Corn Flacks, pt. 1: “What’s in your whipped cream?”

I have read hundreds of PR pitches in my time; first at the Red Herring, the dot-com magazine where I worked during the boom, then as a freelance business writer, and now for the Ethicurean. There are some super-savvy public-relations firms out there, like Straus Communications (which represents Bon Appetit Management Co., CAFF, and "King Corn") and Shev Rush Public Relations (a good friend who reps Estancia grass-fed beef): both write great pitches, represent interesting clients, and (shocking!) actually read the publications they target.

But as the Ethicurean has grown, we have started to get some really off-the-wall e-mails from food-industry PR people. I can no longer resist publishing the most head-scratching of them, with the identifying information compassionately removed.

SUBJECT: What's in your whipped cream?

Hi Bonnie,

My name is [name withheld] and I work for [a division of Con-Agra Foods]. We pay pretty close attention to your posts, so we wanted to send you a quick heads-up about something we thought you might find interesting.

One of these whipped creams is made with real cream, and the other is made with a cocktail of hydrogenated oil, water and synthetic ingredients. Can you guess which is which?

Most consumers can’t either, but there's actually is a big difference. Check out what’s in the one on the right. Reddi-wip (on the left), on the other hand, is made with real cream.

Just sayin'.

I’m here if you have any questions….

Cheers,
[Name Withheld]
[PR Agency Name Also Withheld]

His link goes to a funny Wired article titled "Cool Whip: A delicious blend of sugar, wax, and condom lube," by Patrick di Justo, whose gig listing the origins of food additives is one I highly covet.

What PR Dude does not mention in his e-mail to the Ethicurean is that in addition to "real" cream, Reddi-wip Extra Creamy is made with a lot of the same stuff as Cool Whip, and if they'd paid a smidgen of attention, we're not big fans of "machine cuisine" here at the Ethicurean. (That's a phrase I learned last night.) Con-Agra doesn't list the ingredients on its Reddi-wip site, but Dietfacts.com does. Reddi-wip Extra Creamy also boasts "non-fat milk solids, sugar, mono- and diglycerides, carrageenan, artificial flavor, nitrous oxide (propellant)," and Reddi-wip Original follows cream with "nonfat milk, corn syrup, sugar, mono- and diglycerides, natural and artificial flavors, carrageenan, nitrous oxide (propellant)."

I am not a food scientist nor do I have any interest in becoming one. If I want whipped cream I take cream, add a pinch of sugar, and whip it with an immersion blender for all of 45 seconds. Amazingly, it tastes fine without any diglycerides or carrageenan, a thickener derived from seaweed using powerful solvents and also used in air freshener gels and shoe polish.

I'm just sayin'...

And no, this is not an April Fool's!

23 Responsesto “Corn Flacks, pt. 1: “What’s in your whipped cream?””

  1. Ed Bruske says:

    Another fun fact: You don't even need an immersion blender. It takes about 15 seconds longer to do it by hand with a whisk.

  2. Leah says:

    Wow - what a testament to your work that Con Agra is keep tabs on you! I wonder if the person who wrote that letter actually thought that they might get Ethicurean to support a product like Redi-whip? As if! :)

    Out of curiosity, where did you learn the phrase "machine cuisine?" It's a good one.

    Leah
    Editor, The Jew & The Carrot

  3. Bonnie P. says:

    Ed: [Sticking out tongue] Thanks for the tip.
    Leah: I don't think they are. I think they Googled "food blogs and cream" or something. Laura Stec, a personal chef and one of the speakers at the "low-carbon diet" discussion last night, came up with the phrase "machine cuisine." She does a sort of windup roboto doll dance when she says it.

  4. valereee says:

    Why anyone would use either of these products is a mystery to me. If I need whipped cream, I =whip= =cream=. It's not rocket science, this cream-whipping process. The raw ingredients are readily available. I've used a whisk, a hand mixer, a stand mixer, an immersion blender -- surely ONE of these basic tools is available in most kitchens. The time required is minimal. The taste difference is profound. And you know what you're getting. Am I missing something here?

  5. thm says:

    At a dinner party a few years ago, a few of our (otherwise intelligent, college-educated) guests didn't realize you could obtain whipped cream by any means except from a can. They watched in amazement as my wife whisked the cream and sugar to "perform the miracle of the whipped cream," as we now refer to this simple process.

  6. Emily H. says:

    Now that's just sad, thm. I'm pretty sure that when my mom fed us Cool-Whip all those years, we at least knew it was fake.
    That said, I think I was 11 or so before I knew that soup could be made from scratch. Obviously this was before I really started to think about the origins of my food...

  7. Jess says:

    I once made a batch of mexican chocolate mousse with whipped cream and burnt rum (thank you, Epicurious). I carefully whipped the cream in my Kitchen Aid. I lovingly folded in the melted chocolate. I presented it to my colleagues, who ooohed and ahhed appropriately. Someone then said "This is fabulous! Do you think I could make it with Cool-Whip?"

    If we can get the meds right, they might let me out of here someday.

  8. Debs says:

    As I was ordering a hot chocolate at an espresso stand once, the guy behind the counter insisted they offered real whipped cream (I always ask). To prove it, he pulled out a can of some sort of fake whipped cream product, and pointed to the dairy industry's "Real" icon on the can. I took the can and pointed out to him that the icon was only there because it contained actual dairy, not because that was the only or even primary ingredient. I just wonder how many people before me had gotten the wrong information.

    We live in a culture where making something yourself is considered exotic, and is not the default. Yikes.

    Food Is Love

  9. Ali says:

    The sad thing? When I saw the press release, I was pleasantly surprised that it contained real cream at all.

  10. Anna says:

    Hmmph! Redi-Whip is so *not* real whipped cream. I can't believe that PR person really keeps tabs on this blog, because if he/she did, he/she'd know that these readers are not fools about cream.

    I use a stand mixer to make whipped cream if I need a large quantity (no other additives except perhaps a bit of cordial or cognac). But most of the time, I use an iSi cream whipper device, which uses a gas charger to aerate the cream. It is as convenient as grocery store canned whipped topping, but keeps the cream fresh quite a while and permits a dollop or two of cream on demand. I have found that a garnish of whipped cream makes just about anything special enough for kids.

  11. maria says:

    i had a vegan friend who was really happy she could make vegan desserts with cool-whip because it doesn't contain any dairy. somehow this always seemed a little odd to me...in the way that most bacon bits are vegan, too.

  12. katy says:

    I hate to admit this, but I only recently made the jump to homemade whipped cream -- for a long time, before I actually tried it, I thought whipping cream would be like whipping egg whites, which takes a long, long, long time! Then, when I finally did it, I was a little bit shocked -- 45 seconds later, I was done! And it was just delicous. :-)

  13. Judy says:

    Very state of affairs when we can barely pronounce the ingredients of whipped cream when it should be cream and sugar!

  14. Anna says:

    "the ingredients of whipped cream when it should be cream and sugar"

    Or just cream. :-)

  15. Tricia says:

    Even easier and faster than using a tool to make whipped cream is to put cream in a jar, put on the lid, and shake it. (Sugar, vanilla, alcoholic additions optional.)

  16. Me too!

    Say, can anyone here tell me if guar gum is a bad thing or a good thing. I thought it was a bad thing, but saw it as an ingredient in yogurt from one of the farmer's market vendors.

  17. Ali says:

    Re, guar gum - I did some research on it a while back. I don't think it's anything to fear. Goopy stuff, made from a seed, nothing to suggest it's harmful. http://cleanerplateclub.wordpress.com/2007/02/22/the-guar-gum-story-told-in-nine-haiku/

  18. Migraineur says:

    I use guar in my own kitchen occasionally. My problem with guar in commercial food products is that it is one of those shortcuts that is used to make up for poor quality. For example, you can whip 42% cream practically with a fork, but lower butterfat cream needs some help.

    With yogurt, I'd guess it's because Americans are so conditioned to artificially thickened yogurt that your farmer feels he needs a little help to make the texture a bit more like what his customers expect.

  19. Anna says:

    In addition to thickening, the added gums help products like yogurt stay emulsified, instead of naturally "weeping" a bit of liquid whey.

  20. Wow...you folks are a wealth of information--a national treasure, even!

  21. Maggie says:

    That stupid "non-dairy" wording on Cool-whip and the like has been a pain in the a** for me!  Friends and family members frequently bring it out for my son (allergic to dairy) and I have go into a lengthy arguement about how "Yes, it does still have dairy in it."  
    I totally plan on borrowing "machine cuisine" BTW.  I'll pass along credit.

  22. ifoods chef says:

    i loved your blog! it really is so well made with lots of thought and very interesting as well! I just started a video recipe site that shows you step by step how to make stuff, http://www.ifoods.tv and i also started out as a blogger so it's great seeing other bloggers doing well, keep up the good work"

  23. kathe says:

    Cool Whip has always frightened me. I use real whipped cream in everything--except my grandmother's peanut butter pie, which only works because Cool Whip never goes flat.