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
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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.

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