You might wonder why vegetarians and vegans avoid marshmallows. They’re not a meat product or a dairy product, but they do have a pretty gross connection to animals. Marshmallows are made from gelatin, an animal protein also found in ice cream and Jell-O.
That doesn’t sound too bad until you look at how gelatin is actually made…by boiling the hides and bones of animals. Yup, that’s right; you’ve been topping off your hot chocolate with cow bones for years.
2. Shredded cheese
I, like many people, assumed that shredded cheese was just regular cheese and that the stuff you buy in a bag is exactly what you would get if you shredded up blocks of cheese yourself. It turns out that this isn’t true. Shredded cheese has an added ingredient that isn’t found in blocks or wheels of cheese: wood pulp.
You won’t see those words on the packaging, of course. The official ingredient goes by the name “cellulose” and is added to boost fiber and add creaminess in low-fat foods and to help keep shredded cheese from clumping together. In other words, wood pulp is being added to your shredded cheese to cut down on costs.
3. Jelly beans
Easter candy falls into two major categories: chocolate and jelly beans. If you’re a chocolate lover, your next Easter basket won’t be ruined by this ingredient, but jelly bean fans are in for a nasty shock.
Those gooey bits of goodness are so easy to binge-eat. They’re hard and shiny on the outside and nice and chewy on the inside. How does a jelly bean get so shiny? With shellac, which is a less-gross sounding term for what it really is: lac bug secretions.
This resin is also used to make everything from fingernails to floors nice and shiny. In the past, it was used as electrical insulation and to make records before being replaced with vinyl.
You may expect your beer to be vegetarian or even vegan, but that may not be the case. Many beers are filtered through isinglass, a gelatin made out of fish bladder. While many breweries are starting to get rid of this unsavory ingredient, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve had this nasty additive swimming with you at some point.
Guinness has slowly been phasing out the use of isinglass and is on track to eliminate it entirely, though the process has been taking longer than expected. To double check whether or not your beer is fish-free, you can check out the Barnivore database which keeps a list of vegan and vegetarian alcoholic beverages.
Even wine is not safe from weird and gross additives. Animal rights group PETA warns on their website that many wines “include blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes.”
Since wineries are not required to disclose the ingredients of each bottle, you may never know what you’re really drinking.
6. Ground beef
You may have heard of pink slime, but did you know that it’s in your ground beef? A lot of supermarkets add this filler made out of ammonia-coated beef trimmings, which lowers the cost of the ground beef, at least for the people supplying it.
You won’t see this ingredient on the label, either; since it’s still meat (its proper name is lean finely textured beef or LFTB), supermarkets are free to dupe the public into thinking they are purchasing fresh ground beef.
7. Pretty much anything with red food dye
If you’re eating something that seems to be unnaturally red, you might want to rethink it. A lot of red food coloring is made from crushed bugs. This ingredient is completely safe and has been used for centuries, but there is a definite ick factor involved. Officially known as cochineal dye, it also pops up on labels as carmine or carminic acid so look out for those words if you want to avoid a serving of dead insects with your food.
8. Chewing gum
Chewing gum comes in a lot of delicious flavors but a lot of them have one thing in common: they’re made out of sheep. To be more specific, many chewing gums are made out of a secretion made from the skin glands of sheep. The substance, called lanolin, is the stuff that makes chewing gum chewy and is also found in many skin products. Chewing gums that don’t use lanolin are often made out of synthetic rubbers instead.
No one wants to find a hair in their food, but that just might be what you’re eating every time you have some toast. A lot of commercial bread has an additive called L-cysteine. This amino acid gives the bread a longer shelf life, but is often synthesized from human hair, which is just plain disgusting. To avoid getting hair in your mouth, opt for freshly made bread from the bakery instead of processed bread from the grocery store.
10. Canned mushrooms
Canned mushrooms? More like a can of worms…or maggots. FDA guidelines are meant to keep food safe, but they do allow traces of some pretty nasty stuff. Maggots and mites are particularly drawn to mushrooms, it seems, leading the FDA to rule on just how large a portion of these creepy creatures can be served up with canned or dried mushrooms.
The FDA is totally cool with maggots in your canned mushrooms, so long as they don’t exceed “an average of 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 g of drained mushrooms and the proportionate liquid…” To give you a sense of what that means, one cup of canned mushrooms is the equivalent 156 g, meaning that 30 or more maggots might be in every cup of canned mushrooms! Mites can be present in even larger numbers, not to exceed “an average of 75 or more mites per 100 g of drained mushrooms and the proportionate liquid…”
Believe it or not, it gets even nastier; up to 10 percent of those mushrooms can be decomposed. Yuck.
11. Coffee creamer
If you aren’t a fan of black coffee, you might be putting some pretty disgusting stuff into that morning cup of joe. Non-dairy coffee creamers have a concoction of oils that allow it to mimic the creaminess of milk. Most creamers use soybean or cottonseed oil to give it that smooth consistency. Each time you add liquid creamer to your coffee, you’re basically dousing it in oil.
If you think oil in your coffee is strange, you probably don’t want to know what powdered creamer is made out of. Powdered creamers contain an anti-caking agent called sodium aluminosilicates. This substance is highly flammable — not exactly the sort of thing you want to drink at breakfast.
12. Fat-free milk
If you think you can skip the horrible additives in non-dairy creamer by using fat-free milk in your coffee, think again. It turns out not even milk is safe from gross ingredients. When fat is removed from milk, the color turns blue. Since the Food and Drug Administration agrees that non-white milk would be too hard for consumers to drink, they allow it to be processed with titanium dioxide to keep its light color.
Somehow, the FDA thinks that it’s less off-putting for people to drink metal than to drink blue-tinted milk.
If you have any cheese in your house, you might want to check the label on it right now and look for an ingredient called rennet. If you don’t see this ingredient listed, you can breathe easy. If you do see it, prepare to be horrified. While it’s common knowledge that cheese is a dairy product, most people think it’s safely vegetarian. Most rennet-containing cheeses, however, aren’t actually vegetarian-friendly as rennet (an enzyme found in the stomach of nursing cows, lambs, and goats) can only be extracted by killing the animal.
There are some cheeses, such as cottage cheese, that do not contain rennet. Other cheeses are made to be vegetarian-friendly using vegetarian rennet or microbial rennet. These cheeses are safe for vegetarians (and those with queasy stomachs) to consume.
14. Citrus-flavored sodas
Everyone knows that soda isn’t exactly the most healthy drink to consume, but citrus-flavored sodas are packed with more than just sugar. Many citrus-flavored drinks, like Mountain Dew, include a synthetic chemical that has been patented as a flame retardant. Brominated vegetable oil, commonly referred to as BVO, has been banned from foods in Europe and Japan but is still widespread in North America. Ten percent of sodas sold in the U.S. contain this ingredient, which helps to keep the citrus flavor mixed into the drink instead of floating to the surface of the can or bottle.
While there are limits that regulate how much BVO can be included in drinks, the studies on what makes it safe for consumption are decades old. It’s possible that BVO is more harmful than we suspect. Studies done on mice show that a buildup of BVO can cause behavioral and even reproductive issues.