People often complain about all the additives in our food, and when you look into it, it’s not just uptight crazies spouting off. Turns out some of these food additives are just deranged and awful in every way.
If you like vanilla, raspberry or strawberry, then castoreum may be a product you’ve enjoyed in your lifetime. Annual use of the flavoring is relatively small with only 292lbs being used. Spread across all of America, that sure is barely any. But at the same time, how much beaver butt secretion is too much?
Castoreum is secreted by the castor gland in beavers. That gland is located inside beavers and is generally accessed through the butt. And by generally we mean always. The beavers use it in scent marking, so it’s often mixed with urine and anal secretions. However, someone, somehow discovered that if you dilute it a bit with some alcohol and other ingredients it smells rather nice and fruity with some hints of vanilla.
The FDA classes castoreum as safe for human consumption, so if you’re looking for it on an ingredients list, you probably won’t find it. Instead you’ll find “natural flavoring” which you probably think means actual vanilla or raspberry. It doesn’t mean that. It could very well just mean the butt squeezing of a beaver.
If you’re a gum fan, then you’re also an inadvertent fan of gum base. With that name it doesn’t sound entirely unusual but it’s noteworthy because gum base is made from lanolin and anyone who used to watch the Garfield and Friends cartoon is more than aware of what lanolin is – it’s sheep slime.
Sheep, in all their wooly goodness, produce lanolin in their sebaceous glands and secrete it into their wool to keep it waxy and vaguely uncomfortable to touch. This probably also answers the question about why sheep don’t shrink when it rains – the wool is covered in their gross wax, which we humans then scrape off and use to make delicious gum.
You can tell with a name like L-cysteine this stuff must be delicious. And it sure is! It’s an amino acid used in products like bread to prolong their shelf life and as a softening agent. It has three major world wide sources right now – duck feathers, hog hair and human hair. Guess which one is the best source. Go on, guess. Did you guess gross, awful human hair? Because that’s the right answer.
The major source of L-cysteine in the world is Chinese hair. It gets collected from barbers and after some sciencey hydrolysis the L—cysteine is derived. When human hair sources are low, poultry feathers and hog hair can be used, but the quality isn’t as good. And you have to figure that’s some crap quality if the good stuff was collected from the floor of a Chinese barber. Anyway, remember that the next time you’re eating a sandwich.
You may be thinking by now that the stuff they jam in food is offensive and gross in every way and you’re best to stick with organic. Ha ha! Time to ruin organic food for you. See, the problem with organic food is that they can’t raise crops with magic or hippie love, they need to stick with the same basic formula anyone uses, and that means fertilizer. And while a non-organic farmer will just throw some tasty chemical mulch on their radishes, what do you think an organic farmer uses? Poop!
Manure as fertilizer is a pretty standard old-timey method of crops growing, but organic farming has resulted in huge spikes in both e-coli and salmonella cases thanks to the excessive poop shooting and the fact that, for some reason, a lot of consumers don’t wash their organic produce because they feel like organic means clean. Just because no one sprayed DDT on it doesn’t mean it’s clean.
Do you take Prozac? It’s pretty much the most famous anti-depressant in America, a point bolstered by the fact that apparently it routinely shows up in chicken. Why do chickens take antidepressants? We’re not sure what the punch line to that joke is, actually. But there is a legit reason, or at least a rationale for it, despite it being pretty illegal –stressed out chickens produce tougher meat. So give a chicken Prozac and he gets all mellow and now you’ve got a more tender cut of meat. It’s just chemically awful.
The word isinglass sounds fancy and vaguely European, right? And if you were to guess what kind of food stuff it is, you might guess something a little delicate and fancy owing to the “glass” part of the word. Well, you’re almost right, but instead of delicate and fancy think fishy and bladdery. Isinglass is made from fish swim bladders, the thing that allows a fish to control its buoyancy. If you dry one of those out, you can use it in the production of beer and wine to help clarify the booze. Doesn’t that sound delicious?
The FDA Gross List
The FDA publishes something called the Defect Levels Handbook. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a guide for what kind of unpleasant ingredients can be included in common foods while allowing them to still be considered edible. After all, you can’t expect all of your food to be 100% free of things like bits of dirt, right?
According to the guide, pizza sauce is allowed to have about 30 fly eggs or 2 maggots per 100 grams. Cocoa beans can have 10mg of mammal poop per pound. Three percent of red fish and ocean perch can contain parasites with accompanying pus pockets. Pus pockets! There’s a legal, acceptable, delicious limit to the number of pus pockets your fish can have.
If you have a few spare minutes and want to see the amount of rodent hair or feces allowed to be in your favorite food, go check it out.