The Secret Ingredient

Ever wonder just what they put in your food? Here’s a piece of short fiction based on a piece of trivia I learned researching something else. Enjoy!

Larry wanted to tour a cheese factory. I wanted to see the sands dunes of the North Sea. Since we were on our dream vacation, biking through the Netherlands, there was no reason we couldn’t do both. So he humored me as we rode along the shore, and even took his shoes and socks off with me to wade in the frigid water, so cold even in July.

The next day was rainy. I told him it was the perfect day to visit the Delft factory. He waited patiently while I oo-ed and ah-ed over the blue and white figurines, and stifled a comment when I bought a kissing couple I said reminded me of us.

Then I had no more excuses. I knew his favorite uncle made his own cheese, and Larry wanted to learn the process.

An hour later we were following a perky blond girl named Anneka, if you can call a big-boned, six-foot tall woman perky. She led us through a series of vats. One for boiling. One for straining out the whey. Then the one where the cheese is soaked in brine and various flavoring agents are added. “We use a secret ingredient,” Anneka said.

“What is it?” Larry asked.

Anneka smiled, looking at him through her nearly invisible eyelashes. “You have to guess. If you can’t, we’ll tell you after you buy some cheese.”

Larry pursed his lips. I could tell he was dying to know, so he could impress his uncle with his new knowledge. He fidgeted, bouncing up and down while Anneka finished the tour in the room where blocks of cheese hardened in wooden molds.

Then she escorted us to the tasting room, and offered us a selection the various cheeses the factory produced. Larry carefully rinsed his mouth with water after each one, trying to guess the secret ingredient.

“It’s some kind of salt, right?”

“It does add a salty flavor, yes.”

Brow furrowed, he sampled another cube. “Did you soak it in the brine olives were in?


“What about bacon?”


With each wrong guess, the lines between Larry’s eyebrows deepened and Anneka’s smile widened.

After his tenth sample, he admitted defeat and paid ten dollars for a kilogram. “So what is it?” he asked.

Smiling sweetly, Anneka said, “Potassium nitrate.”

“Potassium nitrate? Where do you get that?”


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