Top 10 Disgusting Ingredients You’ve Probably Eaten Today

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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

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.

9.  Borax

Borax-is-King

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?

8.  Gelatin

gelatin-bone-slime

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%).”

7.  Shellac

shellac-candy-coating

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.

6.  Carmine

carmine-beetle

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

hair-in-food

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…

4.  Cellulose

cellulose-in-chocolate-drink

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

fda-chart

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!

beavers-anal-glands

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

maggots-in-food

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.

Source

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

bacteria-viruses-in-food

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?

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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?


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37 Comments

    • I think you should list 5 of them, just to illustrate the stupidity of this list… in fact, I may do so shortly…

    • Castoreum is no more disgusting than any other animal product. People only think it is on account of where it comes from on the body.

      Silicon dioxide is completely inert and harmless unless inhaled, not to mention that it’s naturally-occurring in most grasses and sea sponges.

      It’s completely impossible to remove all traces of contaminants from processed foods. And frankly, a couple rat hairs or a fly larva aren’t going to hurt you at all.

      Bacteriophages are 100% harmless to humans, and are one of the most common types of viruses. Bacteria also cannot adapt to phages, just as humans cannot “adapt” to the common cold.

      Carmine…well, look. As unpleasant as it may sound to western cultures, entomophagy is a common source of food in Africa and Asia. Insects are an excellent source of protein, and not often is there a shortage of them.

      • People are reading differently than in the past. They are reading more, but less in depth, with a preference to scan rather than reading for in-depth understanding.

        @Raven: often, we are in such a hurry that we end up scanning articles and missing important details. Kindly take a few extra minutes to read articles in their entirety before sharing your thoughts with the rest of the world.

        1. “Castoreum is no more disgusting than any other animal product. People only think it is on account of where it comes from on the body.”

        Castoreum is in my opinion (and not only) quite disgusting exactly for this motivation. There is a huge difference between eating a Filet Mignon and an animal’s reproductive parts. While some people would grimace at the idea of eating the testicles of an animal, others consider them a delicacy. People are free to eat whatever THEY want, but do some of us really have a freedom of choice when information is hidden? What’s so infuriating (disgusting, repulsive) about these ingredients is how they can lurk in our food and we may not even know it.

        2. “Silicon dioxide is completely inert and harmless unless inhaled, not to mention that it’s naturally-occurring in most grasses and sea sponges.”

        Who said silicon dioxide is dangerous?! I clearly mentioned that “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 VERY dangerous to add silicon dioxide to food? Probably not, since its toxicity level is often very low. Is it unusual to ADD silica to food?” Yes. What if the meat mixture you’re paying for contains only 50% meat and 50% maltodextrin, xanthan gum, calcium propionate, fumaric acid etc.?
        Food safety is of prime concern especially when silicon dioxide is used as an ADDITIVE, not when it occurs naturally.

        3. “It’s completely impossible to remove all traces of contaminants from processed foods. And frankly, a couple rat hairs or a fly larva aren’t going to hurt you at all.”
        Some of this is unavoidable – nature just isn’t sterile, but fresh is always better than canned. My goal was to inform the readers about the existence of the “Defect Levels Handbook: Levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods.”

        4. “Carmine…well, look. As unpleasant as it may sound to western cultures, entomophagy is a common source of food in Africa and Asia. Insects are an excellent source of protein, and not often is there a shortage of them.”
        Exactly what I wrote: “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.”

        The word disgusting has several senses. I didn’t write this list from a singular point of view – ingredients that turn one’s stomach. Disgusting=revolting=offensive is also the way manufacturers and regulators trick consumers with deceptive ingredients lists. Are you really getting what you are paying for? This list has nothing to do with spreading panic :))))))) !!!!!
        http://media.fakeposters.com/results/2010/11/01/lzvfbmapt3.gif

        • Information is not hidden. You just have to search hard enough. There’s always someone out there who wants to bust someone else. You just have to be willing to decipher the mass of information and make a good personal choice about it. Point…the article you just read. Google is great. Try it some time.

          And don’t give me the crap about not having a choice. We have choices in everything. You chose to come here and comment. I have chosen to enlighten you from a different angle. Furthermore, I have a choice about what I eat. If I don’t know what that is, I don’t have to buy it. I don’t have to eat it. General Mustard isn’t standing behind you in the dining room with a candle stick over your head waiting to bash your brains out if you don’t eat the Jello on your plate.

        • There are a number of things here but I’ll just address this one comment…

          “People are free to eat whatever THEY want, but do some of us really have a freedom of choice when information is hidden? What’s so infuriating (disgusting, repulsive) about these ingredients is how they can lurk in our food and we may not even know it.”

          We always have freedom of choice. I chose to come on and address a topic that you previously chose to comment on. This morning, I chose to eat 2 cinnamon rolls. General Mustard did not stand behind me in the dining room with a candlestick waiting to bash me in the head if I didn’t finish the rolls. If you wanted to, you could go out into the woods and survive off of locusts and wild honey. John the Baptist did it!

          And we always can know what we need to. I believe that most people just want to be spoon-fed every bit of information that they need to function. But with the advent of things like Google and computers that don’t take up an entire room, it’s relatively easy to search for and find a mass of information on any given topic. The reason is that there’s always someone out there that wants more than anything to bust the practices of someone else. It’s just a fact of life. It’s just a matter of being willing to decipher the info and draw informed personal conclusions.

          Regards

  1. 8. Gelatin.
    Gelatin is derived from collagen, which is in turn derived from bovine bones, bovine hides, porcine skins, porcine bones, and fish skins (per the Gelatin Manufacturers Institute of America). In other words: Gelatin is made from… meat.

    7. Shellac
    Shellac is, indeed, made from the secretion of the lac bug. You know what other secretion of a bug is commonly used as a food item by people? Honey.

    Anyone else want to take up the panic-inducing silliness of this list?

    • Did anyone really panic from this list? Did you panic, 5mintues? No. Did I panic? No. Please, if this list caused anyone to panic, let us know. Voice you panic-striven comments today. I would love to read them.

      I think most normal people read this list with mild interest, a grimace here and there and then move on with their lives. Let’s not start a panic, 5mintues, by stating this list is trying to start a panic. As with most criticisms about Toptenz.net, you and others give the site way to much credit for any influence it may have.

      • So, your excuse is that since, per you, no panic was induced (such as, say, the posts above and below where people talk about how gross these things are), that you’re in the clear because you’re just not that influential?

        Sorry, but I hold people to higher standards. Honesty, for one. Accurate research for another.

        • I will give you the benefit of the doubt because I know you are a long time reader, but it feels like you are fishing here, but I’ll bite (in honor of yesterday’s fishing list).

          I am not making any excuses, so don’t think I’m apologizing for this list in this comment. I am certainly not. It is a fun read and entertaining which is all this site can strive to offer its readers. If you get a sense of panic from it that is not the intent and something you have to question on your own. If you think about eating healthier, then we have done some good, which I think is the real underlying message, if there is one. But that is what I took from it, you may not have.

          And I guess you are complimenting Toptenz.net by suggesting we may be influential. Thank you.

          You SHOULD hold people to high standards, period. But you should also realize Toptenz.net is simply a site for top 10 lists written by freelancer writers (many who work full-time jobs as well) who do their best and will make mistakes from time to time. They are good people and only human, so give them a break.

          I don’t know why you assume Toptenz.net isn’t an honest site? If you feel we aren’t honest, then I would have to strongly disagree with you on that. We make mistakes, but not intentionally. And we own up to them and make changes or apologies.

          The very fact I am taking time to reply to one reader with a complaint I find false should tell you and other readers I care about this site and what readers think about it. I’m not a martyr by any means, but this site has plenty of arrows from critics and we keep marching on. What else can we do.

          I hear the Internet is a pretty big place, and most of it not nearly as nice as Toptenz.net; best of luck in our search if you decide our standards and honesty aren’t up to par.

        • I didn’t panic. Do you know what I ate today? Fresh yoghurt with blueberries picked by myself from a nearby forest, potatoes (picked by myself) with a mushroom sauce from mushrooms (Agaricus Bisporus) picked by my girlfriend from the nearby woods. Do you know what I’m gonna eat tomorrow? A frikking moose that I’ll shoot myself! There you go!

        • I spoke too soon. The moose got away, dammit. I caught a wabbit, though. Wabbit stew cookin’ baby! 😀

        • I’m with 5minutes on this one. More truth and less truthiness. Maybe put an asterisk by the entries that you pulled out of your a** to fatten the list? Quota over integrity, right?

  2. aaaaaannnnndd that’s gross. and that’s just some of the things people don’t hear about! there are plenty of even nastier things people knowingly shove into their faces. crazy.

  3. Gelatin being made from animal bones is a pretty common fact. It’s one of the first “gross facts” you learn as a kid. It really should have not been on the list, or been number 9 or 10.

  4. i am 33 years old and healthy and have probably been ingesting these things since i was able to chew solid food…while some things are better left to be unknown, this list won’t change my eating habits one bit…i’ve lived just fine up to this point..no need to change now…interesting read from a longtime follower of the site.

  5. I mostly eat foods I can hunt, pick or gather myself (I live in the woods so I can do that). Suck it, McDonalds! 😀

  6. I don’t have a problem with most of these. I’d rather eat cochineal bugs for red color than some chemical dye! The whole reason, as I understand it, that Swillbucks stopped using it was due to concerns for vegetarians, not because it was dangerous.

    The last one, however, is almost enough to TURN me into a vegetarian!

    • Don’t worry CJB, bacteriophages are only ABLE to attack bacteria. It would be like your computer giving YOU the flu. In fact, we ingest and inhale bacteriophages on a regular basis, with no adverse effects. In Europe, where medicine is more socialized, bacteriophages are used to cure infections due to their low cost to cultivate and apply. For some reason, we don’t do that in the U.S.: probably not a big enough profit margin. 🙂

  7. Conclusion: The author is grossed out very, very easily. I can understand that some people (i.e. vegetarians) find gelantine gross. But silicium dioxide? Really? In what way can that be gross? Only if it’s so much that you can hear the sand grinding between your teeth it makes sense.
    And Borax? It’s a chemical additive like everything else.
    And Cellulose? Try eating your sallad without it!

    • Food safety is of prime concern especially when silicon dioxide is used as an ADDITIVE, not when it occurs naturally. See @raven.
      One of the major structural components of fruits and vegetables is cellulose (fiber). We need it in our diet because while we can’t digest it, it still performs valuable digestive roles…BUT food-product makers use it to thicken or stabilize foods, replace fat and boost fiber content, and cut the need for ingredients like oil or flour, which are getting more expensive. Cellulose gives food more WATER, more AIR, a creamy feeling in [the] mouth with less of other ingredients. The industry loves this stuff. It’s cheap (for them, not necessarily for everyone else…) Food producers save as much as 30% in ingredient costs by opting for cellulose as a filler or binder. Are you getting what you pay for on your plate?
      Who cares if it’s safe? The point is that it’s disturbingly unnatural to have wood pulp in our food. In other words, this is not the cellulose (fiber) you’d get from eating salad. No, this is cellulose that’s created in a laboratory by a convoluted process. It’s the cellulose food producers add to breads, pancakes, crackers, pizza crusts, muffins, scrambled eggs, mashed potato mixes, cheese, dressings etc.
      In your opinion, why did the FDA ban borax as a food additive? Because “it’s a chemical additive like everything else”?!
      Your conclusion is out of place. I don’t get grossed out very easily; you simply didn’t get the point of the article.

      • I agree with your fist few lines – but this doesn’t answer the question in what way it is gross as a ingredient – that is what the list is about. Making a difference between “natural” cellulose and “lab made” is nonsense, because the latter one is made from plants too – mainly trees.
        It’s mainly used as a gelling agent – often to replace gelatin. Since, according to the list, this is disgusting too (which I can understand in some extend) the industry shouldn’t be able to make a lot of products at all.
        And to answer your question: Yes, you usually get what you pay for, since food like you describe is usually cheap. Too cheap, some might say.
        It’s nice that you mention a lot of bakery products as examples where the bad, bad cellulose is added – because those are products which have to contain a lot of it anyway, since they are made from grain. Sure you can add more – but that will make it taste like nothing, making in necessary to add a lot of salt and fat (oil). A vicious circle. If you buy very cheap food, this can be the case, but it’s nothing new. In former times they used bran (if not, or acorn flour) – which is sold as some kind of health food today, but still doesn’t contain much more than cellulose.
        In conclusion: A lot of food products need to contain cellulose. You can raise the content to make it cheaper, but you can taste that sooner or later. If you buy cheap food, you have to live with it. It doesn’t kill you (not that you claimed it did), it doesn’t taste like anything (and doesn’t “carry” taste very well), it’s not made from anything disgusting and it has always been used in cheap food.
        And green salad doesn’t contain much more than cellulose and water. It’s as nourishing as a sheet of paper.
        On Borax, I’m willing to change my opinion, though. I read about it and it’s actually heavily questionable as a food additive. Still, so are many, many other chemical additives.

  8. i went to peru to visit family. We were touring the country side when we stopped by cactus. the tour guide pulled of a carmine bettle, squished it, and told us that they make lipstick with it. he also said that the babies eat the mother

  9. I totally agree with the statement that food doesn’t taste anymore as it used to…For many reasons. One, as you mentioned the adding of fiber via wood cellulose, another being they strip all of the natural goodness from a lot of foods, then add back synthetic vitamins, minerals, etc. There are SO many concerns with our food nowadays, it is a wonder there is anything left that is fit to eat. Sad. I like to stick to the Kosher approved foods, to be sure there are no insect/other nasty things, and then only if it doesn’t have a lot of artificial ingredients—which is also very hard to get away from. Maybe I’ll stick with the venison stew. 🙂

  10. All of these on the list are idiotic, but I’ll pick the cellulose one as the most uninformed. Cellulose composes the cell walls of all plants, not just what you consider “wood”. If you’ve eaten any vegetables in your life, you’ve eaten cellulose. So… what’s disgusting or gross about that? Not to mention, most cellulose added is derived from algae, which does not produce vascular tissue that you consider “wood”. So, you’re dumb, this article is dumb, anyone who gives this article and its author credibility is dumb.

  11. I’d rather eat something with carmine or any other insect derived substance in it that something with pigskin in it. I don’t get why people get so queasy about eating insects when the same people eat pork. Pigs are way more disgusting than insects. Or is it just me who thinks like that?

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