What it is: Brace yourself—this food flavoring is extracted from the castor sac scent glands of the male or female beaver, which are located near the anus. According to Milkowski, the substance is pretty expensive (think about what it probably takes to obtain it) and is more common in perfume than in actual foods.
Where you’ll find it: While it sounds downright disgusting, the FDA says it’s GRAS, meaning it’s “generally recognized as safe.” You won’t see this one on the food label because it’s generally listed as “natural flavoring.” It’s natural all right—naturally icky.
What it is: Yup, insects again. In your food. When it comes to food, insects are handy for other things besides their shine. They’re good for color too, especially red. Carmine is a red food-coloring that comes from boiled cochineal bugs, which are a type of beetle.
There have been reports that the bug-based coloring can cause severe allergic reactions in some people, including potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, so the FDA now requires that the ingredient be listed clearly on food and cosmetic labels.
Where you’ll find it: Carmine can be found in ice cream, Skittles, Good n’ Plenty, lemonade, and grapefruit juice.
What it is: Cellulose, derived mainly from wood pulp and cotton, is used in paper manufacturing—and sometimes added to food.
Where you’ll find it: Cellulose is added to shredded cheese to keep the strands from sticking together, and also can be found in ice cream. It’s found naturally in corn. Cellulose is “is very innocuous material,” says Milkowsi. “Humans can’t digest it.”
What it is: Do you eat seaweed? If you said no, prepare for a surprise, because carageenan is everywhere. Extracted from seaweed, carrageenan is a gel used as a thickening agent and emulsifier (keeps food from separating.)
Where you’ll find it: May be injected into raw chicken or other meat as a way to retain water, as well as in dairy products like cottage cheese and ice cream. Chocolate milk often contains carrageenan to keep the cocoa from separating from the milk.
What it is: This chemical is found in antifreeze, it’s true. But, says Milkowski, “it’s a very, very safe material.” In fact, it’s much safer than a kissing cousin, ethylene glycol, which is particularly toxic to dogs.
Propylene glycol has lubricating properties which aid in making spice concentrates, not to mention condoms. And if you need good mixing in food, this is your compound. “You’ll find things that don’t mix well in water do disperse well in propylene glycol,” says Milkowski.
Where you’ll find it: Sodas, salad dressing, and beer
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