When biscuits attack…

I have been made extremely ill by Sainsbury’s Digestive Biscuits.

I have just spent 5 days feeling dreadful, with acute gastric pain. It was somewhat amenable to antacids, though I thought I had food poisoning, as I also felt nauseous. In a nutshell, I felt as if I had a massive hangover, though I hadn’t been drinking.

I had, though, eaten nothing that could have caused food poisoning.

I looked at everything I’d eaten over than period, which wasn’t very much, and the only thing that wasn’t normal in my diet was Sainsbury’s digestive biscuits. Now, I occasionally use these as a sleep aid, as they make me extremely drowsy. They also – and I’ve known this for years – make me fee severelyl hung-over if I should eat them in the small hours, having woken and been unable to get back to sleep.

On Saturday, for whatever reason, I didn’t eat any (I’d bought them to tide me over, as I’d been too ill to bake), and on Sunday I felt fine, so I baked some bread. Then – and I still have no idea why – instead of having fresh bread at bed-time, I had a handful of digestives with a glass of milk. Yesterday – Monday – I felt so appalling I couldn’t even get dressed.

By evening, still feeling crappy, I just reheated some braised steak and had that, being too buggered to even boil a few spuds to go with it. Afterwards, feeling the need for carbs, I had the last three biscuits in the  open packet (I’d bought two packets Thursday morning).

Within half an hour my stomach pains were back. I chugged some antacid (Altacite Plus – as good, or better, than anything from Gaviscon, and a fraction of the price – I’ve been taking the stuff for over 20 years), and started looking for a cause. I knew it wasn’t the meat (steak, onions, carrots, stock, peas – nothing there to cause problems), so I had a look at the back of the unopened packet of biscuits.

There were two ingredients I was unfamiliar with and one, ammonium hydrogen carbonate (aka E503 or ammonium bicarbonate), was flagged in my additive book as being known to cause irritation of the gastric mucosa. This, in a manner not too dissimilar to peptic ulcers, causes considerable pain.

Wikipedia also says this “Ammonium bicarbonate is an irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Ammonium bicarbonate from China used to make cookies was found to be contaminated with melamine, and imports banned in Malaysia in the 2008 Chinese milk scandal.” (my bold, for emphasis) I wonder where the ammonium bicarb used in the UK comes from, and just how safe it is.

So I have a question – what the hell is this crap doing in my biscuits? It was known to be a problem in 1984, when my additive book was printed (I must get an updated version), so why is it still being used, especially, as in the Chinese experience, when it is so easily adulterated?

So, the second pack of biscuits has been consigned to the bin, unopened – I wouldn’t even feed that crap to the birds, nor will I be buying any ever again. In fact I’ve just had a quick look at Sainsbury’s website, and this stuff is all over the place in the biscuit section. Wikipedia says digestives, but it’s been in almost every biscuit I’ve looked at, even Thin Arrowroot, a biscuit that needs two raising agents – it also has sodium bicarb – about as much as a hen needs a banjo.

So, given that I have proven beyond doubt that this stuff makes me ill (though there’s a question as to why it’s made me far worse than normal this time – are they using more of it, perhaps?), I’m going to have to become obsessive when it comes to reading labels – I don’t want this shit in my system ever again. It doesn’t matter much about biscuits – I rarely buy them, though the French Bonne Maman brand appears not to use it – but I need to find out where else it hides.

I would strongly recommend if you have any gastric problems, as I do, you avoid this stuff like the plague. You might also want to give it a miss if you don’t want gastric problems!

And, of course, if you have children, I think you have a duty to protect them from this product – it is clearly dangerous.

Of course, most of its problems arise when it’s in its raw state, but the problems with the gastric mucosa persist when cooked, in foodstuffs like biscuits. It also appears in some cakes, too. That’s not a problem for me, as I never buy cakes (because I’d just pig out!). I am, though, fond of Chorley Cakes, occasionally (a more civilised cousin of the Eccles Cake), which don’t  contain it.

One thing to bear in mind – products flagged as containing no artificial ingredients – this stuff is the very epitome of the artificial ingredient – or all natural ingredients, are free of the stuff. That should make avoiding it a little easier.

Remember, too, it appears on ingredient lists either as Ammonium Hydrogen Carbonate or Ammonium Bicarbonate. Less common is the description Powdered Baking Ammonia, at least in the UK.

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2 thoughts on “When biscuits attack…

  1. Exceptional site, where did you come up with the info in this article? I’m pleased I found it though, ill be checking back soon to see what other articles you have.

    • In general, unique sources will be cited, otherwise it’s safe to assume there are multiple online sources, though you might have to dig for them (and learn to tell the good stuff from the lunatic fringe). In this case my “additive book” is a Thorson’s guide to e-numbers (there are times when books are simply more convenient), but, again, information about e-numbers is widely available online.

      Interestingly, Sainsbury’s no longer list this biscuit.

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