Disclaimer: Before you read this post, I want to ask you not to panic as you read the information. The people who should worry most are factory workers, cooks, bakers, and anyone exposed to the vapors frequently over a long period of time. With that said, I hope this article helps you make wiser decisions as you purchase ingredients and snacks!
How many times have you purchased microwavable popcorn, margarine, and butter flavored candy? How many times have you purchased a cake from a bakery, unaware that many bakers follow the Wilton buttercream recipe? Did you know that bakers use “no color butter flavor” to obtain a snow white buttercream to decorate cakes? I have many issues with that recipe, like the use of shortening, but the focus on today’s article is the artificial butter flavor.
A recent article in the Science Blog discussed the link between artificial butter and Alzheimer’s disease. The article mentions that the key ingredient in artificial butter is Diacetyl (DA), which is a natural byproduct of fermentation. Where do you find DA? In its natural state you will find it in beer, some wines (specifically Chardonnay), some oils, and of course butter! The FDA currently has DA listed as “Generally Recognized Safe For Consumption.”
You may be wondering why I’m discussing DA if it’s found naturally in real butter? The key word in that sentence is naturally. Generally, a naturally occuring chemical is relatively safer than its synthetic version. Hundres of brands of cooking oils, butter substitutes and sprays use diacetyl to enhance the buttery flavor.
From Science blog:
Robert Vince and colleagues Swati More and Ashish Vartak explain that DA has been the focus of much research recently because it is linked to respiratory and other problems in workers at microwave popcorn and food-flavoring factories.Vince’s team realized that DA has an architecture similar to a substance that makes beta-amyloid proteins clump together in the brain — clumping being a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. So they tested whether DA also could clump those proteins. DA did increase the level of beta-amyloid clumping. At real-world occupational exposure levels, DA also enhanced beta-amyloid’s toxic effects on nerve cells growing in the laboratory. “In light of the chronic exposure of industry workers to DA, this study raises the troubling possibility of long-term neurological toxicity mediated by DA,” say the researchers.
In 2007, a study was commissioned by the Seattle P-I newspaper to compare different products and the concentration of diacetyl in each. The results were measured in parts-per-million (ppm), a standard unit of measurement to describe small values. (one part per million is 1 mg of substance in 1 liter of water) The results were as follows:
Two real butters were analyzed and diacetyl was found in a range of 7 ppm to almost 16 ppm.
In all the margarine and shortening products, levels of 7 ppm to almost 180 ppm were present.
A butter-flavored cooking spray released more than 164 ppm of diacetyl.
Butter-flavored cooking oils used by professional cooks ranged from 23 ppm to 234 ppm.
Two brands of oil for popping corn came in at 1,062 ppm and 1,125 ppm.
The study noted that the sweet butter had a higher level of diacetyl than its unsalted version. Mark Wustenberg from Tillamook Creamery explained that “diacetyl is added to all but salted butter throughout the industry.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go through my kitchen and throw out anything and everything that has DA added as flavoring! It’s a good thing I already use pure butter in my baking!
I think as the food industry becomes more convoluted, the more we are going to embrace the old-school way of living- natural, fresh, organic, and pure!