Do you know what’s in your favorite items?

by stark in Environment, Offbeat, Science


Are you one of those people who takes the time to thoroughly read the ingredient list on many of the items you use on a daily basis? Most of us aren’t. Well, you may want to start now (or never start, cause ignorance is bliss) after you read our list of surprising ingredients found in foods and products that many of us use every day.

Jelly Beans, Oranges, Apples, Coffee Beans – Ever wonder how jelly beans, oranges, apples, or even coffee beans get their shiny and/or hard coating? You might be surprised to learn that many varieties of these items get their coating from shellac, which is made from the secretions of an insect known as Laccifer lacca. These insects live in trees which get covered in lac (the secretion) and are then harvested and processed to create shellac. Nothing like a little insect secretion to help that jelly bean slide on down…

Bread Products – Many bread products including bagels, pizza dough, and grocery store loaves contain an additive amino acid known as Cysteine. Cysteine is responsible for the “stretchiness” of the product and also makes it easier to mass produce. In its natural occurring form (known as L-Cysteine) it can be harvested, in food grade quality, from sources such as feathers and pig bristles. However, by far the cheapest and most common source of L-Cysteine comes from human hair. Many factories (mainly located in China) use a process known as Hydrolysis to extract it from hair that is generally purchased from the poor and then shipped around the world. So, the next time you’re eating a bagel, you can’t help but wonder, is this cannibalism?

Cheese – In order to get the types of cheese most of us are familiar with, an enzyme known as Rennet is applied that causes milk to coagulate, separating into solid (curds) and liquid (whey). The most common source of Rennet is the abomasum (fourth stomach) of a slaughtered, milk-fed, newborn cow calf. There is, however, vegetable based substitutes that are also used in some products. Kind of makes you think a little differently about whether eating certain cheeses really makes you a vegetarian?

Chewing Gum – When you pop that stick of gum in your mouth, ever ask yourself where does it get this amazing flavor? In some gums, a product known as Castoreum is used to enhance the flavor of the gum and overall improve its taste. Where does Castoreum come from? The anal glands of beavers of course! Castoreum is also used in some brands of perfume and incense to enhance their aroma. Kind of ironic isn’t it?

Skin Cream – The secret ingredient in many anti-aging or rejuvenation skin creams is afterbirth (also known as the placenta) which is thought to help “turn back the clock” on wrinkles. Some cosmetic makers even strike deals with maternity wards, in hospitals around the world, in order to keep an ample stock on hand. Many other companies, however, look to non-human placentas such as cow or horse to satisfy the needs of their products. Either way, is a few less wrinkles really worth spreading placenta all over your skin?

Perfumes – The next time you spray yourself with perfume, ask yourself, why does it stick to my skin so well and linger for so long? The answer to that is that a fixative agent is added in most cases to improve its longevity. One commonly used fixative is a chemical known as Skatole. What exactly is Skatole? It’s a mildly toxic white crystalline compound that is most commonly found in beets, coal tar, and mammalian feces and is responsible for the strong fecal odor. In low concentrations, however, it has a flowery smell, ideal for perfumes. Maybe Eau de Toilette is a perfect name after all?

Red Lipsticks, Red Colored Yogurt, Red Ink – Ever wonder how some of the products you see have such a nice deep red color? Well, it is natural, but not what you are thinking. A chemical known as Carmine (also known as Crimson Lake, Natural Red 4, or E120) is sometimes added to these products in order to improve the coloring. Where does Carmine come from? It’s made by boiling dried cochineal insects of various different varieties and then extracting the acid that results. Most of the times the bugs are ground up and dried into powder, then applied to the extraction process. Makes you wonder just how badly you really need to have those ruby red lips?

These are just a few of the many surprising additives that many of us consume or use every single day. Many of us don’t never bother to question their composition and the companies that make them go out of their way to avoid telling you. One thing I also found interesting is several of these “ingredients” are also amongst the list of the 599 addictive chemicals found in cigarettes (you can check the linked wikipedia pages to find out more). I’ll continue to keep my eyes out for more interesting ingredients and please forward along any others you know of as well. Knowledge is power, and at least now we know 🙂

[tags]food, products, chemicals, favorite items, weird chemicals, carmine, skatole, placenta, castoreum, cochineal, cysteine, shellac, ingredients[/tags]

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  1. red says:

    I have a book called uncle johns bathroom reader that has listed toothpaste with dicalcium phosphate (made from the bones of mammals),and beer and wine using isinglass (made by cleaning and drying fish bladders, and is also used to make glue and cement)

  2. Janet says:

    This article really makes me sick. It’s disgusting to know these things. I would rather have not been show this article. Ignorance is Bliss!

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