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Clean Label – A Clearer Understanding of What It Is

Clarifying What Clean Label Means for Your Food

The term can get messy when it comes to food transparency.

Our usual worries over fat, salt, and sugar content now have another troublesome additive: confusion. Mystery about the overall contents of our food has us worried as a nation. A recent poll discovered that as little as 13% of respondents actually read food labels, but the majority know we’re not getting the full story. They want clear, honest food labeling.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a controversial move in 2017 by giving food manufacturers extended time to meet public demand: from 2018 to 2020. This hampers us being aware of what we’re eating. A very unhealthy delay!

In the meantime, the Clean Label (CL) movement is trying to help consumers understand what they’re consuming. Here’s a closer look at what it is, the obstacles it faces, and the benefits it’s trying to bring to grocery carts.

Clean Label means straight talking

One of the views of clean enthusiasts is this: if an ingredient can’t be pronounced, it shouldn’t be in food. Clean Label wants ingredients to be simple and natural: things the public can recognize and understand. For instance, it’s fine when our bread contains wheat, flour, and yeast. When it also contains azodicarbonamide (found in shoe soles and yoga mats), people get concerned.

From food colorings also used in cosmetics to high fructose corn syrup, so many of our daily foods are under the spotlight. How much butylated hydroxytoluene do you like with your snacks? We’re not sure, either.

Potentially harmful, hard to understand ingredients lurk in every sector of the food industry. Frustratingly, there’s scientific debate that attacks and defends the same ingredient. This leaves the average shopper unsure of what to think.

Go Clean LabelTM offers this by-category list of what’s deemed safe by their food partners…but does that make it the definitive last word?

Is clean labeling itself totally clear?

Here’s an issue with Clean Label: there’s no solid definition on what’s “clean” and what it isn’t. As a resource, the Clean Label movement itself doesn’t claim to be a judge of what’s good or bad; it’s simply a source of current information and attitudes in the food industry.

Companies like Aldi, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Panera are all involved in the clean movement. When they deem an ingredient undesirable, they publish this on the Go Clean Label website. From there, the public can see what’s accepted by these big companies and what isn’t.

It isn’t just the consumer who’s confused

Generally, there’s a favoring of organic foods, natural ingredients, and items free from artificial additives. Clean Label acknowledges that the word “natural” is a really hard one to pin down. People like it, but there’s no real understanding of what it means. The FDA isn’t too firm on the word either and asked for public input to help them define it.

The same applies to the word “clean.” Some food labeling agencies will mark a product clean as long as there’s no environmental impact from its production. You may be eating all kinds of harmful ingredients, yet your food could still be called clean.

Food considered organic isn’t regulated by the FDA. It’s overseen by the Department of Agriculture via the National Organic Program. They’re the ones who set the national standard.

Does Clean Label mean consumers pay more?

Much like the costlier organic alternative to standard produce, Clean foods are expected to be more expensive. The required increase in labor intensity to produce foods to this higher standard (and not cut corners chemically like their competitors) is one factor expected to drive costs higher.

When the raw materials are more expensive, the manufacturers and bakeries who utilize them will have to foot the bill and, if they want to stay in business, are likely pass that price hike along in some way to the consumer.

As CL gathers steam toward becoming an industry standard, businesses will have to incorporate new visual adherence into their products. This will involve the designing and deployment of new product labels and promotional materials: another company expense that may make Clean Label products cost more.

The use of promotional materials will be of particular importance as consumers become warier of what they eat and drink. The company who spends more to demonstrate their Clean Label credentials will put their customers’ minds at ease. They will also have a bigger bite taken out of their profits to promote it in the first place.

As meat, dairy, and crop farmers are gradually affected by the shift toward Clean Label, they may have to alter their operational procedures to ensure compliance. It’s a cost trade off that carries its own risks. Will these farmers get in line and risk pricing their product too high? Even if their produce still sells, it creates an increased expense chain that reaches from the field to the food aisle.

Ultimately, the question is: will consumers be willing to pay more for peace of mind? You may like to review this resource from the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute that cautions consumers against the likely increase in cost of Clean Label ingredients.

Consumers could shape the future

As a result of all these varying attitudes and regulatory bodies, Clean Label isn’t any kind of industry standard…yet. Consumer concern about ingredients is forcing the food industry to sit up and take notice however, and that’s adding a lot of power to the Clean Label movement’s status and influence.

Since they’re the ones at risk, shouldn’t the public have the last say on what they want to eat? This seems to be the way things are going. Go Clean Label’s founders see the future as a collaboration between themselves, food providers, and the public.

Conscientious Leverage

The journey there means “clean” will become something more than just healthy ingredients. People’s social beliefs are becoming a factor, too. Everyone wants a clean conscience from their food. Was the environment harmed? Were the people or animals involved in production treated humanely?

As a company, We Take The Cake believes in the purest food possible. Even though our cakes aren’t Clean Label, we use only the finest ingredients with the minimum of additives.  It’s important to remember as the clean movement progresses that the lack of Clean Label doesn’t certify that any ingredient has a negative effect.

As our health concerns and our principles start to dictate our choices (and the companies who provide them), we truly are becoming what we eat.

Conclusion

The foggy definition of what’s clean isn’t going to last. When everyone understands the information and has their say, a final Clean Label will very likely be created. As things are, organizations like Go Clean Label are good resources, and the ongoing mixture of industry opinion and consumer concern is a healthy recipe. It will turn tomorrow’s Clean Label into something with a conscience, and our food into something we can trust.

At We Take The Cake, what you eat means the world to us. For over twenty years, we’ve continued to craft each cake by hand using only the finest ingredients. We’re proud to include among our customers nationally recognized caterers, party planners, private clubs, world-famous hotels, and exclusive resorts. Find out more about our delicious cakes for any occasion.

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Cake is For Vegans Too!

Cake is for vegans too

An inside look at vegan cake.

Adhering to a vegan diet is a strict discipline – but it doesn’t mean you can’t eat cake! However, after one bad experience, such as learning a restaurant lied about their vegan dishes, skepticism is understandable. So, before you write-off vegan cake as an impossibility, let’s take a tour through the impossibly deliciousness of vegan baking.

Is it really vegan?

To be sure, vegan means absolutely zero animal products – no honey, eggs, milk, gelatin, or insect derived color dyes (cochineal). Vegan cake is entirely plant-based – bakers make clever use of fruits, nuts, and a variety of spices, including cocoa, to excite the tastebuds.

How’s it work without eggs and butter?

Eggs give cake its fluffy structure, and butter works in concert with its confectionary colleagues to create a rich, velvety texture. Fortunately, you don’t have to journey to a specialty store to find excellent substitutions.

Oil for butter. Vegetable oils such as coconut oil are perfect stand-ins for their dairy-based counterpart. Coconut oil comes in unrefined and refined – as you might have guessed, unrefined still carries a hint of coconut flavor, while refined is essentially flavorless.

Applesauce for eggs. Some vegan cake recipes call for applesauce in place of eggs. Other options include fleg (an artificial egg substitute made from flax meal), chia seeds, silken tofu, and a baking soda-vinegar mixture.

Hey, that’s not vegan! (What to watch out for)

The strictest of vegans trace their food back to its production – that’s where animal products can sneak their way into what we might falsely assume to be vegan. Here’s a few places those little tricksters can be found and how to replace them.

Bleached sugar. White sugar is sometimes bleached via a process that uses animal bones. Stick with unbleached cane sugar and you’ll be in the clear.

Milk and cream. While not so sneaky, these are tricky to replace all the same. Soy milk products are typically recommended. Soy yogurt can be used in place of cream, or dried soy milk can be rehydrated sparingly for a creamier texture.

Honey. Most grocery stores provide ample options to use instead of honey. Agave nectar and maple syrup are healthy and popular options.

What about the frosting?

In some circles, such as 6-year-old’s birthday parties, a cake without icing is grounds for an eruption of tears and disappointment. Fortunately, such catastrophes can be avoided with a little vegan-baking savvy. In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, you already know the solution. The key replacement ingredient in icing is butter, which – as you know – can be swapped out with coconut oil for a frosting that’s actually pretty darn healthy, assuming you limit the sugar.

Indulging your vegan sweet tooth

While many of these substitutes are super delicious, they can affect the baking process. One thing we’ve learned over the year is that vegan baking, if using non-vegan recipes, can require a little trial and error, but we’re proud to offer vegan and gluten-free cakes to our customers because we know everyone still loves sweets!