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We all like to think we’re eating as much natural food as possible, but as it turns out, there are a lot of gross things in nature. In fact, many of these disgusting things can end up in your food – on purpose.
We’ve looked around for some of the most common and least inviting ingredients used in food products today, some of which you’ve probably been eating your whole life.
Maybe don’t read on if you have a weak stomach.
The red food colouring in your candy or drink might come from these little bugs.
- Frank Vincentz / Wikimedia Commons
A red dye used in many foods is made from ground up bugs. Carminic acid is extracted from female cochineal bugs to produce carmine, which is shades of crimson and scarlet.
In 2012, Starbucks got in trouble for advertising some of its drinks as vegan when they actually contained this bug extract.
It is still used in some red and pink products today like jams and cakes, so look out for it on the label.
Carminic acid is perfectly safe for most people to consume, but it has been linked with allergic reactions in some.
There may be arsenic in your grains, fruits, and veggies.
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The poisonous chemical element arsenic is found in water, air, food, and soil, and is sometimes present in many foods including grains, fruits, and vegetables due to absorption through the ground.
In 2013, German researchers found traces of it in beer. This is because beer and wine are filtered using diatomaceous earth, which is a natural product that contains iron and metals, including sometimes arsenic.
According to the Food Standards Agency, too much arsenic in your diet can be harmful as elevated levels have been linked to an increased risk of some cancers.
An essence derived from beaver anal glands is responsible for some sweet flavours in foods like ice cream.
- Frank Fichtmueller/Shutterstock
Essence from beaver anal glands – are you sure you want to read on? – is responsible for some vanilla, strawberry or raspberry flavours in foods like icecream.
It’s called castoreum and is an FDA-approved natural ingredient, so it’s 100% safe for consumption, if a bit gross.
A washing detergent chemical found in Borax is sometimes added to noodle and rice dishes.
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Borax is a component of many detergents and anti-fungal products, but it is also used in the food industry.
The compound E285 is found in some caviars and in noodle and rice dishes to give them a rubbery texture.
It’s currently banned in the US and Canada as a food additive but it is allowed in the EU. According to the European Food Safety Authority, E285 is not a major concern to health.
Seaweed extract is used in many dairy and meat products.
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Carrageenan is a polysaccharide extracted from red edible seaweeds, which is commonly found in dairy and meat products.
While not too disgusting, it may come as a surprise for those who aren’t fond of seaweed. It’s used for its gelling, thickening, and stabilising properties.
Some limited research has suggested a link between carrageenan consumption and the risk of cancer, but only in animals.
According to the USDA National Organic Standards Board, the “scientific evidence does not support claims of widespread negative human health impacts” on people who consume carrageenan in processed foods.
Sheep secretions go into chewing gum.
- Mark Catalano/USFWS
A sheep secretion called lanolin, which comes from sheep’s wool, is sometimes listed as a “gum base.”
It’s also sometimes found in Vitamin D supplements.
It is of no harm to humans.
You might find yellow food colouring from coal tar in your mac-n-cheese.
Yellow #5, also known as the colourant tartrazine, is a dye that comes from coal tar.
It doesn’t actually come from coal tar anymore though, and is instead produced as a byproduct of the petroleum industry.
Some research suggested that added food colorings (AFCs) were linked with hyperactivity in children. As a result, the ingredients require a warning label in the EU, but there is little regulation for it in the US.
Propylene glycol can be found in everything from breakfast pastries to e-cigarettes.
- Sammy Mintzer/SpoonUniversity
Propylene glycol is an odourless, colourless ingredient found in antifreeze, but it’s also found in many foods including breakfast pastries, soft drinks, and cosmetics.
While in the EU it has been classified as “not fit for consumption,” the US FDA regards it as “generally safe.”
Your bread may contain a chemical derived from human hair.
- Marco Verch/Flickr
A chemical called L-cysteine actually can come from human hair. It’s an amino acid used to lengthen the shelf-life of products like bread.
Other sources of L-cysteine are chicken feathers, duck feathers, and cow horns. L-cysteine is a natural amino acid and so is perfectly safe to consume, if you don’t really mind where it comes from.
A substance derived from fish bladders is added to some beers.
Fish bladders contain isinglass, which is a gelatin-like substance added to cask beers.
It removes residue yeast or solid particles in the drinks, so you should probably be careful about what you order at the bar if you’re a vegan. Otherwise it’s a safe addition.
Your favourite cheese might contain a substance from goat stomachs
Thought cheese was vegetarian? Think again. Many cheeses are made with rennet, which is an enzyme extracted from the inside of a goat’s, calf’s, or sheep’s stomach.
It is supposed to give the cheese a better texture, but ambiguous labelling can make it tricky to find a cheese that vegetarians can eat. For everyone else, it’s not a problem as rennet is safe for human consumption.
A substance found in toilet cleaning agent is also in potato chips.
- Pringles / Facebook
Sodium bisulfite is used in most toilet cleaners, but it’s also used to keep potato chips fresher for longer, and to bleach out the decolouration.
In microscopic quantities, like when it’s used as a preservative, sodium bisulfite is safe.