6 Gross Food Ingredients You Didn’t Know You Were Eating

Pink slime is just the beginning: Here are six more gross ingredients that might be in your next bite of food.

By Beth Dreher
  • Loading

    Ammonia

    You've heard about "pink slime," the nutritionally questionable, ground beef filler treated with ammonia that has graced school cafeteria and burger joint menus for decades. The backlash against the "slime" (also known as lean finely textured beef, or LFTB) earlier this year lead to layoffs at Beef Products Inc., one of the largest producers of the product, and an announcement that many U.S. school districts have scratched LFTB from their menus.

    Regardless of the supposed safety of ammonia in beef, you probably don't like the idea of ingesting a product more commonly used to clean floors. Ammonia may also show up in small amounts in peanut butter, chips and other foods, and the truth is, processed foods contain all sorts of gross-sounding ingredients that have been deemed safe by the FDA and USDA. Here's a rundown.

    Beaver glands

    You'll find castoreum, the dried perineal glands of beavers, used as a strawberry, raspberry or vanilla flavoring in some candy, gum, gelatin, and pudding.

    Human or hog hair, or duck feathers

    When you see L-Cysteine on the ingredient label for bread or bagels, know that it's an amino acid derived from hair or feathers.

    Sprayed-on viruses

    To combat the threat of listeria, the FDA allows food producers to spray deli meats with the same bacteriophages that hospitals use to kill germs.

    Insect parts

    The female Lac beetle gives us the ingredient shellac—sometimes called "confectioner's glaze"—used to make candy and fruit (and furniture) shiny. Carmine, commonly used as a red food coloring for fruit juices and candy, is made from the shells of desert beetles.

    Wood pulp

    Tiny pieces of plant fibers and wood called powdered cellulose are used to make some types of low-fat ice cream seem more creamy. It's also used to prevent some shredded cheese from clumping.

    Your Comments

    • George

      Ammonia is in a lot of things. As is arsenic. It’s all just a bunch of chemicals and elements when you get down to it, people.
      And the organic-only people? You’re eating bugs, unknowingly, just as often.

    • Mdogsabitch

      It/s so gross but we eat it….sounds all natural to me. lol  

    • Mdogsabitch

      It/s so gross but we eat it….sounds all natural to me. lol  

    • RF

      I agree, put it all on one. We don’t have the time to find the rest of the story. I gave up too.

    • Carolina Olivares

      I L O V E hamburgers and I will not stop eating them. In all my yrs, I have never heard of anybody dying  from eating Hamburger meat. ONLY from OVEREATING . Thank you. 

    • Gnuprophet

      Shellac is a secretion of the Lac beetle, which does not live in the desert.

    • Grinning-Grammy

      The major problem is with marketing. No one should be idiotic to allow the name of “pink slime” to be attach that name to beef steak and round roast trimmings which are all mixed up together and sprayed with a small amount of ammonia to make sure it is safe to eat. Had they not attached that name to it, there wouldn’t be so much of a problem. “Slime” is a word we have all grown up with that meant something yucky and nasty. If you happen to read through all of the ingredients we normally eat, people would basically have to starve if they don’t want to eat bugs and things like that. 

      Think about where wheat and corn come from…they are grown out in the field where thousands of bugs are all over the plants. When the crops are harvested, where do you think all the bugs go?? Try to be sure you get all the bugs out of almost any crop that you have harvested. Even if the percentage of bug parts allowable by the FDA was .00001 there would still be a possibility that you would get part of a bug in your rolls or cornbread and even country-style biscuits. It’s a fact of life. We have moved too far from the farm and people have become too far sanitized to allow for the bugs we even get sometimes in our canned food. 

      My mama bought a can of greens one time and there was a bit worm curled up in the top of the can. She took it back to the store and all that happened was they gave her another can of greens, probably from the same batch that was cooked in with the worm. We probably got some worm parts in our can, too–at least some worm fat–that had cooked out of the other canned worm.  We will have trash in all farm products until all food is grown in sterile bubbles in hydroponic gardens and livestock raised in sterilized pens of some sort where the air and water for everything is sterilized completely and no air coming in and out. Nearly impossible to maintain and the cost would be unbearable for us to sustain the market. Get used to the fact that almost any processed food, whether cleaned by factory workers or by you, is likely to have insect parts included in it. We may as well bet used to it.