting the amount of items, they are just renting out more space. How about only allowing a max of 1000 exhibitors and they have to pass a Shark Tank like competition to be allowed in? Expo West should be a  privilege, not something that anyone with investment money can get in on.

*Will I get my press pass next year for saying all this??

Is there a solution to all this? Yes! No! I have no idea– sorry. If you have any ideas, please comment below.

So—do you still need help developing your next gluten free, low –carb, natural, free range, nonGMO verified, clean label, certified organic food product that lasts one year on the shelf and was made from sustainable people on sustainable farms? Give me a call! I can help you! I won’t judge, I promise!


Happy New Year!

To all those who are receiving this newsletter— I want to start off by saying thank you for signing up! I also may have added you to this list if you have downloaded my book or worked with me in the past.

About a year ago I asked potential future readers of this newsletter or blog what they would like to read about– what food science topics they would like to hear more on! I want to continue this dialogue and ask that everyone either email me directly (rachel@theintrepidculinologist.com) or post a comment on this blogs link about what you would like to hear more about.

I have been writing blogs for years and posting them either on this site or on other similar industry websites- but I sometimes run out of ideas so am looking forward to you sending over your requests-even if its just a simple question, knowing me and my obsession with this topic– a essay can be written on any question presented to me!

Looking forward to hearing your questions and topic requests for 2015!



PS- The Fancy Food Show is coming up – San Francisco next week– are you going??