Of Food Scams & in Search of the Best Cuppa

By Paracelsus Asia

The world of food is passing strange. Bean sprouts, romaine lettuce, a bad egg or oyster, all of these could kill you in next to no time if you ate unlucky. Yet you can eat junk food till the cows come home and it’s a lot less likely to kill you. In the end though, it just might as your arteries clog up. Genetically modified food is even less likely to put you six feet under, though anything that Monsanto sells is probably bad for us one way or another. Strictly speaking, as yet there’s no overwhelming evidence to say GMOs are bad for you; just as there is no overwhelming evidence that they’re any good. No matter whatever anybody says, the science is unclear and nobody knows for sure.

Truth be told, you are just as likely to be fed bad food that is neither fresh nor nutritious in a health food bar as you are in a MacDonalds or any goormay up-itself restaurant you care to name. Research tells us that probably the healthiest way of all to eat and increase longevity, is to eat less. Junk or not, don’t make no odds.

The only thing we have going for us and is any kind of reliable guide in what is nutritionally a very wicked world, is our common sense and our taste buds. That is if they are not too blunted and beffudled by the addictions we have acquired along the way.

All you really have to know if you wish to eat well, is… is it it fresh? Does it taste nice? If it doesn’t, it is neither  fresh nor nutritious. Properly used herbs can enhance food, but spices are historically employed to disguise poor ingredients. If you spice heavily, your taste buds are almost certainly too buggered-up for you to tell if your food is fresh or not. That doesn’t just go for individual taste, it’s true for entire national cuisines. Thai cuisine I’d say is the second best in the world, but only if you eliminate the chili. The best? Southern Italian, unquestionably. It’s all about fresh ingredients, herbs and knowing enough not to ruin the texture or flavour in the cooking. The rest is either artifice, chicanery, or a cover-up. In the fresh stakes, few do it better than the Japanese, so I’d have to give them the bronze.

In order not to make any more enemies than I already have, let me quickly add; Cantonese cooking can be great, its the integrity of the ingredients that worries me; as for the rest of Chinese food you can keep it. And, as for France? For fresh produce it’s hard to beat, its the cuisine that’s overrated. I mean have you seen what the French do to pasta? I’ll say no more.


On No! Not my Cuppa…

One of the saddest things about all this is that one of the most natural and pleasant of health-giving substances, one that is drunk in copious quantities all over the world, is by no means immune to the vile machinations of unscrupulous growers and manufacturers.

As an Englishman who has spend half his adult life in culturally Sinitic lands I am addicted to black tea, taken straight, no milk no sugar. I like coffee but could live without it. Not so tea. Over the years I have probably consumed lakefuls of the elixir. It was one of the reasons I suppose that I have managed to survive as long as I have in relative good nick. Now I’m not so sure….

I always suspected the low end teabag manufacturers were selling the dust sweepings along with low grade leaves and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that the bags themselves are made with questionable materials. It’s why, wherever possible, I buy loose tea. I thought fondly that loose tea was invariably a purer and tastier buy. Many of us tend to make the same assumption when it comes to herbal and other natural non-caffeine teas or infusions. Alas, whatever tea is your tipple, whatever the source, the cost or the delivery, via loose leaves or in bags, you remain vulnerable to the depredations of unscrupulous suppliers.

Take Celestial Seasonings for example, the definition of archetyple hippie tipple launched back in 1969 in Boulder, Colorado; at one stage of my life when for a good few years I drank no caffeine, I used a tea from them called Emperor’s Choice, mainly because it seemed to have more if a kick to it replacing the tanin and caffeine I missed. What I didn’t know was that by 1984 Celestial Seasonings had already sold out to Kraft and in 2000 was “merged” with the Hain Food Group, a company that has made a habit of acquiring and debasing products that either were or had the reputation of being “natural”.

After a while I reverted to my natural inclination for loose black tea and now usually buy Twinings Earl Grey or Assam teas by the tin or Chinese Puerh tea. You can usually tell if Chinese Puerh is good or not, because the low grade stuff has a faint mouldy smell to it. Any food stuff out of China needs to be viewed with circumspection.

Looking into it more closely I came across the findings from independent labs Eurofin Scientific commissioned by Glaucus Research and was disconcerted to find Twinings by no means got a clean bill of health. In fact many of today’s tea brands are operating under the guise of providing health benefits and promoting clean living, but are actually laden with cancer promoting pesticides and toxins, artificial ingredients, added flavors and GMOs. Most tea is not even washed before it is put it into bags and that means if the tea was sprayed with cancer-causing pesticides, those pesticides go directly into your cup. That’s why it’s best to buy organic tea.

Here’s how the Eurofin rap sheet reads:

Pesticides: Allegro, Celestial Seasonings, Lipton, Mighty Leaf, Republic of Tea, Tazo, Tea Forte, Teavana, Tetley, Trader Joe’s, Twinings.

Natural Flavours: Allegro, Bigelow, Celestial Seasonings, Mighty Leaf, Republic of Tea,Tazo, Teavana, Tea Forte, Trader Joe’s, Twinings, Yogi.

Artificial Flavours: Bigelow, Teavana

GMOs: Celestial Seasonings,Lipton, Mighty leaf, Tea Forte

Harmful Packaging (teabags): Celestial Seasoning, Lipton, Tazo, Tea Forte, Teavana, Tetley, Twinings.


Some things to note from the above:

The two most dangerous categories above are Pesticides and Harmful Packaging (the teabags) since these contain substances that can cause cancer and/or are toxic. Natural Flavors can mean absolutely anything; good, bad or indifferent. Ground up gravel is natural but no one would say it’s good for you. Same goes for Artificial Flavours (crude oil or coal tar with your tea anyone?).

Other things of note: Celestial Seasonings is consistently the worst offender. Wise to steer clear of all Hain Ceslestial Food Group products, they are not an honest company. Supposedly up-market suppliers like Republic of Tea, Tazo, Teavana (one of their teas contained no less than 23 different pesticides) and Twinings do not show up well on the most risky categories.

In the light of this I’m now seriously in the market to replace Twinings for my loose teas. As a light user of herbal teas I’ll simply avoid the labels listed on the Eurofin rap sheet. Anyone know an Earl Grey, loose with a good Chinese flavour and not overly bergamoty?



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