We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize what’s in the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.
This edition: White Castle’s Original Slider, which is made from 26 separate ingredients that we’ve broken down as they appear on their website. And for good measure, we’ll check out the microwavable version, too.
1) Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid): As we learned in our exploration of the insane number of ingredients in the McDonald’s Big Mac, enriched flour isn’t actually “enriched” at all. In addition to containing more calories than whole wheat flour, the bleaching process that enriched flour undergoes produces an unfortunate byproduct — a chemical called alloxan, which has been found to induce diabetes in lab-animal test subjects by destroying their pancreas.
2) Water: To help make the dough.
3) Sugar: It’s only two grams, which is half a sugar cube, so don’t be alarmed.
4) Soybean Oil: This keeps the dough moist, but ingested in large amounts, soybean oil (along with most other vegetable oils) can cause all sorts of problems, including fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and migraines. Seconds, anyone?
5) Yeast: Yeast is the fungus that makes dough rise.
6) Salt: This adds flavor.
7) Vital Wheat Gluten: This is a flour-like substance made almost entirely of gluten, and it can improve the chewiness of bread products.
8) Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate: Used in a variety of baked goods, calcium stearoyl lactylate primarily acts as a dough strengthener.
9) Guar Gum: Guar gum, from the guar tree, is a thickening agent, and it’s known to improve the mouthfeel of bread products.
10) Monoglycerides: Monoglycerides are a type of fat that prevent water and oil from separating, making them common additives in processed foods. The FDA classifies monoglycerides as “generally recognized as safe,” and most producers add them in small amounts, anyway.
The one problem with monoglycerides is that they can contain trans fats that aren’t listed on the nutrition label, and because trans fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, consuming more than you think you are is gonna be a bad time.
11) Monocalcium Phosphate: In baked goods, monocalcium phosphate produces carbon dioxide, which helps the dough rise. When consumed in moderation, it’s nothing to worry about. However, too many phosphates in your diet can accelerate the aging process, increase your risk of heart disease and place undue stress on your kidneys.
12) Sodium Alginate: Sodium alginate is extracted from seaweed and is often used as a hydration agent in breads, keeping them moist.
13) Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C): This accelerates the rising of dough.
14) Enzymes: Mostly simple proteins, enzymes speed up the reactions necessary to make bread.
The Beef Patty
1) 100% USDA Beef Seasoned with Salt and Pepper: I don’t trust it.
1) Onions: Nothing to see here.
1) Cucumbers: Surprise! Pickles are just cucumbers that have been soaked in brine.
2) Vinegar: It’s acidic, which helps change the cucumbers into pickles, softening the texture and acting as a preservative.
3) Water: This also comes out of my eyes when I read about the ingredients in White Castle sliders.
4) Salt: Yum.
5) Sodium Benzoate: A commonly used preservative, sodium benzoate has been shown to exacerbate hyperactive behavior in young children, so maybe say no pickles if you’re at White Castle with your kids. (Although, White Castle specifies that they only use a very small amount of sodium benzoate.)
6) Alum: Alum is a common spice used in pickling recipes to maintain the vegetables’ crispiness.
7) Natural Flavors: Natural flavors are quite literally flavors derived from an actual food source — i.e., mustard flavoring taken from real mustard seeds. (Kinda.)
8) FD&C #5 Yellow: While certain artificial colors are known to be carcinogenic, physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, assures us that a normal person’s liver should have no problem breaking down whatever minuscule amounts of coloring we consume with our food.
9) Polysorbate 80: This is an emulsifier, which means it helps the multiple ingredients in these pickles blend together. It’s often added to pickles to help disperse the flavor, ensuring that every spear has some spice. Unfortunately, according to a 2015 study, polysorbate 80 promotes inflammatory bowel disease and a cluster of obesity-related diseases known as metabolic syndrome.
10) Calcium Chloride: Calcium chloride is a preservative often added to pickles to provide that salty taste without adding even more salt. It’s just a way to regulate our sodium intake.
The Microwavable Version
The microwavable White Castle sliders are surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly) similar to the restaurant ones, with just a few changes:
1) They Swap Out Sugar for Corn Syrup Solids: They’re pretty similar, but corn syrup solids can help prevent ice crystal growth in frozen foods.
2) They Added Oat Fiber, Corn Starch and Xanthan Gum to the Buns: These are all fairly typical bread-baking ingredients, though, and there’s nothing new to worry about here. I suspect they help reinforce the buns to keep them from going too wet after being frozen.
3) They Got Rid Of the Pickle: Fuck.
The White Castle Original Slider has way fewer ingredients than any of the burgers or sandwiches at McDonald’s. That’s a win, right?