Portable Chef Blog: Tasty Licks

What is That Dust on the Bottom of a Thomas’ English Muffin?

This is a tale of deception, love, and intrigue. And breakfast.

As time goes on, I buy less and less stuff at supermarkets. In fact, the only thing I can think of that I still buy that you can only get at a conventional supermarket is the Thomas’ English Muffin.

If I’m going to have starchy white foods on the regular, they better kick some serious tush. Simply put, Thomas’ delivers the goods. Bread gives you something texturally that nothing else does, and Thomas’ English Muffins give you something texturally that few other breads do; toasted properly, no can defense.

But what the hell is that stuff they put on the bottom? I thought about it while watching Angela split a muffin in two a few days ago. Morning sunbeams illuminated a remarkably full cloud of tiny particles that were cascading onto the kitchen floor. You actually can’t handle a Thomas’ at all without these things flying off the bread; when I make two at a time, decades of experience have taught me that my first order of business has got to be to get above the sink and scrape the two together like I’m starting a fire.

The question is: why? Why bother? Why put something on the muffin that costs money and is destined to fall off, uneaten, generating untold additional broom and dustpan usage in households around the country? It just didn’t add up. I decided to launch an investigation. Preferably a short investigation; I’d hoped to get this whole thing resolved before things get too cool to butter properly.

Little did I know I’d soon be descending down a rabbit hole of deceit.

Here’s what I learned:

I learned that it’s “Thomas’ English Muffins.” That is, in and of itself, immediately raised suspicion. Why? I’ll tell you: presumably, this was meant to mean “English muffins that were made by Thomas” or “English muffins that once belonged to Thomas, and now he’s selling them to you.” So you’d want to use the possessive here. The correct way to use the possessive with a proper noun ending in an S (actually any singular noun, propriety be damned) is to put an ‘s on it. Look it up. “Thomas’s” would be the way to go, and even just “Thomas,” sans possessives, would have been fine. But Thomas’? Oy. The only way that would work if there were two people named “Thoma,” and together they were “Thomas,” and the muffins belonged to them.. Then, you could go with “Thomas’.” But that’s not what’s happening here. What was happening here, without a shadow of a doubt at this point, was foul play.

Thomas’ [sic] has this to say:

The small white particles on the bottom of Thomas’® English Muffins are farina. Farina is a cereal food, frequently described as mild-tasting, usually served warm, made from cereal grains. This is used to prevent the doughball from sticking to the oven plate and also to give the product its unique taste.

This is awesome, because the description of Farina exactly matches the first sentence of farina’s Wikipedia entry:

Farina is a cereal food, frequently described as mild-tasting, usually served warm, made from cereal grains.

So. Thomas’ is terrible at grammar and may or may not be a rampant plagiarist. What other foul play is afoot here, Thomas? Going back to the FAQ:

…used to prevent the doughball from sticking to the oven plate…

NO! I don’t believe this. While this may have been true when Thomas was making his very first English Muffin in 1880, I’m pretty sure bread technology has evolved since then, sufficiently enough that we’ve discovered other ways to skin this particular cat. I know this… well, I know this because I’m a professional chef. But I also know this because of personal experience: Thomas’ English Muffins are the only bread product I’ve ever purchased or made that leaves my kitchen floor ready for tap-dancing after I’ve prepared it. And don’t feign ignorance to the times, Thomas: you’ve got other bread products too – bagels (regular and mini), pita, loaves of bread, tortillas – and you’ve been able to prevent these from sticking top the oven plate just fine. So this explanation just won’t wash.

Let’s keep reading the FAQ:

…and also to give the product its unique taste.

Also: nonsense. Have you ever eaten farina? You probably have – it’s sold as a breakfast cereal under the name Cream of Wheat. It tastes like nothing. And even if you disagree and like the taste of farina, then even more insidious questions are raised: if it’s all about the taste, then why, Thomas, do you refuse to put farina on the top half? Why deny the eater of the top half the same taste sensation afforded eaters of the bottom? Do you want sharing a muffin to result in some sort of domestic Battle of Appomattox? It just didn’t add up.

My research on the surface had revealed nothing. But I still figured it out. I’m going to tell you why Thomas’ puts farina on the bottom of each English Muffin they make:

No matter what they say, it’s because the good people at Thomas’ would like you to believe that Thomas is in fact still out there, or perhaps his great-grandson, sweating in the English countryside in front of a wood-burning oven with one of those giant paddles, shuffling muffins in six at a time.

Is that enough to warrant an international conspiracy?

Not international. Something far more insidious. The facts are all there if you know where to look:

4 Responses

  1. I just stumbled upon your website after googling why my milk won’t froth (dammit!) and now want to ready every article you’ve published. Your articles are as hilarious as they are informative. Thanks for brightening up early mornings alone at the table whilst everyone else in the house sleeps. I hope my laughter –whilst reading your articles — wakes everyone up.

  2. It’s far more likely that the author of the Wikipedia article plagiarized from the company literature. I see it all the time, especially with science; they rip right from the NASA website and post it. So, I’m guessing Thomas is at least not guilty of that. Now the farina is another issue, but I do like the toasted crunchiness. As you know, cornmeal under bread and pizza dough is standard.

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