For many of us, the sweet smell of baked goods cooking in our childhood kitchen almost always meant slice-and-bake cookies were baking in the oven. While this certainly depended on the individual household, homemade cookies simply meant pre-made store-bought dough. Even though the past 10 years has seen a resurgence of the make-it-fresh home cook, slice-and-bake packaged cookies are still popular in many kitchens.
But have you ever wondered how that cookie dough stays good for so long and how the cookies are able to spread just right? If you stopped and took a look at the list of ingredients you might be surprised by what you find. The list is significantly longer and more varied than what we use in the homemade variety. So, we at Kitchen Daily did some investigating to get to the bottom of what exactly we're eating when we indulged in these pre-made treats.
You've probably seen this ingredient listed on food items more times than you can count. But with a spelling so visually similar to the well-known spice vanilla, most times people see them as one and the same. And as the name suggests, there is a similarity between the two, but vanillin and vanilla are most definitely not the same ingredient.
Vanillin is an artificial vanilla flavor. Since vanilla is in such high demand -- found in nearly every sweet treat -- and is so expensive, many food companies have turned to the use of vanillin. Ice cream and chocolate make up 75 percent of the vanillin market. The artificial ingredient used to be made from clove oil, but is now mainly derived from guaiacol (a petrochemical) or lignin (a constituent of wood and a byproduct of the pulp industry). In other words, vanillin is made from wood or petroleum. Vanillin is also used in perfumes, medicines and wine.
While vanillin is not toxic when present in our foods (though it may trigger migraines for those who are prone to them), it's not exactly harmless to humans. Those who work with this product in bulk have to take certain precautions. It can be harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin, or can be an irritant to eyes. One site recommends that if inhaled and breathing becomes difficult, oxygen should be provided. While this may be a normal precaution while dealing with processed food, it's not one that has to be taken with real vanilla.
Partially Hydrogenated (Palm Kernel and Cottonseed) Oil
As we previously outlined, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils -- which contain trans fats -- have been identified as a worst offender for some time now. Trans fats have been linked to increased risks of coronary heart disease and some studies have also suggested that it can elevate the risk of diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer's -- just a couple of maladies off the long list of health issues resulting from trans fat consumption.
Palm oil and palm kernel oil has been linked to health problems and environmental issues. Palm oil is extremely high in saturated fats, and palm kernel oil, which is the oil from the seed of the palm fruit, is even higher in saturated fats. While palm oil contains roughly 50 percent saturated fat and 50 percent unsaturated, palm kernel oil contains a whopping 82 percent saturated fat.
Cottonseed oil also pops up in store-bought cookie dough, usually in the partially hydrogenated form. As the name suggests, it's the oil extracted from the seed of the cotton plant. Cotton is one of the big four genetically modified crops (the other three being soy, corn and canola). Cottonseed oil has to undergo treatment to extract gossypol from the oil because its consumption has the ability to produce undesirable side-effects. Some worry that cottonseed oil also contains unacceptably high levels of pesticides since cotton is not registered as a food crop and therefore pesticides and chemicals are not as stictly regulated.
Feeling inspired to avoid the above skeptical ingredients? Click through the slideshow below and get ideas for real, homemade chocolate-chip cookies. If you like to have cookies on hand that are ready to be baked, you can shape and freeze the dough for later. That way, when you have a craving or need, you can just bake up however many you desire.
How do you feel about pre-made cookie dough? Leave a comment below.