Renouncing Pronounceability


By: Matt Teegarden

It could just be that I’ve let my eavesdropping habit spiral out of control, but more and more I am hearing people say, “I can’t pronounce that ingredient, I don’t want it in my food” (or something to that effect). My (admittedly pretty snarky) reaction is the same every time:

Can you give yourself some more credit, please?  Yes, some chemical names are difficult, if not annoying, to pronounce- even for chemists.  But these names are just words, after all. Words that can be sounded out like any other.

If phonics dictated the safety of food additives, then we would not be able to add the like of tocopherols, cholecalciferol, and cyanocobalamin to food. But we need these chemicals in our food-they are vitamins E, D, and B12!  Food and cooking are naturally steeped in chemistry, and chemical additives are typically included for a reason-whether it be desirable quality or safety, among other solid reasons.

Have you ever followed a recipe for bread that seems to turn out differently each time? Bread can be finicky enough to make in small batches in your own kitchen, so imagine how difficult it would be to make large batches of bread while trying to keep the quality of the final product the exact same- day in and day out. Difficult-to-pronounce chemicals, like azodicarbonamide, can help bread producers ensure that the bread you pick up from the grocery today will be the same as the loaf you purchase in three months.

The next time you come across a weird-looking chemical name in the ingredient list of your food, don’t throw it out right away.  Do yourself the favor of looking into it a little more, and I might recommend visiting a reliable website that depends on real experts and scientific agreement, rather than a sensationalist blog.

It’s important to ask questions about your food, but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid of it.

Special thanks to my fellow Food Communicators for helping me with these videos!

Science Meets Food

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  1. I LOOOOOOVVVVEEE this!!!!! Great job, as usual. Yay for Food Science! I will be linking to this article in a future post on

    Thanks for your hard work.

  2. It occurs to me that we’re talking about those members of a consuming public whose ‘informed’ stance is based on a total lack of familiarity with chemistry, nutrition, and commonly-used Latin roots. The pronunciation issue alone would really only take about a couple of high school classes – that is 2-3 hours – to correct. But – you’d actually have to have teachers who were willing to present the material in an unbiased manner – and I’m not sure that such people are all that common.

  3. I come across this all the time. People are fearful of E numbers in Europe, I often explain everything that goes into food has one, from vanillin to formaldehyde. Great video

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