Ingredients derived from unpalatable sources are found in our day-to-day foods. Foodstuffs such as hamburgers, vanilla ice cream, and baked apple pie that we relish everyday may contain these disgusting ingredients.
How would you feel if you find out that some of the foods you like contain unsavory ingredients that are beyond the stretch of your imagination? Disgusted? Rightly so! Some of the ingredients printed on the label are perplexing and unpronounceable. Moreover if they are derived from ‘bizarre’ sources, would you feel like having them? Their inclusion may not mar the taste of the final product but that does not make them fit for consumption. These ‘secret’ ingredients that we ingest unknowingly may seem harmless, but are a cause for concern.
What’s more surprising is that to masquerade the identity of such an ingredient, it is categorized as natural. To simply put, the food label does not give a clear idea about the ingredients that actually may be used to make the product. As though the addition of excess salt and sugar was not enough, now we bear the presence of these disgusting ingredients in processed foods. Check out these ‘outrageous’ ingredients found in foods that you love to eat to your heart’s content.
Unsavory Ingredients in Food
Seeing a cup of vanilla ice cream or raspberry candies can make you go weak in your knees. However, this feeling may soon go down to the dumps when you come to know that these mouth-watering delicacies contain an animal-derived ingredient. Castoreum is a flavoring agent that is reportedly used in these food products. This flavoring agent is a yellowish secretion obtained from the castor sacs that are next to anal glands of beaver (rodent). Also referred to as beaver anal gland juice, this food additive acts as a flavor enhancer and is supposedly mixed with hard candy, fruit flavored drinks such as strawberry syrup and raspberry flavored products. Surprisingly, the nutrition column on the label of many products, names castoreum as a natural flavor enhancer. It is altogether a different matter that FEMA (Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association) of United States has outright rejected any reports of castoreum usage for flavoring vanilla ice cream. However, FEMA does consider castoreum as a safe food additive.
Not all food companies use castoreum as a flavor enhancer. Vanilla extract, that consists of vanilla beans, sugar and ethyl alcohol, is also used as a flavoring agent. Thus, there are alternatives to castoreum that are not made from unsavory components as well as impart a good flavor to ice creams.
Use of dough conditioner in bakery products such as bread, pizza and rolls is necessary to add softness and improve their texture and elasticity. However, what would you say if you find out that dough conditioner for these products is an animal-based product? Some of the commercial brands selling bakery products are adding L-cysteine to condition the dough, but unfortunately this substance comes either from human hair, hog hair or duck feather.
Non-animal sources of L-cysteine does exist, but most food companies prefer to add animal based L-cysteine in their products as it is found to be more cost-effective than using natural sources of L-cysteine. So, the burgers, baked rolls or the baked apple pie that you eat at fast food restaurants are not only laden with calories, but also contain substances that are derived from ‘bizarre’ sources. Well, it seems you just got another reason to reduce the intake of these foodstuffs.
Chewing gum might be our favorite pastime, but it seems we may have to curb this habit considering that it contains lanolin. Lanolin that is often listed as a gum base is actually a refined oil that is derived from sheep’s wool. Sheep secrete this oily matter to keep their wool soft and safe from the ravages of climate. Also known as sheep sweat, lanolin plays a key role to soften your bubble gum.
Ammonium sulfate, a fertilizer, has become an indispensable ingredient of sandwich breads and buns. While conventional farming does lead to miniscule presence of fertilizers in our day-to-day foods, if ammonium sulfate is added externally to make the bread fluffy, it can be frightful. Ammonium sulfate contains nitrogen, which helps in proper fermentation of yeast, the primary constituent of bread. Various popular food brands that sell sandwiches and burgers often add ammonium sulfate to maintain the consistency of the product.
Yes, viruses (bacteriophages) are actually added in processed meat to protect it from listeriosis-causing bacteria. Listeriosis has been a cause for concern in United States as approximately 500 people die yearly due to this bacterial infection. The bacteria are found in ready-to-eat meat, cold cuts or lunch meat. Packaging substandard meat has been the main reason behind the spread of listeriosis in the United States. In order to control the rising cases of listeriosis, FDA has sanctioned the use of viral spray on processed meat.
The spray is a solution containing 6 strains of viruses that are capable of destroying the bacteria. Meat products prior to packaging are often treated with this spray to keep them safe from listeria contamination. The good news is that bacteriophages are usually not a health hazard and do not infect humans.
Looking forward to a glass of beer after a tiring day at work? Think again! Isinglass, which is extracted from the bladder of sturgeon (a type of fish), is used for brewing beer. Fermenting yeast is an important process in making beer. After the process is over, yeast tends to appear floating in the liquid. Fining agents like isinglass are then added to facilitate removal of yeast. It clarifies and provides stability to the beer and ensures that the drink does not appear cloudy.
Although, after clarification, the beer is filtered again, some amount of isinglass still remains. Not all brands use isinglass or other animal products to produce beer. Non-filtered beer such as the cask ale, tend to use animal products for processing beer. Usually, beer that are made in Britain use isinglass during the filtration process.
The unusual red color that you see on your favorite smoothies, candies, juices, and dairy-based beverages such as strawberry milk is an animal-based product. It is a red dye obtained from a particular bug known as cochineal. The meat industry also has been adding carmine to make their products more visually enticing. Carmine imparts a characteristic crimson/pink color to the food or beverage, thereby making it look vibrant and attractive. So, how is carmine extracted from the insect? Firstly, the insect is dipped in hot water so that it dies. The insect stores a significant amount of carmine in the abdomen. So, the process involves crushing the abdomen and heating its contents at a very high temperature to remove the coloring agent (carmine). In case carmine is added to the food, it may be listed as E120, cochineal extract or hydrated aluminum chelate of carminic acid. Interestingly, carmine is also found in cosmetic products such as lipstick and perfumes.
Many argue that ‘since insects contain substantial amount of proteins and vitamins, so what’s the harm?’ However, they forget that processed parts of insects (as found in carmine) do not provide any goodness of nutrition.
The same product is used for beautifying wood as well as for making fruits look more pleasing to the eye. Shellac, a viscous substance, sourced from the secretion of Kerria lacca bug is used for polishing wood furniture, but surprisingly is also applied to candies and fruits. So, the unusually red-colored apples might look attractive but the glossy, shinier appearance comes from the application of shellac. The coating of shellac is said to improve the shelf life of fruits. This is the best example of how far the food industry would go to woo the customers.
Now, vegans certainly won’t be happy to read this. Gelatin desserts, especially Jell-O, is primarily made from pig or beef skin. Its primary constituent, collagen (a type of protein that provides strength and elasticity to the skin) is derived from pig’s skin.
Shredded cheese that is sprinkled on a variety of American dishes contains cellulose, which is a combination of grated wood and plant fiber. So, the shredded cheese that you happily add to your recipe to make the dish ‘delicious’ actually contains wood powder. Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg as quite a few dairy products such as low-fat ice creams, yogurt and even crackers, muffins, breads, puddings, etc. contain powdered cellulose.
Cellulose displays anti-caking properties, hence its addition prevents cheese slivers from sticking together to form a large clump. The extensive use of cellulose has also been attributed to its ability to increase the longevity of processed food.
Other Gross Components That FDA Allows in Your Food
These are actually contaminants but since they are found regularly in food items, this NutriNeat article has listed them under gross components of food products. Due to substandard quality control techniques, these contaminants tend to get mixed in the food during processing.
Hey! This cannot happen. Well, this is what you may scream if you find maggots in a can of mushrooms. However you will be surprised to know that FDA legally allows 19 maggots or 74 mites in approximately 100 grams of canned mushroom. Although maggot therapy does help in cleaning skin ulcers effectively, one still cannot imagine consuming them. Instead of canned ones, using fresh mushrooms for cooking would be a sensible option.
Eating a piece of chocolate may help to alleviate your mood. However, you will be shell-shocked to know that it might contain rat hair. Legally, chocolate companies are not culpable if 1 rat hair in every 3.5 ounces of chocolate is found. Moreover, FDA’s action level allows 60 insect fragments in a hundred gram sample of chocolate.
Similarly, FDA does not consider it a health hazard if 11 rodent hairs are found in a 50 gram pack of ground cinnamon. Also, there is nothing “wrong” (as per FDA criteria) if every pound of popcorn has 2 rodent hairs.
The peanut butter that you spread everyday on your morning toasts may contain unsavory ingredients such as animal hair. Again, FDA allows around 30 insect fragments or 1 rodent hair in 3.5 ounces of peanut butter. If this was not enough, macaroni and noodles sold in packages may also contain insect contamination. For instance, 225 grams of packaged noodles is allowed have around 225 insect fragments or 4 rodent hairs.
Canned green vegetables such as frozen broccoli, Brussels sprouts and asparagus pack a powerful nutrition punch, but unfortunately they may also contain insects. For instance, FDA does not mind if 100 grams of frozen Brussels sprouts contain around 60 thrips, mites or aphids.
You might be wondering why FDA allows such unpalatable ingredients in the first place. The point is, these permitted ingredients are definitely not pleasing to your taste buds, but this does not mean that they are detrimental to health. To put it simply, something that is unsavory cannot be assumed to be inedible, if its quantity present does not exceed a permissible limit. The FDA’s ‘Defect Level Handbook’ clearly mentions that these ‘faulty’ ingredients are not harmful to health if the contaminant quantity is not more than the regulated FDA guidelines.
Also, the size of the insect fragment that occur in some canned vegetables is in microns. So, the concentration of contaminants is very miniscule as compared to the size of the food sample under consideration. It would be wrong to conclude that every chocolate or a can of mushrooms you purchase will contain these contaminants. It all depends on the quality standards adopted by a particular food brand. Maintaining high standards while processing food will ensure zero adulteration of the final product.
All in all, if the ingredients are taken from reliable sources, checked for authenticity and this is complemented by good manufacturing practices, there is no reason why you shouldn’t get a pure, unadulterated product.