by Kristin Evenrud, Grocery Manager
I recently watched the Cornucopia Institute’s video – “Dirty Little Secret in the Natural Soyfoods Industry…” (http://youtu.be/9xDkDpUJ6ug). This is a short video about the food industry’s use of n-Hexane. Hexanes are hydrocarbons and are significant constituents of gasoline. Furthermore, in their raw form they have a gasoline-like odor and are relatively inexpensive since they are a by-product of the manufacture of gasoline.
The concern is that some manufacturers in, and for, the natural foods industry are using n-hexane to extract oil and proteins from soy, safflower, flax and cotton. For example, non-organic processing of soybeans can require a “bath” in hexane to separate the oil or protein from the bean. When is the last time you soaked your beans in cleaning solvent?
The largest ingredients of concern are soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate and textured vegetable proteins (TVP) which can be extracted using hexane. These ingredients are commonly used in meat alternatives and nutrition bars. A written report by Cornucopia in 2007 also points out that hexane can persist in the final food product. In a sample of processed soy, the processed soy oil contained 10 ppm, the soy meal 21 ppm and the soy grits 14 ppm of hexane. The video is a couple of minutes long and of course has jammed a lot of info into the two-plus minutes. I thought hmmm…what more do I need to know?
What I found out by digging a bit is that hexane is a component of gasoline, breaks down quickly when exposed to air, floats on top of ground water and then dissipates into the air. It is not readily stored or concentrated in plants, animals or fish. This doesn’t sound so bad. However, industries that use n-hexane use a lot of it and end up landfilling the waste from the processing of products. This can mean a lot of spent n-hexane going into the ground and evaporating into the air.
By far, the biggest risk in using hexane is to the workers doing the extraction. The long-term toxicity of hexane in humans is well known in the industry. Exposure levels ranging from 400 ppm to as great as 2,500 ppm can cause tingling and cramps in the arms and legs, general muscle weakness, loss of coordination and blurred vision. Chronic intoxication from hexane occurs most often in recreational solvent abusers, workers in shoe manufacturing, furniture restoration and automobile construction industries, plastic recyclers and assemblers and cleaners of touch screen devices.
The risk to consumers due to eating a product where hexane was used in its extraction process is incrementally small. However, this is a toxic chemical that has been banned by the Organic Industry. Yet, all-too-often n-hexane processed ingredients are used by “natural” foods industry manufacturers. Even though the consumer health risk is low from eating meat alternatives and nutrition bars, you may choose to avoid eating products that use n-hexane because of your environmental values or concern for the workers who may come into contact with the liquid.
The Cornucopia Institute website is full of good information on this subject, including guides illustrating which companies are using n-hexane and its processed parts and which manufacturers have opted for greener, but costlier forms of extraction.
Yet again, if you are looking for the easy answer, look for the 100% Certified Organic seal on the label. If a food product bears this seal it cannot contain hexane-extracted ingredients.
Nutritional Bars the Co-op carries that are FREE of hexane processed ingredients:
Kind Plus (only the Antioxidant Bars)
Raw Revolution Bars
Nutritional Bars the Co-op carries CONTAINING ingredients treated with hexane:
Clif Builder’s Bar
Clif Mojo Bars
Kind Plus only the Protein bars
Luna Protein Bars
Think Thin Protein and Crunch Bars
Meat Alternatives at the Co-op that are FREE of hexane extracted soy:
Boca “made with organic soy” patties, burgers and links
Field Roast Grain meat
Gardenburger we carry only Sun Dried Tomato Basil variety
Fantastic Foods only the Vegetarian Sloppy Joe, Vegetarian Chili, and Taco Filling Mix
Meat Alternatives at the Co-op that CONTAIN hexane-extracted soy:
Gardenburger – we carry only the Black Bean Chipotle
Yves Veggie Cuisine
To see the full guide go to http://www.cornucopia.org/2010/11/hexane-soy/