Twinkies (Dwight Eschliman/Courtesy Reagan Arts)

Ever wondered what exactly goes into your Doritos or Twinkies? Photographer Dwight Eschliman and Steve Ettlinger, an author who specializes in food, set out to explain the crazy world of flavorings, colorings, sweeteners, preservatives and thickeners by taking apart some of modern America’s favorite foods in a series of still-life images.

In their new book “Ingredients,” the two deconstructed 25 products, including chips, ice cream bars, instant oatmeal and gum, and explained the origin and purpose of 75 commonly used additives.

Twinkies are where Ettlinger’s exploration of processed foods began. He explained in the book that his young children, who ate mostly whole foods, “started quizzing me about the processed-food labels I was staring at.”

“I realized that the way to do an in-depth investigation on the subject was to deconstruct the ingredient label of a well-known processed-food product. … I like digging into the details behind complex but common things. Instead of taking photos, though, I took trips to the mines, factories and labs to see for myself the sources of such food additives,” he wrote. Ettlinger soon teamed up with Eschliman to document the foods in a more visual way.

Eschliman and Ettlinger emphasized, however, that “we are not here to tell you that artificial ingredients are bad for you, or what to eat. … We are simply curious about these ingredients and assume that many of you are too.”

Here is a look at what the pair discovered.

Twinkies, for example, contain approximately 42 ingredients. In the picture above, from left to right:

Row 1:  Flour, reduced iron b vitamins, niacin, thiamine mononitrate (b1), riboflavin (b2), folic acid, water

Row 2: Sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, beef fat

Row 3: Whole eggs, dextrose, soy lecithin, sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, cornstarch, monocalcium phosphate

Row 4: Modified cornstarch, glucose, whey, glycerin, soybean oil, salt, monoglycerides

Row 5: Diglycerides, polysorbate, cornstarch, sodium stearoyl lactylate, natural flavor, artificial flavor, sorbic acid

Row 6: Potassium sorbate, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, enzyme, wheat flour, Yellow No. 5, Red No. 40


Doritos (Dwight Eschliman/Courtesy Reagan Arts)

Another popular snack — a bag of Doritos Cool Ranch-flavored tortilla chips — contains about 34 ingredients. In the picture above, moving from left to right, they are:

Row 1: Corn, corn oil, canola oil and/or sunflower oil, maltodextrin, salt

Row 2: Tomato powder, cornstarch, lactose, whey, skim milk, corn syrup solids

Row 3: Onion powder, sugar, garlic powder, monosodium glutamate, milk, cheese cultures

Row 4: Salt, enzymes, dextrose, malic acid, buttermilk, natural flavor

Row 5: Artificial flavor, sodium acetate, Red No. 40, Blue No. 1, Yellow No. 5, sodium caseinate

Row 6: Spices, citric acid, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate.


Campbell’s Soup (Dwight Eschliman/Courtesy Reagan Arts)

Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle Soup contains 32 ingredients that were photographed. From left to right:

Row 1: Chicken stock, chicken meat, carrots, wheat flour, egg whites, eggs

Row 2: Niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, celery

Row 3: Modified food starch, salt, chicken fat, potassium chloride, soy protein concentrate, yeast extract

Row 4: Sugar, dehydrated mechanically separated chicken, dehydrated onions, cooked chicken skins, sodium phosphate, flavoring

Row 5: Spices, beta-carotene for color, dehydrated vegetable broth, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, dehydrated chicken

Row 6: Egg yolks, soy lecithin


Oroweat bread (Dwight Eschliman/Courtesy Reagan Arts)

Oroweat Healthy Multi-Grain Bread has about 30 ingredients, most of them natural, but even this product has a number of unpronounceable additives. One of the most surprising things the authors discovered is that a number of products that are marketed as “heart healthy” are some of the most additive-laden items. From left to right:

Row 1: Whole wheat flour, water, sugar, wheat gluten, brown rice, cornmeal

Row 2: Oats, wheat bran, yeast, cellulose fiber, soybean oil, black sesame seeds

Row 3: 13 White sesame seeds, salt, molasses, datem, calcium propionate, monoglycerides

Row 4: 19 Calcium sulfate, poppy seeds, grain vinegar, soy lecithin, citric acid, calcium carbonate

Row 5: Nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, whey, soy flour, nonfat milk


Shellac (Dwight Eschliman/Courtesy Reagan Arts)

Among the mystery chemicals they delved into were shellac, which they said is made from insect larva secretions and used to coat apples to make them shiny; alginate, which can be used for rubbery monster masks, as well as a salad thickener; and ethyl vanillin, which they said “begins as a toxic, explosive benzene” and is turned into a flavoring for butterscotch and rum products.


Red 40 and Yellow 5 (Dwight Eschliman/Courtesy Reagan Arts)
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(Dwight Eschliman/Courtesy Reagan Arts)