Interestingly enough, there are many ingredients in your everyday foods that are shockingly not what they seem. They’re titled to potentially disguise what they actually are – and perhaps, ignorance is bliss. We wanted to dive into some of the grossest things you didn’t know you were eating, hidden in your food, covered up with fancy names. From weird animal byproducts to insects and hair… we’re eating some seriously strange stuff! Here are some ingredient items we thought you should know about.

1. Beaver Castor Glands

Oh good old beaver butts, making your sweet treats just a little…sweeter? The rumors are true, castor gland secretions from a beaver are used in “artificial flavorings” like vanilla, and sometimes raspberry and strawberry.

Its ingredient label name is “castoreum” which is derived from the beaver’s castor gland, located right near their unmentionables, under that big ol’ tail of theirs. It’s been used as a flavor substitute for nearly 80 years, and while the practice is now rare in the food industry due to it’s costly and difficult methods of extraction it’s still found in many perfumes. As much digging as we did, there’s no real indicator of how much it’s used today so, chances are you’ve come across it before and just read it on a label as “natural flavoring”. No butts about it. 

2. Lac Bug Secretions

You know that shiny shell on candies? It’s often referred to as candy coating or shellac. This shiny appearance comes from a resin secreted by the lac bug. Yes, you read that correctly, it’s a bug. Not only that, a secretion from a bug. Are you cringing? Because I’m cringing.

As a general rule, if you notice a candy has a shiny coating on it, it’s likely a lac bug based shellac candy coating to give it that appearance. Jelly beans, chocolate candies and other common coated items (even some types of gum) can be commonly made with this ingredient. They really “glazed” over that minor disgusting detail, didn’t they?

3. Skin & Bones

So long, Gummy Bears. Sorry to burst your gummy bubble, but gelatin is actually made from the skin and bones of animals. Commonly used from the leftovers of the meat industry, it’s most often made from pig skin, horns and cattle bones. Oh you know, just casually in the shape of an adorable squishy bear.

Gummy bears, marshmallows, Jell-O, and many many types of candy contain gelatin. If this grosses you out a little too much, don’t worry, there are tons of gelatin-free varieties like Sour Patch Kids to get you through.

4. Watery Curdled Milk

We’ve all seen the word WHEY on the front of a jar of protein in a storefront. Whey is a very popular ingredient when it comes to protein bars, shakes, and smoothies. Additionally, it can be found in bread and other baked goods as well.

However, whey is actually the watery part of milk that’s left after it’s curdled. If you’re not into this idea of protein, try a soy or pea-based protein instead! Photo by: World Atlas

5. Bee Vomit

Oh, honey. That sweet, thick syrup and spread is popular amongst your favorite breakfast and snack foods. Honey has some major health and healing benefits as well, and we all know it’s made from bees. But are we really aware of how?

Turns out, it’s bee barf. Ok, so not really barf…but close enough. The bee has an extra stomach called the “honey stomach” that’s just after their esophagus and before their digestive system that stores the flower nectar they collect and then regurgitates it for harvest. Creating what we know as honey. Which definitely sounds a lot better than “regurgitated syrup from a bee”.

6. Duck Feathers & Human Hair

L-Cysteine you will most likely be found within the ingredient list label on a pre-packaged bread or sweets. This ingredient is used as a conditioner for dough. Except, it’s made from something a little unappetizing, most commonly duck feathers and human hair, and sometimes even cow horns an pig bristles. Umm, no thanks.

One of the most common places you’ll find this icky ingredient is in fast food buns/bread and sweets. While we don’t need to go down a rabbit hole talking about fast food and their options, we can maybe just suggest buying from a local baker!

7. Coagulated Milk

Milk divides into two major parts, whey (the watery substance) and casein (the more solidified and coagulated elements of milk). But it’s never labeled as milk…so for those wanting to avoid dairy, it can get confusing.

Casein is often found on ingredient lists without it necessarily pointing out that it’s a dairy byproduct. Items like creamers can be especially guilty of this. You might have thought you found a dairy-free alternative, but if you see casein in the ingredients, it’s a no-go! Not only that but eww…how processed can you get? Photo by: Gym Caddy

8. Fish Bladders

It might surprise you that wine or beer is often made with isinglass (fish swim bladders) in their filtration process. YUCK. I guess the good news is you’re not actually eating them, but still. To avoid them, search for “vegan” wines. Vegan or not, you just might be happier know you’re avoiding some weird stuff.

In the production of wine and beer, there’s a fining process that happens, and often, it’s using animal-derived agents such as fish bladders. Other filtration ingredients include blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (from crustacean shells), egg albumen (from egg whites), fish oil, and gelatin (skin/bones of animals).

9. Dead Beetles

So there’s this red dye ingredient called “carmine”. But what is carmine exactly? Well, it’s the red pigment from the sun-dried, crushed female cochineal beetle. Say it ain’t so! 

Starbucks came under fire when it was discovered they were using carmine (also known as cochineal extract) in their Strawberry Frappuccino. Thankfully, consumers spoke out against it, and Starbucks removed the dead bugs from their luxury drinks. Bless their hearts.

10. Viruses

Ok, so this one is just a little outside the box. Or a lot outside. I don’t know about you, but the idea of eating viruses is just not my cup of tea. Yet you might be doing it without even knowing.

The FDA (Food & Drug Administration) has approved food producers to spray food such as deli meat with bacteriophages to kill germs. Sandwich with a side of live virus, anyone? 

11. Sawdust

From ice creams to grated cheese, you might be eating sawdust on the regular without ever even realizing it. An ingredient that is “plant-based” but also completely overlooked for being you know, wood pulp, is “cellulose”.

Common foods that contain sawdust (oh, sorry label makers – “cellulose”) are tomato sauces, salad dressings, ice creams, cake mixes, veggie burgers, cereals, frozen dinners and more. Ok, so while this is an insoluble fiber (meaning your body can’t break it down) you don’t have to stress too much about a little of it, but maybe be mindful over the common foods that use it!

Sarah Nicole

Since successfully losing 100lbs by changing her relationship with food and her body, Sarah has taken her passion for food and balanced it between cucumbers and cupcakes. When she's not bustling her way around a kitchen, you can find her working out or winding down at home with her 3 kids and pug. Follow Sarah's journey on Instagram @TheBirdsPapaya.

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