Friday, October 21, 2011

The Candification of Our Food: The Case of The Fruit-Less Fruit Snack - October 20th, 2011
The fruit snack is a slippery little beast. Wander into your local natural food store, and you might find a packaged fruit snack with one ingredient: fruit. Look in the package, and you'll see something that looks like a piece of dried fruit flesh. But just about everyplace else, the items being sold as fruit snacks have a much more tenuous relation to the stuff of apples, strawberries, and mangos. These ubiquitous and popular snack items are molded sweet morsels, soft and a little chewy. They are called fruit snacks because they are made from fruit. Sort of.

It's a huge category: Fruit snacks are on the product lineup of breakfast behemoths like General Mills and Kellogg's, fruit brands like Mott's and Welch's, and specialty companies with names that promise healthier processed food like Florida's Naturals and Annie's Organics. Based on my extensive field testing, I am happy to report that most of these fruit snacks are quite yummy. But they are also almost indistinguishable from soft gummy candies.

Note, however, that the word candy is never, ever used to describe this product. The adherence to this definitive nomenclature on the part of producers and consumers alike is what we call "pulling a fast one." What distinguishes the fruit snack from other chewy candies is the substitution of sugars derived from cane, beet, or corn with sugars derived from fruit. Fruit juices, purees, and fruit pectins enhance the fruit content boasted on the package of many brands. But even if all the ingredients started out as fruit, what the fruit snack primarily delivers is sugar. Sugar from fruit, sugar from cane, sugar from corn, no matter: sugar is sugar.

Packages plastered with fruit bouquets and boasting fruit juices and purees give this category an aura of virtue that other candies can only envy. The problem is that the wholesome fruit goodness of fruit snacks is wholly imaginary. Fruit snacks are not fruit. They're not better than candy. They are candy.

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