Some Menu Items Aren’t All They Appear To Be

Image courtesy of Cpt. Brick

Farm-raised, locally sourced, truffle oil, Kobe beef. These are just some of the terms you might come across the next time you sit down for a nice meal at a local restaurant. While these descriptions and names may equate themselves to high-quality, pricy meals, they might not be. 

Eater reports on instances of food fraud cropping up on restaurant menus across the country, with restaurants often exaggerating or misstating what ingredients to create “fake” menu items.

While much of the $50 million food fraud that occurs annually in the U.S. is relegated to grocery shelves, many restaurants have also fallen into the industry, albeit sometimes to no fault of their own.

In some cases, Eater points, the fraud occurs higher up on the supply chain — from the companies that produce or manufacture ingredients — while other times the issues are actually legal, but not necessarily presented accurately to customers.

Larry Olmsted, the Eater writer and author of the book Real Food/Fake Food, notes that while restaurant goers may assume that spending more or visiting eateries operated by well-known chefs means you’re getting the real deal, that isn’t always the case.

While diners should take into consideration a whole menu when deciding what might be real and what might be fake, Olmsted suggests guests be on the lookout for three fake food flags on their next trip to that fancy-schmancy restaurant.

•Beef — While the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture have rules dictating how certain cuts of beef can be labeled on retail shelves, those rules generally go out the window when it comes to restaurant menus.

According to Olmsted, seeing a restaurant offering “Kobe” beef should give you pause.

The supply of real Kobe beef is very limited, Eater reports. In fact, individual restaurants are licensed by Kobe’s marketing council to buy it, and fewer than 10 U.S. restaurants currently serve officially licensed Kobe beef. Most of those locations are in either New York, California, or Las Vegas, so if you’re sitting down to a “Kobe” steak in Philadelphia, you may not be getting the real deal.

•Red Snapper — In many cases, Eater reports, restaurants that claim to be selling red snapper are really serving cod, halibut, flounder, and grouper.

In fact, a 2013 report from conservation group Oceana found that 33% of seafood nationwide is mislabeled, with red snapper imposters being most prevalent.

Red snapper bore the wrong labels 87% of the time. Only seven out of a whopping 120 samples of red snapper bought nationwide were the real thing. All the rest were impostors.

Olmsted suggests that to make sure you’re getting real fish you should eat at places where it is displayed whole, served whole, or simply stick to less expensive fish varieties.

•Truffles — Truffle oil isn’t actually made with truffles, Olmsted reports. Instead, the oil is generally a made up substance.

Actual truffles are rare and cost an extraordinary amount of money, meaning if you’re seeing a truffle-based mac ’n cheese for $20, it likely isn’t using the real deal.

How to Avoid the Most Common Fake Foods on Restaurant Menus [Eater]