Do you know the ingredients in fat free half and half?
I’ll admit that I was dubious of the concept of fat free half and half from the get go. Isn’t half and half supposed to be half milk and half cream? So how can it be fat free?
As the harried mother of young children working full-time outside my home, I had little time or inclination to read food labels while grocery shopping. But times have changed. For a variety of reasons, I pay more attention to what is in the cartons and cans these days.
Dairy products are a special source of interest to the ingredient detective in me. First it was cream. What is the difference between heavy cream and whipping cream? Is it just a matter of semantics or do they actually contain different ingredients. As I learned, the answer is not cut-and-dried. But in general, whipping cream has other ingredients (besides heavy cream)that act as thickeners and stabilizers. One such common added ingredient is carrageenan, an extract from edible seaweed. While carrageenan is considered generally safe by the FDA, there are scientists who that it may be cause or aggravate intestinal problems.
Now it is half and half. Last week, I came upon a recipe that called for half and half. When I’m being “good,” I try to lighten up the calories and/or fat. So I glanced at the fat free half and half on the grocery shelf, considering whether to substitute it for the “real” thing that sat next to it on the grocery shelf. And that began my journey down this rabbi hole.
As I discovered, “regular” half and half has 30-40 calories and 3 – 3.5 grams of fat per 2 tablespoon serving. On the other hand, fat free half and half has 20 calories and 0 grams of fat. So far the the fat free version is looking pretty good. But wait. Calories and fat counts are only half the story. The other half (pardon the pun) is the ingredient list.
I checked the “regular” half and half ingredient lists from three brands that have a fat free version as well: Darigold, Hood and Land ‘O Lakes. In addition I checked Organic Valley’s half and half, even though that company does not make a fat free version. Hood and Organic Valley list only milk and cream as ingredients in their half and half. Besides milk and cream, Darigold and Land ‘O Lakes list disodium phosphate to keep the cream from separating in hot liquids. Land ‘O Lakes “regular” also contains a preservative called sodium citrate.
What are the ingredients in fat free half and half? In all three fat free versions – Darigold, Hood and Land ‘O Lakes – the first listed ingredient is skim milk. For two out of the three, the next ingredient is corn syrup. (In Darigold, regular milk is listed second and corn syrup third.) All three list carrageenan and color. Land ‘O Lakes lists the color as simply that, while the other two list it as “artificial color,” They also list various other chemicals. Those chemicals include Vitamin A Palmitate, a synthetic vitamin with a stabilizer that replaces the natural Vitamin A lost in the process of making the milk nonfat.
In other words, when they take the fat out of half and half, they replace it with corn syrup and chemicals. Fat free half and half = skim milk + corn syrup + color + chemicals.
Can someone explain to me how that concoction, which doesn’t contain half of anything, let alone half of one ingredient and another half of a second, gets to keep the name half and half?
Maybe the fat free half and half looks creamy when it pours out of the container. And it may have a “mouthfeel” that closely resembles the real stuff. But do you really want to use it in place of regular/real half and half just to save a few calories and a couple of grams of fat now that you know the ingredients in fat free half and half?