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Everyday foods that aren’t what they say they are

What if your favorite food wasn’t what you thought it was? That could, of course, mean that it’s botanically different than how it’s culinarily categorized, or that the way you eat it is different than how everyone else seems to, but it could also mean that what you think you’re eating is something completely different than what is actually is. It could be a little bit mind-blowing to find out that your favorite winter squash is actually considered to be a berry, or that your favorite nuts, grains, or seeds aren’t actually that at all.

In some cases, it’s just marketing campaigns that lead you to believe your favorite food is what it says it is. In others, it’s basically flat-out lies and deception (though perhaps not ill-intentioned), but those doing the deceiving sometimes get let off the hook on a technicality. Regardless, there are foods that you likely eat on occasion — or even perhaps with regular frequency — that aren’t quite what they seem. Here’s what you need to know.


While many people consider peanuts to be, well, nuts, they’re actually truly legumes. That means that peanuts actually have more in common with beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils than they do with other nuts.

White chocolate

White chocolate isn’t chocolate at all. Its “chocolate” comes from cocoa butter, which is what’s separated from the cocoa nibs that are processed into cocoa powder or chocolate. According to BuzzFeed, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set limits on the proportions of ingredients in order for the product to be marketed as white chocolate, including “at least 20 [percent] cocoa butter.” That’s why when you toss a few white chocolate chips in your mouth because you’re out of the real stuff, it’s really not a satisfying substitute.

Maple syrup

To be fair, if it’s sold as “pure maple syrup,” chances are it is what it says it is, but imitation maple syrup (like imitation vanilla extract) is just that, an imitation, not the real deal. Likewise, if your bottle of syrup says “pancake syrup,” it’s probably not actually maple, just maple-flavored. The bottles all sit right next to each other on the grocery store shelves, so pay careful attention to what you’re grabbing if you want the real deal.

American cheese

Despite its name, American cheese, that sliced, individually-wrapped, flimsy cheese of your youth, star of many a grilled cheese sandwich or cheeseburger, is a “cheese product.” As J. Kenji López-Alt writes for Serious Eats, “…American cheese is a product made by blending real cheese with texture- and flavor-altering ingredients.” So, yes, it’s made with cheese, but the resulting product is classified as a “cheese product” because of the addition of those extra ingredients.


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