Disgusting Ingredients You Didn’t Know You Were Eating

Probably not best to read this on your lunch break

Around the world, delicacies with unique ingredients might be a treat to one but a stomach-churning nightmare for another. In our regular daily lives though, we often unknowingly encounter – and consume – fixings we might not have an appetite for, if we only knew they were there.

Avoiding all unpleasant ingredients might be impossible, but this list of just a few gross additives can help you be aware of what goes into the food that goes into us.

Baby Goat Stomach

What makes cheese so filled with goodness? Baby goat stomach, of course! Rennet is an enzyme complex that helps baby mammals process milk, and it’s used in cheese making to help coagulation. Traditionally, it was acquired by slicing the fourth stomach of young calves, lambs and kids, soaking the pieces in salt water or whey and vinegar or wine, and filtering the rennet from the concoction. Nowadays, most rennet found in dairy products is genetically engineered, but ingredient lists don’t often note how it’s sourced.

You’ll find it in: cheese

Glorious Cheeses

Biodiesel additive

Tertiary butylhydroquinone – or TBHQ – is a preservative derived from petroleum used to extend the shelf life of processed foods and fatty foods. It’s also found in products like paint, varnish and perfume. Some studies have shown the additive can lead to increased chance of tumours, vision disturbances, liver enlargement, and paralysis – but the FDA claims the average intake by consumers is too low to cause adverse effects.

You’ll find it in: chicken nuggets, peanut butter cups, pet foods, crackers, frozen fish

chicken nuggets of KFC


While some people are into bugs for their protein, others might be surprised to know some amount of natural contaminants – like bugs and maggots – in food are possible, and even allowed. Not willing to crunch down on something unexpected? In Canada, aphids, plant lice and flea beetles have to be obvious without close examination to get pulled from produce sections according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Just be glad you don’t live by the American Food and Drug Administration standards, which allow up to 20 maggots for every 100 grams of canned mushrooms.

You’ll find them in: the possibilities are endless

Little Gem Lettuce & Mystery Bug

Yellow #5/Tartrazine

Plenty of claims about food dyes and their effects run rampant online. Dyes aren’t considered unsafe in the general population, and are often broadly listed in ingredient lists. Tartrazine (FD+C Yellow No. 5) has been found to cause allergic-type reactions, and has been blamed for bronchial asthma, adverse effects on testicle and penis size and for causing ADHD-like behaviour in children. Though originally derived from coal tar, tartrazine is now synthesized from petroleum.

You’ll find it in: coloured marshmallows, yogurt, pickles, soft drinks, candy, pudding and foods with processed cheese powder

Would you believe lemon?

Crushed bug insides

Starbucks made a change in 2012 when its Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino was outed for containing bug juice. Cochineal is essentially the red-coloured liquid extracted by crushing Dactylopius coccus bugs. Besides the Frappuccino, it was also found in food products like the chain’s birthday cake pop, and red velvet whoopie pie. Responding to complaints, the Starbucks president announced the company would switch to using a tomato-based extract to add pink to menu items instead. After you heave a sigh of relief, note that carmine – found in purple, pink, orange and red food colouring – comes from crushed, boiled or dried beetle.

You’ll find it in: ice cream, candies, lemonade, grapefruit juice, some red velvet desserts

Red Velvet cake with cream cheese frosting

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO)

BVO, an additive used to keep the citrus flavour from separating in pop, contains bromine – also found in some flame retardants. Excessive intake of BVO has been linked to memory loss, headache, fatigue, tremors and the loss of mobility. A few years back after an online petition collected more than 20,000 signatures, both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo announced that they’ll remove BVO from their products. As of 2016, it’s still listed as an ingredient in certain soft drinks, and continues to be allowed as a food additive in Canada. It’s banned in Europe, India and Japan.

You’ll find it in: certain sodas and sports drinks

drink soft

Human hair and duck feathers

L-cysteine is an amino acid that helps extend the shelf life of bread products. It most commonly comes from cow horns and fowl feathers but historically it was also extracted from human hair. L-cysteine is forbidden to those who eat halal or kosher, although synthetically produced L-cysteine is available.

You’ll find it in: commercial bread products including bread rolls, pastries, dough

Grocery Shopping At Giant 00700


Regardless of your skill in binge eating cake frosting, propylene glycol is known as ‘non-toxic antifreeze,’ so it’s approved in North America for human consumption in small doses. As propylene glycol, it’s used as antifreeze where ingestion might be possible, but as a food additive, it’s in everything from bagels to ice cream. It’s also used as a liquid for e-smoking.

You’ll find it in: salad dressing, cake frosting, cake mix, food dye


Beaver anal gland secretions

It’s very rare to encounter castoreum in food products these days, due to the intense process of collecting it and the ensuing cost – but if you do, know that it’s an unctuous substance secreted by beavers from castor sacs located near their anus. In order to squirt the liquid for collection, the anal glands need to be milked. Picturing it? Sorry about that. Don’t worry, it’s mostly used in perfume, now.

You’ll find it in: raspberry-flavoured foods, alcohol, candy, ice cream, vanilla, chewing gum.

Sweet Corn Black Raspberry Ice Cream | Annie's Eats
(Main image: Niklas Morberg)