The prevalence of foods stuffed with unwholesome additives might seem a modern problem, but Bee Wilson’s Swindled shows that the history of food adulteration is as long as it is disgusting.

Compared with 19th-century staples such as sweets coloured with lead, contemporary horrors seem relatively benign. Wilson’s approach is measured and often very funny, but her major point is a serious one: the greater the amount of processing we allow our food to undergo, the greater the likelihood it will be adulterated in ways that can be extremely harmful.

Swindled is compelling, but you might want to finish that milkshake before you pick it up.

Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee – the Dark History of the Food Cheats
Bee Wilson
John Murray, 2008

— By Alyssa McDonald

Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2009