Close inspection of restaurant condiment packets reveals some surprising — and scary — secrets

Published: Friday, Nov. 16 2012 10:00 a.m. MST

"Honey sauce" packets from KFC are short on actual honey.

Michael De Groote, Deseret News

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Visit any fast-food restaurant and you'll find them in large quantities: condiment packets.

However, while condiment packets are seemingly everywhere, closer inspection of some of these "condiments" reveals things consumers badly need to know — but probably wish they didn't once they find out.

Consumer Reports' Consumerist website looked at how Subway's "olive oil" packet used different-sized fonts to deceive customers: "(T)he most prominent words on the packet being 'OLIVE OIL' in large type in the center of the arced ribbon. Below these words, in significantly smaller but still noticeable type, is 'BLEND,' which may cause some to wonder what the rest of the stuff is. But it's in the tiny type squeezed above 'OLIVE OIL' that you get the truth with 'CANOLA & 10% EXTRA VIRGIN.'"

People probably do not usually ask for a packet of canola oil. Everything, though, is right on the packet. "But it helps to occasionally point out the ways companies play with design to trick your eyes into seeing what the company wants you to," the Consumerist wrote.

J. Madison at SmirkingChimp.com says he found another packet of deception at KFC: "I went over to the condiment area to get some honey for my biscuit. Instead of honey, there were packets labeled 'Honey Sauce.' 'Honey Sauce'? Really? They can charge me over $5 for two pieces of chicken … but they can't give me 9 grams of actual honey to go with it? 'Cause that's how much 'honey sauce' there is in one of those packets. 'Honey Sauce' that, according to the packet, is 7 percent real honey? That's 2/3 of a gram of honey … ."

The blog "Playing in the Dirt" analyzed the ingredients of KFC's honey sauce: "If we look closely at the printing on the back of each packet, we find that the honey sauce contains the following ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, corn syrup, honey, caramel color. Notice that honey is the fourth ingredient, after HFCS, sugar, and corn syrup. HFCS, of course, is unnatural; sugar is fine. Corn syrup — I'm not too sure about how it differs from HFCS, although I have read it is not as bad for you. Caramel color — why would you need caramel color for honey? Isn't it already that color? To determine what ingredients honey contains, I took a look at one of the jars of honey I purchased at (the) market. Here's the ingredients list: honey."

Of course, nobody is likely to ask for a packet of high fructose corn syrup to drizzle on a biscuit.

Richard Schiffman at the Huffington Post explains even honey bought at a store might not be honey: "Food Safety News … food scientists say that over three quarters of the honey sold in American supermarkets and drug stores may not be what the bees created, but a watered down, reconstituted hodge-podge of the real deal mixed with other cheaper, less savory, and often less safe, ingredients."

Real honey contains pollen — which, in addition to being good for health, also makes it easy to track where it was made. So companies strain out the pollen so consumers can't tell that it came from, most likely, China.

"It is for this reason that U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules state that any product that contains no pollen cannot be called honey," Schiffman said.

So Food Safety News sent 60 store-bought containers of honey in for testing. Seventy-six percent of the honey had zero pollen in it, and so it wasn't really honey.

A similar test was made of honey bought at farmers markets, health food stores and the like. They all had pollen.

"Not only is low-cost Chinese honey forcing many American beekeepers out of business," Schiffman said, "but the unregulated liquid is often heavily adulterated with high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners, as well as being tainted with chloramphenicol, heavy-metal toxins and a witches brew of agro-chemicals, including some illegal animal antibiotics, which are fatal to a small percentage of the population."

Maybe the honey sauce isn't so bad after all.

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: @degroote

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/madegroote

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