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February 17, 2012 at 11:52 AMComments: 9 Faves: 1

The 5 Weirdest Ingredients Lurking in Your Food

By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This Author

Welcome back to FitChatter! This week in the news – would you like some duck feathers with your apple pie? Wood pulp with your muffin? Read on to discover 5 of the weirdest (and most disgusting) food additives that you have probably eaten in the last week…

There’s something fundamentally strange about how little we know regarding our food in this day and age. How many of us know the farmer that grew the vegetables in our salads, that milked the cow (or soybeans, or almonds, etc.) whose milk we splashed over our cereals in the morning? I wish I did, but I know that I certainly don’t.

But never is this separation more evident than when you find out what’s actually in what we’re eating. It’s out with the days of short, easy-to-understand ingredient lists, and in with things like:

Beetles and Shellac

It’s a widely-circulated myth that people swallow an average of 8 spiders per year. It’s not true, but it is gross – who eats bugs? Well, actually – you.

Where you’ll find it: meat products (sausages, poultry), gelatin, juice, dairy, baked goods, candy, pills, waxed fresh fruit

Ground-up beetles are in more food products than you might think. You’ll find them most commonly in things with red dye (made from crushed female cochineal insects) and anything shiny (the secretions of the Lac beetle – shellac – make a nice bright coat for a myriad of foods, and many bugs are scooped up with the shellac when it’s harvested). Enjoy!

Wood

When confronted with two versions of a product – one normal, one low-fat – which would you choose? If you said the latter, congratulations: you’re probably about to eat processed wood pulp.

Where you’ll find it: Salad dressing, muffins and bread products, flavored syrup, cheese, pretty much all fast food

It will appear as “cellulose” on the label, because “processed wood pulp” isn’t really a great selling point. Manufacturers use it to thicken foods, replace fat, increase the fiber content, and – of course – save money.

Silly Putty

Thank goodness McDonald’s got rid of the pink slime in their burgers, right? Now all we have to worry about is…Silly Putty plastic.

Where you’ll find it: McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish, McDonald’s French fries, and even Wendy’s Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt

It’s called dimethylpolysiloxane, and it’s used in fryer oil to keep it from foaming. There are no reported adverse health effects associated with its use, but let’s have a show of hands – who wants to eat Silly Putty?

Duck Feathers and Human Hair

By now, we’ve all heard the old joke: “Waiter, waiter, there’s a hair in my soup!” Blah blah, we know the punchline. But it becomes significantly less funny when you realize that it’s real, though the customer got it wrong: the hair isn’t in their soup. It’s in the bread roll on the side of their plate.

Where you’ll find it: McDonald’s Baked Hot Apple Pie, Wheat Roll, and Warm Cinnamon Roll; bagels; bread products

Per usual, this ingredient doesn’t sound too bad at first: it’s an extracted amino acid called l-cysteine, used to condition dough and make it more pliable so it’s easier to process in machines. Where it gets gross is when you look at the source: human hair mostly obtained from Chinese women who sell their hair to support their families. But don’t worry – because human hair grossed people out too much, most l-cysteine is now derived from duck feathers. Because that’s much better.

Castoreum

So what could be worse than duck feathers and human hair? Easy: castoreum.

Sounds perfectly innocuous, right? It appears that way - until you realize that Castor is the genus to which beavers belong. And castoreum is…(I’m so sorry to be writing this. You have no idea.)

…the anal glands of beavers.

(Aw, look at the little guy – he looks so happy. He doesn't have a clue.)

Where you’ll find it: perfumes, colognes, raspberry-flavored products and candies, vanilla ice cream

Apparently, beaver butt enhances the sweetness of foods, including ice cream. (Never have I been so happy to be lactose intolerant.) How this was discovered, I don’t know, and quite frankly, I don’t ever want to. What I do want to know is what’s in my food and where it came from.

Even if the answer makes me want to puke a little bit.

What do you think? Are you upset that the food industry can get away with this - or do you think it's an example of ingenuity and creativity?

Five Weirdest Ingredient Lurking in Your Food Infographic

Source 1 | Source 2 | Source 3

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9 Comments

  • Awesome blog Laura! Cannot believe how much gross stuff is in our food. I'm kind of undecided myself about the issue. I see where it'd be hard to get EVERY single tiny spec of something out of food. But....I dunno...it's still just gross to think about.

    I admit if I drop something on the ground...I live by the 5 second rule and pick it up...but I'm sure my kitchen floor doesn't have gross things like anal glands of a beaver. duck feathers, or silly putty. And if you are an industry producing food...you should be held to high standards!

  • HOW on EARTH did someone figure out a beaver's anal glands make things taste sweet?!!!?! :( :( :(

  • Shellac and wood pulp were no surprise to me. Silly putty seemed only obvious (kind of like polyethylene glycol is in everything). However, I would not have guessed duck feathers or beaver anal gland juice. Wow! Seriously, I'm really thrown by ice cream now.

  • Heh...sorry if I made you all lose your appetites! Bri - it's important to note that none of these are mistakes - they're all put in our food on purpose :/

    Check out the Wikipedia article on castoreum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castoreum
    Some interesting bits: you probably won't find "castoreum" on the ingredients list. Nope, it fall under the category of "natural flavors."

    Also: "Castoreum is also used in small amounts to contribute to the flavor and odor of cigarettes.[15]"
    Just another reason not to light up!

  • Apparently, it has also been touted as an aphrodisiac. Yup...nothin' like beaver butt to get you going! :P

  • So really - is anything we eat ever pure? We really just can't dwell on it too much because there is something wrong with all the food we eat and drink.

  • I understand, but if we don't dwell on it, nothing will ever change. I'd say there's something seriously wrong with the food industry - and often, our health is at stake. Consider that roughly half of all pigs processed for human consumption carry MRSA. Should we sit back and say nothing?

  • What a fun read, Laura! I remember being so shocked as to what is found in our food as a dietetic student... sometimes the more you know... yuk!

    I did want to add one comment about the wood pulp that I found from someone I respect very much in the world of nutrition expertise:

    ""Cellulose is cellulose," regardless of if whether it comes from wood pulp or celery, says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that advocates healthier, more nutritious food. He says no research points to health problems related to consuming cellulose."

    This certainly helps me to feel far more assured when I find cellulose on my ingredient list :)

  • Ice cream? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! (Ep. III Dath Vader)

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