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A Little Trick for Whiter Whites

March 12, 2015

Do you need another reason not to eat Dunkin’ Donuts?

As of March 5, the brand has 30 days to submit a timetable to its shareholders about the removal of titanium dioxide from their powdered sugar donuts.

Now you might be saying, “But maybe I’m not getting enough titanium dioxide in my diet.” Or you might be one of those agitators who snickers at those who get up in arms about dihydrogen monoxide. It’s true, that chemical compound kills people around the world every single day.

My rant isn’t about hard to pronounce chemicals or mysterious toxins. We’re made of chemicals. Let’s try not focus on the what in this case. I would like to see if we could try and focus in on the why.

You know what powdered sugar looks like. It’s white.

My guess is that you never looked at a bag of powdered sugar and thought it was any other color besides white. I’ve never found it to be off white. I can’t recall powdered sugar ever looking dingy. And it’s almost unimaginable to think that I’d ever gaze upon a pouch of powdered sugar and wish in my heart of hearts that it could be even more white.

Do you know why titanium dioxide is added to powdered sugar? It’s a whitening agent.

Let’s assume that there is nothing fundamentally screwed up with wanting something that’s totally white to be even whiter for no practical purpose. I guess the next question is how far will you go to make it happen.

Dunkin’ Donuts went pretty far by using what seem to be untested nanoparticles in a food stuff beloved by children, and not letting anyone know that what appeared to be a white sugary coating their donuts contained a <ahem> little secret.

Of course, the chain contends that titanium dioxide doesn’t meet the FDAs definition of a nanoparticle. That’s a really funny response, because based on my understanding, the FDA hasn’t quite figured out how to define nanoparticles. You can read the official guidance yourself, but I think you have to be both a physicist and a lawyer to make heads or tails of the document.

Regardless, thanks to a bunch of activist investors and a California advocacy group, the company is being forced to act, lest it need to write a full report disclosing their use of this emerging technology.

The technology may be fine. I hope it is, but I just don’t know. What I do know is that when companies use something new and act sneaky about using it, those actions don’t fill me with confidence about the company’s long term interest in the health or safety of its consumers.

This is never about being anti-science. It’s always about being pro-transparency. And it wouldn’t hurt to make sure that the risk is worth the reward. Because no matter what you’re doing, there is always going to be some chance of an unexpected outcome. Usually it’s small, and there is a good reason to embrace new technologies.

As for powdered sugar? It’s white enough. Just because we can whiten it on the molecular level, doesn’t mean we should.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2015 9:49 am

    titanium dioxide is used in a lot of things you may not even think about. Butter isn’t white, it’s yellow(ish). So when you use real buttercream to make vanilla frosting what color would it be naturally? Off white. But not pure white. So it’s been an old trick to add this secret ingredient into frosting to get a more pure white – especially in wedding cake buttercream. I have also seen it in some very upscale bakeries around the world. Of course, if you use Crisco to make your buttercream . . . Aye Caramba!! But at least it’s white (and God save the Queen)

    I have also seen it used to make white macaron shells. Macaron shells tend to brown slightly in the oven, leaving a tan natural color. How do prevent it from browning in the oven? Take a wild guess. We don’t use it. We believe that off white is white enough. And tan is white enough for our Tres Vanilla French Macaron. On the contrary, we are even moving away from the artificial colors for ALL of our macarons. It’s just the right thing to do. Already we are coloring our yellow, green, chocolate, and shades of pink naturally. And over the next fe months we will have completed the full transition to natural coloring for all of our flavors. It’s a job. It’s not easy to get bright beautiful macarons using carrot juice and beets. But again – we believe it’s simply the right thing to do.

  2. March 12, 2015 9:52 am

    I should learn to proof read . . BEFORE hitting Post Comment. Typo “When you use real buttercream” should read ‘when you use real butter’

  3. boya3706 permalink
    March 12, 2015 9:54 am

    Does Dunkin even still fry their doughnuts? Anyone actually seen a fryer there? Or do we have to assume they’re baked, or fried possibly not so fresh?

  4. Klab permalink
    March 18, 2015 1:43 pm

    I stopped buying a delicious Tzatziki found in Trader Joe’s cheese cooler because it contains TD. Then I learned how easy and inexpensive it is to make Tzatziki , without added unnecessary crap using organic yogurt and sour cream. And surprise! It retains the natural “white” color without adding TD or preservatives.. Lesson learned is that you still need to read labels even in “healthy” stores.

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