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15 Companies That Use Wood in Food

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15 Companies That Use Wood in Food

I remember hearing back in the day that the secret ingredient in McDonald’s milk shakes was…wood. What?! Many people chalked it off to urban myth, but as the ingredient listed as cellulose began popping up with increased frequency, myth seemed less likely.

As it turns out, wood cellulose is used in everything from milk shakes to salad dressing, from muffins to pancake syrup. Food manufacturers use it to thicken and stabilize foods, replace fat and boost fiber content–as well as to reduce reliance on more expensive ingredients like oil or flour.

Powdered cellulose is made by cooking virgin wood pulp in chemicals to separate the cellulose, and then purified. Modified versions go through extra processing, such as exposing them to acid to further break down the fiber. Then it’s mixed into popular foods, and unwittingly devoured by the consumer.

Even organic-food products aren’t safe from the taint of cellulose. According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, Organic Valley uses powdered cellulose made from wood pulp in its shredded-cheese products. The company would prefer not to use a synthetic ingredient, but cellulose is bland, white and repels moisture, making it the favored choice over products such as potato starch, says Tripp Hughes, director of product marketing for Organic Valley. Only powdered cellulose in its least manipulated form can be used in foods labeled “organic” or “made with organic” ingredients by the USDA.

Cellulose comes in different forms, each used for a specific purpose. Beyond powdered cellulose, two other modified forms are commonly used in food. Microcrystalline cellulose is either listed as such on labels, or as MCC, or in some cases as cellulose gelCarboxymethyl cellulose or cellulose gum, another modified version, is listed as such on labels.

The website TheStreet rounded up a list of popular food companies that use cellulose in a number of their products. But so many companies are using it now in so many products, if you want to avoid it–check the label.

Dole Foods
• Peaches & Crème Parfait
• Apples & Crème Parfait

(Click through to end for printable list.)

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

180 comments

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5:04AM PST on Dec 13, 2013

I is truly mindbogglingly to me, how so many people have a problem with wood (cellulose) in their food. Icecream would not be as good without it and it's far better for you than a lot of things you all put in you bodies. It's high fiber, low carb, low fat and benign. How does your diet compare to that? The fiber helps get rid of the other things you were not supposed to eat in the first place. Eat more wood and you can get away with eating that extra donut (-: Everyone would me much healthier with more wood in their diet. Spread the word.

2:37AM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

don't buy a lot of those processed foods. i rather eat fresh!

10:58AM PDT on Jul 29, 2011

I stopped reading the list midway through. Looks to be mostly processed food and I don't buy that anymore and haven't for years. This is another reason not to shop for grocery's in the middle aisles.

10:41AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

Could somebody please list the companies/corporations which rinse the 'garbage' hamburger in ammonia?

6:44PM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

I had no idea. Very informative, thank you

7:24AM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

Can anyone say EWWWWWW!!!!!!
That is just gross.... and one more reason I bake my own stuff, from scratch... and will stay way from fast or convenience foods...

3:35AM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

Sadly goes to show anything processed must be suspected first until proven not guilty.

6:16PM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

Thank you. Goodbye Organic Valley.

5:31AM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

I learn something new all the time. Wonder if there are any harmful effects "down the road"?

11:19PM PDT on Jul 17, 2011

thanks for very use full info

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