Dead beetle upside down

Trying to read the back of most modern ingredients lists can leave most people confused, feeling like they need multiple linguistic degrees, a doctorate in chemistry, and whatever it was that Tom Hanks had in The Da Vinci Code that let him magically decipher the hidden semen messages on those paintings just to understand them. And maybe you breathe a heavy sigh of relief when you get to the part that says "natural flavoring" and think, "Good. At least this strawberry ice cream tastes like strawberries because of those wholesome strawberries in there, and not some chemical."

Not so fast.

While food companies are perfectly within their rights to use damn near anything that isn't man made and label it a "natural flavor," so long as it's proven not to make people stop living, you better strap in for some of this mammalian perineum knowledge I'm about to kick, because it's about to get real regurgitate-y in here.

1. Castorieum

Now, if I refer to them as "butt glands," you're probably going to get rightfully suspicious. But scientific accuracy was never exactly a strong suit of mine. To this day I still get drunk and try and punch string theory in the face. Smug theories.

So that's what they are, butt glands. A lot of animals have musk glands, and for whatever fucked up design reason, it's by their butts. Butt glands. And people take these butt glands and they put them in your ice cream. You eat butt-y ice cream. No, seriously. Beaver butts in your ice cream. I really wish I could say I was making this up, but let's face it, I'm just not clever enough to come up with something that uproariously funny. That's comedy gold because yes, I am seven years old and butt ice cream is hilarious.

Beaver butt glands

Not every brand of ice cream uses this, and the ones that do are understandably finding new ways to name this additive, butt regardless (see what I did there?), most of the basic flavors of ice cream you find in the grocery store have this in it.

All the stuff on this list is perfectly safe to eat, butt again (I'm godddamned hilarious), it's just the principle of the fact that you're eating beaver bum.

2. Isinglass

Because the food industry just can't seem to resist shoving things carved out of the groin of small animals into the things you want to ingest, we come to isinglass.

Renamed because "fish bladder" isn't something that people usually want to know they have in their beverages, even when drunk, isinglass is used in the clarification process of beer and wine. Basically, through some dark alchemy (the fillings made from it grab the floating particles out of the beer and congeal it at the bottom. Science!), several beer companies use this ingredient in order to clear the beer up.

Isinglass fish bladder

It's actually a fairly effective process, and has been used for a very long time. Technically it's the swim bladder of the fish that they use as a ballast, but I'm still curious about how exactly this process was discovered. I could probably figure it out with some light Googling, but that sounds suspiciously like effort.

The part that I keep getting hung up on is who exactly happened to have both a massive cache of fish bladders lying around and the will to try and have them used as a filter for alcoholic beverages.

3. Silicone Dioxide

This one shows up a little more rarely then some of the other things on this list, and only in one place that I know of for sure, but it's still really weird to think that you're eating sand every time you get chili at Wendy's.

Sand? Yup. Sand.

Chemistry buffs noticed what this was the second they read the header, because silicone dioxide is literally just the lab coat name for sand. And it's in your chili. For texture, mostly, but you have to figure that they could have found something that works better that isn't something that you can make castles out of.

And now you know why your shitty chili tastes like sand. And why the burgers taste like caramelized dysentery.

4. Cellulose

And the winner of the "food additives that depending on where you live, you can just walk outside and pick some up off of the ground" category, beating out silicone dioxide, is cellulose.

It's wood.


How widely used is it? Exceptionally widely, actually. It's used as a thickening agent in dozens and dozens of processed foods, and since it's exactly as cheap as you think it is, companies just absolutely love throwing that shit into everything that they can get away with.

Now, there is a little bit more to the process then just taking whatever John the Lumberjack's chainsaw sprays on the ground and then throwing it into your Lunchables, but the overall ingredient list doesn't extend far beyond the Deku Tree's taco shits.

Is it harmless? Sure. Is it good for you? Not particularly. If anything you eat can be succinctly described as both "pulp" and "something that a tree shit out," I wouldn't get your hopes up about it.

5. Carmine

Carmine has made its way around the internet more than a few times, and for good reason. It's mashed up beetle. There's a certain kind of beetle (or cochineal insect, whatever) that when mashed up, provides an exceptional red coloring for several kinds of food. Now, this has been known for a while, and since when people buy yogurt, they don't usually expect to have to count the number of legs in the additives, the companies responsible for carmine have gone around and given it several different names, most of which are chemical-sounding compounds that I can't quite remember here.

Is it harmless? Well yeah, but most of the things on this list are, more or less. Again, it's really more the principle of the thing. I've eaten bugs before, but personally, I like to be fully aware of when that is a thing I'm about to do.

6. Rennet

Do you like dairy products? Do you like cheese? Do you like a light fungal glaze, scraped from the inner wall of the fourth stomach of young calves? If you answered yes to all of those questions, then you're actually pretty normal, because rennet, the product harvested from the stomachs of young cows, is actually a completely normal ingredient in many cheeses. But also eww, because I described that in pretty much the least appealing way I could think of without using the term "seepage."

Now, through some evil wizardry, the stomach linings are harvested, sliced, and then put through several solutions. The leftover product, rennet, is used in the coagulation of milk, typically in order to make cheese.

This is actually a little gross, only because they use quite close to, literally, baby cows. Not just young, but fuck me that's really young. There are alternative, even vegetarian sources of rennet (mutant genetic abominations—like mushrooms), but many mid- to high-quality cheeses are still using traditionally harvested rennet to this day. So, you probably don't have to worry about it, as me and most of my readership can barely afford Kraft Semi-Sort-of-Cheese-Like-Product-in-a Can Spray, so I doubt that they really need to look into the details of any fine gruyere cheeses anytime soon.

7. L-Cysteine

You are technically a cannibal.


Stay with me for a second, I'll clear it up. Ahem. You've eaten human hair. Probably not a lot, but, well, let's face it, any more than "none" is a lot when you're talking about ingesting human hair. Which again, I can't really stress enough the fact that you've eaten this. Human hair. Go ahead and touch your head and/or unkempt groinal region. That stuff? In your mouth.

Maybe I should explain why.

As much fun as it would be to just bomb you with that information and then leave it up to you to decode what I'm talking about, I'll just give you the skinny. I'm sorry I just used the term "skinny." It won't happen again. You have my word.

Cysteine has two main uses (as far as food goes). First, combined with a couple of other fun things, it is used to make various meat flavors. And apparently it's fairly good at its job, even though a decent amount of the flavoring ends up working its magic in pet foods. And second, it is used as a processing aid in several baked goods, such as bagels, bread, and pastries.

See? Told you you've eaten it.

Now, true, there are two other major sources of L-cysteine that you've also likely ingested: duck feathers and hog hair. The companies that process L-cysteine want desperately for you to think that that's where the majority of it comes from, but according to the companies from China that manufacture the majority of it, the order goes: human hair, duck feathers, then hog hair. So, for you vegans, you should look into that shit, depending on how hardcore of a vegan you are. And for you everyone else out there, holy fuck, you're eating processed human hair.