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Caseinate gives away the game

June 18, 1998

Tim Rowland

I got to work last Thursday and there was a note on my computer terminal that said "non-dairy creamer."

How, I thought, could I have forgotten the non-dairy creamer? But then I remembered that I drink coffee black. So someone else must want creamer when I go on the morning coffee run.

Then the phone rang and someone said "Coffee Mate?" like it was a code word and I was supposed to respond with something like "The filly has left the barn" and show them the diamonds.

But then I remembered this was all part of a net I had weaved myself - my first, and with any luck and common sense last, Guess That Product game in which I listed the label ingredients on a grocery store item and folks were supposed to figure out the finished product.

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I thought non-dairy creamer (corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or canola oils, sodium caseinate, dipotassium phosphate, titanium dioxide, mono- and di-glycerides, silicon dioxide, lecithin, artificial flavors, annatto extract and turmeric extract) would be all but impossible. It wasn't.

I thought people would see the titanium dioxide and conclude it was a jet airplane.

I should have realized though that the people who habitually read this column would read just about anything, and that labels would be no exception. In fact, several implied they get around to my column only after they have perused product labels, paper menus, cereal box offers and any other printed gibberish within reach.

Mary Webb of Cearfoss was one of the first callers, along with Doris Kirby, Beth Chaney, Mildred Hluchy, Harry Hess and Bob Devore.

"The caseinate gave it away," she said.

"Oh, right," I said. "The caseinate. Ha, ha. I, uh, knew that would make it too obvious."

By e-mail, I asked a woman who asked not to be named how she knew the correct answer. She replied:

"Intuition maybe? Caseinate triggered the word milk (although I can't remember how I knew that), corn syrup = sweet, milk + sweet = cream. Your clue confirmed it. I checked my store-brand non-dairy creamer and it had most of the ingredients, so I figured a name brand probably had the extra ingredients. Aren't you sorry you asked?"

And from Rachel Bowers: "Your list of ingredients in the Guess That Product sounds like a powdered coffee creamer. I think I read that list while hunting something healthy to put into my unhealthy coffee!

"I don't agree that it is useless knowledge, though. 'Partially-hydrogenated' is an ingredient in packaged heart-attacks."

I got a call from a family who knew the answer because the husband works for the FDA and "reads labels for a living."

I didn't believe there could be so many reasons for reading labels. Ellie Price, for example, said she is a diabetic, so she's always reading labels on the prowl for hidden sugar.

So the main thing I have learned out of this experiment is that the plan to require the ingredients on product labels is one federal regulation that people may actually use.

This alone makes me want to sing "Sweet land of li-ber-ty."

The down side is that too many people - between 15 and 20 in all - knew the answer. All right, I'm mad now.

And I will not make it so easy next time. I'll be logging a few extra hours in the grocery store aisles looking for items that are absolutely undetectable from their listing of ingredients - to show I mean business, I will tell you that I intend to begin my search with Snackwell brand products, moving next into the hot dog case.

I promise, it won't be pretty. And there won't be any caseinate upon which you may hang your hats.

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