The Case of The Phantom Cream
March 2, 2013

I loves me my coffee.

I buy Starbucks beans, several varieties at a time, and grind them fresh for each cup in either an electric grinder or in a little Japanese manual grinder from a firm called Hario.

I brew the coffee in a Chemex brewer, a simple hourglass-shaped glass pot, using laboratory grade filter paper, and using spring water instead of the foul tap water the town spews out.

I daresay I make the best coffee in town. Starbucks and the local coffee shop can’t compare.

When it’s brewed I pour it into a glass cup with some half-and-half. It’s delicious.

But the other day there was a disaster.

I had run out of half-and-half and thus gone to the store to get more. I brought it home and put it in the fridge for use the next day.

Now I should note that I have noticed myself making mistakes of perception as I get older. Simple things. Misreading words, for the most part. Thus the case of the Phantom Cream.

Half-and-half is half milk, half cream. It lacks the high fat content of straight cream and lacks the thinness of milk, imparting a smooth feel to coffee on the tongue.

Cream is, of course, the fatty part of milk that floats to the top of unhomogenized milk. The key word is fatty, or just fat. Fat is why humans like cream. Fat is what tells our body we’ve had enough to eat. Cream fat is the key to half-and-half.

Well, when I pulled the fresh carton of half-and-half from the fridge the next day I noticed I had made a horrible mistake. The label read ‘Fat Free Half & Half’. I was naturally dismayed and cursed myself, my age, my carelessness, and the Universe. But I said ‘Two and a half bucks is two and a half bucks,’ and poured some of this faux liquid into my coffee.

It did not taste right. Naturally. So while I was pumping the caffeine into my body I read the label on the carton. It said:

Ingredients: Fat Free Milk, Corn Syrup, Cream**, Artificial Color*, Disodium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Guar Gum*, and Vitamin A Palmitate.

*Not in regular Half & Half

**Adds a trivial amount of fat.

Contains milk.

That is not half-and-half. Not by half it isn’t.

Half-and-half is half milk, half cream. Cream is nicely fatted.  And I would venture a wild guess that half the contents of the container is not cream. In order for their ‘cream’ to add a ‘trivial amount of fat’ it would have to be a trivial amount of  cream, certainly not half the carton.

Instead they have dumped in an inordinate amount of corn syrup. Note that it is the second item in the list, meaning it is the second most common ingredient. Which means there is more corn syrup than cream.

And what is corn syrup?

Liquid sugar. Just the sort of thing you would not want if you were on a diet and were pursuing that diet using ‘fat free’ foods. You would be far better off with cream than with pancreas-killing corn syrup.

Just for comparison I read the label on the real stuff that I ran out and bought after reading the label on the faux stuff. It read:

Ingredients: Milk, Cream.

Now that’s half-and-half!