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Clinton: Serving Olfactory Soup

Ever turn around a bottle of soda you’re drinking? Maybe look at the label to pass some time? Something common you’ll see is caramel color, but it’s not just soda. All kinds of different foods use caramel coloring. For example, in Asia the market for color in sauces outweighs their soda consumption. But for it being so common in our everyday food, it may come as a surprise that Iowa has one of our own caramel color production plants. The worldwide leader in caramel color production, Sethness Roquette, has its largest facility just 30 minutes away in Clinton.

Sethness has three more plants across the world in India, China, and France. These facilities make the coloring by heating a carbohydrate, Sethness uses high dextrose corn syrup. During production they can also add caramelized sugar syrup that acts “just like a touch of honey” to provide more color and flavor. During production the color can also release a smell, often bitter and sugary. To see the plant I drove to Clinton, and the most blunt description for the scent I could think of was burnt corn, but with a hint of sweetness.

But when you enter Clinton, that's not what you smell. There are many factories in Clinton—all giving the city their own aroma. Clinton is also home to the Archer Daniels Midland company that specializes in processing corn. They’re even expanding right now to increase production of industrial alcohol. With Covid-19 still around and the new monkeypox, public safety is a top priority on the production chain. This factory of course gives Clinton its own unique smell as well. Given that they process corn products the smell is similar to the Sethness but instead of sweet, it leans more towards sour and is definitely the less favorable of the smells. This sour aroma is the most prevailing of them.


But factories are not limited to just processing corn. Since 1969 the Nestle Purina plant has been contributing to the olfactory soup of Clinton. They process dry pet food including things like Beggin’ Bacon Strips for dogs. Its smell however is not too potent and doesn’t linger far from the factory. Definitely more noticeable than that of Sethness, but these two don't compare to the aroma flooding power of the ADM plant. All of these plants nevertheless give great jobs to people in Iowa and contribute to giving Clinton the unique title by people as the “Armpit of Iowa.”


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