My mother never trusted any food if she could not confirm its origin. Therefore, she always bought whole items, even when purchasing such things as spices. In many Italian kitchens, one finds hanging displays of hot small red peppers or braided, dried fresh garlic, instead of bottles of flakes that often contain chemicals or additives to keep them fresh for future use. Mom would tear off what was needed from the colorful hanging display and split the red pepper or chop the garlic to supply exactly what the dish required. I thought she was silly since I believed there could not be anything wrong with garlic or pepper flakes. This was until I read a study conducted by a manager in an industrial food plant. He explained how he was caught between fulfilling his role as manager, paid to make money for the company, and being disgusted by what was sold to the public.
Apparently, a shipment of red pepper flakes had to be sold regardless of the quantity of black rat feces mixed in with the product. He explained that when his company received an $80,000 shipment of red pepper flakes, the employees were asked to find a solution to disguise the feces so as not to lose their profitability. One official had the idea of straining the mixture, but the fact that the feces and pepper flakes were of a similar size made this option unfeasible. Another proposed solution was to pulverize the entire mixture, so as to hide the black feces, but that solution would not have passed inspection tests. Finally, a solution was found. If a guaranteed shipment of 100% pure red pepper flakes could be secured, and added to the feces mixture, the company could meet the minimum requirement to pass inspection. The company saved its $80,000 investment, the public was able to purchase red pepper flakes at a good price, and the rat feces mixture was approved by the inspector.
Again, mother was right. She did not trust anything that she could not see in its whole form. I believe mother purchased such items knowing that red pepper flakes and braided garlic, left out to dry, did not need chemicals and additives to maintain them for future use, unlike those in the bottle. After reading this study, I agree her suggestion not to buy pulverized items was a good lesson.
A popular sight is our garlic braid hanging in our farm kitchen as it always was in my mother’s kitchen, as well as the occasional braided circle.