Celiac Support Association

Those Strange Names on Your Food Labels

CSA literature 
Lester Wilson, editor of original listing (1997)

The additives commonly found in ice cream and frozen alternatives have some strange names. The list below includes some of the most common. While some are considered natural, they may be processed with chemicals.

Definitions were provided by Lester Wilson, Iowa State University professor of food technology, and by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, D.C.-based consumer nutrition group.

Alkali processed cocoa - a chemical process for making cocoa from beans; often called the Dutch process, it produces a darker color and many make the chocolate taste sharper.

Annato - extract from the tropical annato seed; colorant producing butter yellow to peach shades.

Ascorbic acid - vitamin C, a color stabilizer, may be used as a nutrient additive. It occurs naturally or can be synthesized from starch.

Aspartame - trade name Nutrisweet; artificial sweetener. According to CSPI, can cause severe physical reactions; original cancer tests may not have been reliable.

Beet extract - used as a red colorant.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) - synthetic preservative; may keep carcinogens from being formed in food. May be linked to heart disease if too much builds up in the body. CSPI reported a study linking it to cancer.

Calcium sulfate - a naturally occurring salt; provides calcium; maintains texture.

Carob bean gum - derived from the seed of the leguminous carob tree; used to stabilize.

Carrageen - gum obtained from seaweed a thickening and stabilizing agent. According to CSPI, large amounts have been shown to cause colon damage in animals.

FD&C yellow #5 (Food Drug and Cosmetic Act yellow #5) - artificial coloring; according to CSPI can produce severe allergic reactions, particularly in aspirin-sensitive people. Federal law specifies it be labeled this way.

Fructose - the sweetest of all natural sugars, found in fruits, honey and some corn syrups; not metabolized as rapidly as other sugars.

Fumaric acid - an acid naturally produced in some fruits; used in fruit products for tartness; can be synthesized.

Glycerin - also called glycerol; related to sugar and called a sugar alcohol; used as a preservative; helps retain moisture and color; helps prevent crystallization.

Glucose - also known as dextrose or blood sugar. Present in many fruits, plant foods, starches and in the human body; used as a colorant and sweetener.

Grape skin extract - used as a red and purple colorant.

Guar gum - derived from the seed of leguminous guar plant; used to thicken, stabilize and prevent graininess. Considered natural. A prescription product for persons with constipation and hard stools.

Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose - a gum from a chemically modified plant fiber; used for thickening; emulsifier.

Lecithin - a byproduct from vegetable oil processing; found in soybeans and eggs; used for homogeneity.

Locust bean gum - same as carob bean gum.

Malto dextrin - a carbohydrate byproduct from corn; helps prevent crystallization and maintain texture; occurs naturally, but may be chemically treated.

Microcrystalline cellulose (also listed as crystalline cellulose) - wood pulp treated with hydrochloric acid to produce a gum used as a non-caloric filler and stabilizer.

Polyglycerol esters of fatty acids - a synthetic product used for stabilization from corn, cottonseed, palm, peanut, safflower, sesame or soybean oils.

Polysorbate 80 - synthetic stabilizer and wetting agent.

Sodium carboxymethylcellulose - often referred to as CMC or cellulose gum - a chemically modified plant fiber, cotton, used as a stabilizer and to prevent crystallization.

Sodium citrate - a salt from citric acid, used to maintain acidity; occurs naturally or can be synthesized.

Sodium saccharin - synthetic sweetener, 350 times sweeter than sugar; associated with cancer in studies.

Sorbitol - related to sugar and called sugar alcohol, a sweetener that occurs naturally in fruits; it's a close relative of the sugars but about half as sweet. It is also a thickening agent. It is often considered better for diabetics because it is absorbed more slowly and does not cause a rapid blood sugar rise or promote tooth decay. Can be synthesized.

Sucrose - table sugar, from cane and sugar beets.

Tartaric acid - found in grapes; used for tartness.

Tragacanth - a gum; spice from the leguminous astragalus gummifer bush; thickener and stabilizer; one of oldest known natural emulsifiers. According to CSPI, may cause severe allergic reactions.

Turmeric - (tumeric) a spice from the root of an East Indian plant, related to the ginger family; used for coloring, giving food an orange-yellow shade.

Vanillin - synthetic vanilla flavoring.

Xanthan - a gum collected from bacteria grown on glucose--typically corn--(a natural sugar found in fruits, vegetables, starched and in the human body); used to thicken and stabilize.

Ingredient Red Flags for Gluten-Free Commercial Products

Processing Information and Packaging Materials - How can these affect celiacs? Chewing gum sticks or candy might be dusted with oat flour to keep then from sticking to the paper wrappers. Taco shells and French fries might be dusted with gluten-containing flours to prevent them from sticking together. Coatings and wrappings designed to protect quality of meats, fruits, vegetables can be derived from a variety of vegetable products including wheat gluten. Gluten-containing products might leave residues in/on the machinery later used for otherwise gluten-free items. Extruding machines and conveyor belts might be dusted with gluten-containing flours to keep the product moving. Items might be added incidentally during processing. THIS GLUTEN IS HIDDEN, because it is NOT DISCLOSED ON THE PRODUCT LABEL; people with celiac disease have learned about these additions by trial and error. Not all negative body responses to foods are due to gluten. Check with manufacturer to verify the product in question is free from Content, Contact and Cross-contamination from wheat, barley, rye or at this time oats. For further information review the FDA Compliance Policy Guide, Compliance Policy Guidance for FDA Staff

Sec. 555.250 Statement of Policy for Labeling and Preventing Cross-contact of Common Food Allergens at www.fda.gov.

Starch - U.S. manufacturer's ingredient "starch" will be cornstarch only (not true for foreign manufactures or pharmaceuticals). "Modified food starch" may be made from wheat - also from corn, arrowroot, potato, tapioca or maize.

Gluten Peptides - Smaller pieces of protein from wheat, barley, rye, oats and other grains. These certain peptides produce intestinal damage in celiacs.

Hordeins of Oats and Barley - The test for hordeins in inadequate insofar as it is being used to determine safety of malt for celiac patients. In the malting process, enzymes are activated in the germinating grain and these enzymes begin to break down the hordein proteins into smaller pieces. Studies of enzymatic digestion of wheat proteins indicate that peptised with molecular weights of 10,000 to 10,000 are still causing intestinal damage for celiacs when ingested. In vitro (test tube) experiments indicate that peptides as small as 3,000 in molecular weight may be active. Accordingly, the absence of intact hordein proteins does not prove the absence of harmful hordein peptides. Differences in the malting process will give different results. Moreover, it is not possible to rule out the possibility of harmful peptides in malt by gel electrophoretic analysis for native hordein proteins. Because the questions of whether (or how much) hordein peptides are harmful to celiacs is unanswered. People with celiac disease have inadequate information to make an informed decision.

Natural Flavor - By definition may or  may not contain any of the gluten-containing grains or derivatives.

Malt - Malt is usually made from barley. May be made from corn.

Malto-Dextrose - Maltose and dextrins that may be obtained by enzymatic action of barley malt or acorn flour. Celiacs must avoid this product if the source is unknown.

Colorings and Dyes - Often the source is not on the label. Some people report allergic reactions.

Caramel Color - This additive results from controlled heat treatment of dextrose (corn sugar), invert sugar, lactose (milk sugar), malt syrup (usually from barley malt), molasses (from cane), starch hydrolysis (can include wheat) or sucrose (cane or beet).

Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Hydrolyzed Plant Protein and Textured Vegetable Protein - HVP, HPP and TVP usually are made from wheat, corn or soy.

Monosodium Glutamate - Foreign sources of MSG usually contain gluten-containing grains, U.S. food producers may be importing this product. U.S.-source MSG usually utilizes a source substance of cane, beets or tapioca starch. A small percentage of producers may be using wheat gluten.

Emulsifiers - Emulsifiers alter the surface properties of other ingredients they contact; emulsifiers may contain gluten from grain.

Lectins/Lecithins - May be from the hull or graincoat of soy, amaranth, barley or other grains. A small percentage of celiacs appear to react to glutens only when lectins or lecithins are present.

Canola Oil - Versatile oil processed from a genetically modified variety of rapeseed. An Annual old world plant [Brassica napus] of the mustard family whose seeds are used for oil and leaves for fodder.

Why are Celiacs such Sticklers about Gluten? - Gluten evokes an inflammatory, cell mediated response in the body of people with celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis when ingested. The response to gluten is not necessarily proportional to the amount eaten. One teenage celiac suffered severe respiratory distress immediately after swallowing one half of a miniature bite sized candy containing minimal glutens. Other celiacs may eat wheat, barley, rye or oats without apparent symptoms; however, their intestinal biopsies show that damage has been done - "silently". Long-term studies show that celiacs who ingest glutens are at an increased risk of esophageal cancer, lymphoma, skin manifestations, muscle wasting, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, anemia, muscle cramping, edema, respiratory difficulties and other maladies. The risk for the gluten-avoiding celiac is that of the normal population. Often a celiac's weight loss or other problems will begin for no apparent reason, and the celiac is faced with a baffling search for items hidden in the diet.

Our good health requires us to identify the food sources of all foods ingredients.

We thank you for your help in achieving this goal.

CSA Library Series 

CSA Library Series is a collection of articles that pertain to celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis. Most of these articles have appeared in CSA’s quarterly newsletter, Lifeline, which all CSA members receive. Historic articles included in these resources may or may not include updated notes. Updated information indicated in red type. Articles represent the work of the author.


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