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The Green Life: 5 Terrifying Food Additives

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October 14, 2013

5 Terrifying Food Additives

Jack O' Lantern VegetablesYou probably remember the horror of pink slime, the ammonia-laced beef "filler" used in school lunches and Happy Meals until many food manufacturers retired the product after the loud and angry public outcry last year. But pink slime is creeping back into our burgers and tacos, joining a whole host of ingredients and additives you may not know you're eating. In the Halloween spirit, we've collected a few of the most frightening, guaranteed to give you a chill: 

1. Shellac, or "Confectioner's Glaze": Derived from the secretions of the Kerria lacca bug, shellac coats many of the hard candies we know and love, especially Halloween treats like candy corn. The resinous material makes sweets like jelly beans look bright and shiny. 

2. Castoreum: Next time you're having a hard day and are tempted to down a tub of vanilla ice cream, think about this; castoreum, a flavoring extracted from glands near a beaver's anus, may be the secret ingredient that gives your sweet treat its satisfying flavor. Castoreum has been used in foods and perfumes for years, in some cases listed simply and vaguely as a "natural ingredient." The good news: most industry experts agree that today worldwide castoreum consumption is very low due to the difficult process of milking a beaver's glands. Yum. 

3. Gelatin: The realization that swearing off gelatin doesn't just mean ditching Jell-O can be a hard one for new vegetarians, and a test of will. Gelatin is a binding and stabilizing agent in many processed food products, and regardless of your opinion on meat-eating, a rundown of the additive's components may give you pause. Gelatin is derived from collagen found in various animal by-products, including connective tissues. 

4. Carmine: Depending on your opinion of eating bugs, the origins of natural food dye carmine may or may not gross you out. The coloring agent is made from the processed bodies of Coccus cacti bugs. At one time the insects lent their vivid hue to coffee drinks, fruit juices, yogurts, and a number of other food products. 

5. L-Cysteine: L-cys for short, the food additive is a common dough conditioner and flavor enhancer used in human and pet foods. And it can be made from human hair, duck feathers, or hog bristles. Food manufacturers who will admit to using the hair-derived additive are few and far between, but some (like Safeway) don't hesitate to own up to using duck feathers as a conditioning agent in baked goods. 

— Image via iStockphoto/KonArt


Headshot_Julie_BlogJulie Eng is an editorial intern at Sierra. She studied literature and anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and wrote for several publications before joining the Sierra team.



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