Good Food Blog
Trade secretsPosted at 12:02PM, 15 October 2008 by Stuart Walton - Food and wine writer
'The secret ingredient,' says Marge Simpson, sprinkling dried herbs over a tray of pork chops for a favourite family recipe, 'is love'.
Many of us like to swathe our own culinary creations, especially when they have become popular standbys, with an air of mystery. When asked what it is that makes the chicken so particularly tender every time, we can dodge the question by saying it's a trade secret of ours. Not only does it imply a stroke of gastronomic genius, it keeps them returning for more.
Some of the world's most famous brands have traded on this air of magical mystery since the 19th century
Some of the world's most famous brands have traded on this air of magical mystery since the 19th century. It was originally a means of differentiating their products from rival imitations, but in due course the fact that the recipe was locked in a safe, and known only to two or three living human beings at any one time, lent what was essentially the unromantic business of factory production the aura of something distinctly Harry Potterish.
Drink brands from Coca-Cola to Pimm's have particularly benefited from this tradition. There are said to be over 130 herbal ingredients in green Chartreuse, so even if you did get a sight of the recipe (which is guarded by monks in Grenoble), you'd have a hard time replicating it without a photocopier. Who knows what makes Lucozade taste just as it does?
Secret ingredients in food products, though, have barely survived the demands of modern labelling laws. The key to the supposedly singular taste of many of the world's favourite brands has turned out to be nothing more than sugar in unexpected places. Nor was there much glamour in finding out that the secret ingredient was monosodium glutamate.
When it comes to eating out, the sky's the limit. McDonald's will understandably never tell you precisely what's in the 'Special Sauce' in a Big Mac, unless compelled one day by legislation. Is it more of a thrill that way, or does it make for greater peace of mind not to know? In any case, it hasn't stopped some people claiming they do .
The British teenager who drank a cocktail at a bar on Crete this year, and had what was seemingly a hyper-allergenic reaction that made her face swell up like a beach-ball, might have something to say on the subject. There was evidently a 'secret ingredient' in the drink. Although, as the named components included absinthe, tequila, ouzo, vodka, gin, cider, Bailey's and chilli powder, you wonder what more it would have needed to make you ill.