The “natural flavors” label is quite intriguing. It is considered a way of protecting the secret formula/recipe, a way of preserving the product’s uniqueness. Would you expect regurgitated secretions produced in an animal’s digestive system to be approved by the FDA as food additives? The secretion produced by the beaver’s sacs and civet absolute (“derived from the unctuous secretions from the receptacles between the anus and genitalia of both the male and female civet cat”, according to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives; delish) are other gross ingredients found in food. Watch out for those natural flavorings & flavors!
Lanolin is secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals. Believe it or not, it is used to soften chewing gum.
Sugar itself doesn’t contain animal ingredients, but most companies use bone char (animal charcoal) in filters to decolorize sugar. According to regulatory bodies, the bones are required to come from cattle that have died of natural causes. Countries like Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, India and Morocco are main suppliers.
What you are actually consuming and paying for, may be surprising.
10. Silicon Dioxide
Oxygen (46.6%), silicon (27.7%) and aluminum (8%) are the first three most abundant elements in the earth’s crust. Crystalline forms of silica include quartz, cristobalite and tridymite. Silicon dioxide is the main chemical compound of sand.
This element raises concern when it is used as an additive. Amorphous silicon dioxide (E551 in Europe) is one of the most important anti-caking agents. The FDA allows the use of SiO2 and considers it safe, as long as it doesn’t exceed 2% of the food’s weight. You can find it in everything from processed meat, spice powders, instant soups & sauces, snack bars, supplements, pharmaceutical drug tablets and more.
Silica, short for silicon dioxide, is beneficial to our body in several ways, but the body needs a very small amount of it to stay healthy. Is it dangerous to add silicon dioxide to food? Probably not, since its toxicity level is often very low. Is it disgusting and unusual? Yes, it’s down-right disgusting if you’re asking me.
Discovered over 4,000 years ago, borax is also known as birax, sodium borate, or sodium tetra-borate, and is usually found deep underground.
Sodium borate is a crystalline compound that is the sodium salt of boric acid. The term borax is widely used to refer both to a miracle mineral, and to a refined compound with countless applications. Borax is king indeed, just like the above ad states. The mineral keeps mice, bugs, ants and mold away. It is used as a multipurpose cleaner, fire retardant, fungicide, herbicide and…food preservative. Borax is banned as a food additive (E285) in the United States, but it is allowed in imported caviar. E285 is legal in the European Union and Asia. Borax is also used in the textiles, glass and leather industry for tanning and dyeing. Is there anything borax can’t do?
The flavorless and translucent substance may be used as a stabilizer, texture enhancer, or thickening agent in foods. The active element of gelatin is the collagen obtained from various animal parts. According to Professor M.C. Gomez-Guillén, “the most abundant sources of gelatin are pig skin (46%), bovine hide (29.4%) and pork and cattle bones (23.1%).”
Shellac is obtained by refining the secretions of the Kerria lacca insects. Native to South-East Asia, the insects reside in colonies of thousands on trees such as Kusum, Ficus, Palas, and Ber. It takes approximately 300,000 lac bugs to produce a one-kilogram sack of shellac.
Shellac is unrivalled when it comes to furniture polishing and wood finishing. It is used in almost every industry, including food and pharmaceutical processing. The same product that is utilized for coating furniture is used also for coating fruits, vegetables (shellac replaces the natural wax that is lost), candies, snacks, and pastries, to make them look fresher and more appealing.
You may have recently heard that Starbucks decided to stop using carmine as colorant. No more insect-derived coloring in the Strawberry Banana Smoothie, Strawberries & Cream Frappuccino, or Red Velvet Whoopie Pie!
Carmine is obtained from female cochineal insects. After the bugs are killed by immersion in hot water, or exposure to heat, and then dried, their abdomen is extracted and cooked at high temperatures (it contains the most carmine).
If one of the following terms – carmine, cochineal extract, natural red 4, E120, C.I. 75470, E120 or hydrated aluminium chelate of carminic acid – appears in the ingredients list, the red bug dye is in your food.
The cochineal extract is added to everything from meat to marinades, juices, jams, gelatins and candies, baked goods, toppings, icings, and dairy products.
5. Human Hair And Duck Feathers
L-cysteine is a common flavor enhancer and dough conditioner used in bakery products (pizza, crackers, bagels, bread, croissants and donuts, to name a few). While some L-cysteine is chemically synthesized in labs, most of this non-essential amino acid is extracted from human hair or duck feathers.
Industry experts claim most human-derived L-cysteine comes from Chinese women, who sell it to chemical plants to support their families.
Many L-cysteine manufacturers seem to have moved away from the disgusting hair-derived substance, and on to the far-more-appetizing duck feathers.
McDonald’s confirmed some months ago that, as of last August, it has stopped using ammonia-based pink slime in the production of its burgers. What about the duck feather-derived L-cysteine used in its pies and rolls? McDonald’s confirmed that it uses L-cysteine made only from duck feathers, so there’s no human hair to worry about. Gee, what a relief…
Cellulose comes in a variety of forms – powdered cellulose (E460ii), microcrystalline cellulose (MCC or E460i) or cellulose gum – each with a specific use. The odorless and tasteless powdered cellulose is sourced from either bamboo or cotton-based plant material. Often labeled as high-fiber or reduced fat, the “miracle” ingredient may be used in the following foods: cheese, yogurt, ice cream, processed fruits, vegetables, cereals, pre-cooked pasta, and bakery wares. See here for more details.
Dan Inman, director of R&D at J. Rettenmaier USA, said that manufacturers add cellulose to their products because it acts as an extender, reducing breakage and providing structure. Food producers from all over the world save almost 30% in ingredient costs by going for cellulose as a filler or thickener. Powdered cellulose can replace as much as 50% of the fat in some biscuits, cakes and cookies.
Sara Lee, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Dole, KFC, Nestle and Kraft Foods are some of the many brands that put wood in our food. Safe or not, it’s disturbingly unnatural to have cellulose in aliments. No wonder food doesn’t taste anymore as it used to.
3. Castoreum, Civet
The same substance that beavers naturally secrete to mark their territories, gives flavor (?!) to certain foods. Castoreum is a bitter, strongly odoriferous secretion, produced by the animal’s sacs. These sacs are located by the anal glands.
According to an article published in the International Journal of Toxicology, castoreum has been used extensively in cosmetics, especially in perfumes, and has been added to food and beverages as a natural flavoring agent for at least 70 years. Castoreum is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, FEMA and other regulatory bodies, and is especially useful as an ingredient in raspberry & vanilla flavored foods. You may find it in ice creams, candies, syrups, pastries, and cigarettes.
The gross part is that castoreum doesn’t have to be listed on the label by its name because it is considered a natural flavor. Apparently, beaver-butt tastes like vanilla and raspberry. Eat up!
A Beaver’s Anal Glands…yummy!
Ambergris, civet and musk are other disgusting animal-derived ingredients.
Civet (zibetum, zibet) is secreted by the civet cat’s perianal scent glands and is a common ingredient of frozen dairy desserts, baked goods, candies, puddings or gelatins.
2. Insect Filth, Mold, Rodent Filth, Maggots
The US Food and Drug Administration condones a certain percentage of natural contaminants in the food supply chain. Here’s how many of these yummy-nummies to expect in your food:
All spice, ground: average of 30 or more insect fragments / 10g; 1 or more rodent hairs / 10g
Berries: average mold count is 60% or more; average of 4 or more larvae per 500 g; 10 or more whole insects or equivalent per 500 g.
Frozen broccoli: 60 or more aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 g.
Chocolate: 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams; 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams; (when six 100-gram subsamples are examined)
Macaroni and noodle products: 225 insect fragments or more / 225g
Canned and dried mushrooms: 20 or more maggots of any size / 100g; 75 mites / 100g
Peanut butter: 30 or more insect fragments / 100g; 1 or more rodent hairs / 100g
Tomato juice: 10 or more fly eggs / 100g; 5 or more fly eggs and 1 or more maggots / 100g; average mold count in 6 subsamples is 24%.
Tomato paste: 30 or more fly eggs / 100g; 15 or more fly eggs and 1 or more maggots / 100g; 2 or more maggots /100g in a minimum of 12 subsamples.
Some products may have natural contaminants, others not. Unfortunately, the European Union does not regulate the amount of filth or mold in food; it has explicitly exempted the above listed “ingredients” from regulation.
Don’t misunderstand me, entomophagy is not gross. The benefits of eating insects are overwhelming, but there’s a very big difference between eating processed remnants of bugs and rats, and consuming healthy & edible insects that are rich in proteins, minerals and vitamins.
1. The First Approval Of Viruses As A Food Additive
The Food and Drug Administration approved, six years ago, a cocktail of bacteria-killing viruses to prevent listeriosis. There are about 1600 cases of listeriosis, with 410 deaths per year in the United States.
The special viruses (bacteriophages) are sprayed on poultry products and ready-to-eat meat just before they are packaged. What will happen when listeria develops resistance to the bacteriophages over time? These viral additives are used to fight potential infections from poor quality meat. Why expose millions of individuals to unnecessary risk for the benefit of so few?
What food safety authorities should really do is raise the standards and improve the quality of our food supply. What’s your opinion on the latest food additive?