6 Incredibly Gross Additives in Everyday Foods

Image by Flickr User Schtumple


Starbucks recently came under fire from the vegan community for admitting that the red dyes used in their strawberry drinks contained cochineal, a coloring made from crushed parasitic beetles. While animal rights activists aren’t pleased with Starbucks, it’s not as if this company is alone in their use of this beetle dye. Cochineal dye, produced from dried female cochineal beetles, has been used for centuries and today is found in plenty of goods like cosmetics, pop tarts, red candies and red-tinted yogurts and juices. On ingredient lists, you may see this listed as carmine, crimson lake, cochineal, or natural red #4.

We can only hope Starbucks makes good on their intention to switch to using Tomat-O-Red Dye instead of crushed beetles, as a response to outraged customers who don’t want beetles in their Frappuccinos.

Image by shanii via sxc.


Glyphosate is the active chemical ingredient in the notorious weed killer, Roundup. This chemical is so heavily used at this point that it’s now detected in soil, air, bodies of water and rain – meaning, at this point, escape is dubious, even if you eat mostly organic. In 2009 alone the USDA reports that nonorganic farmers poured 57 million pounds of glyphosate on food crops. Basically, Glyphosate is meant to do one thing – kill. It kills broadleaf plants, grasses and other plants. Because it’s a systemic herbicide, the chemical goes into the plant, not just on it, which means we eat Glyphosate when we choose food it’s been used on. The EPA classifies Glyphosate as only slightly toxic, yet various studies have linked it to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage, nose and throat irritation and the National Pesticide Information Center (pdf) notes, “Swallowing products with glyphosate can cause increased saliva, burns in the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.” So, by all means, let’s keep pouring this stuff on crops.

Image by Flickr User miss.libertine

Castoreum Extract

Castoreum extract doesn’t sound too scary, but it’s actually a bitter, orange-brown substance retrieved from the beaver’s anal gland. Yum. This additive can be found in many processed food products that are flavored vanilla or raspberry, like ice cream, yogurt, cookies and the like. What’s worse, or perhaps more curious is who on earth came up with this as an ingredient in the first place? What’s even worse is that it’s hard to avoid. Most food products simply list this additive as, “natural flavoring,” which in truth we suppose it is. Still, vegans and vegetarians plus people who might like to avoid beaver anal secretions in their milkshake, may find this “natural flavoring” a bit hard to swallow.

Image by Flickr User steakpinball


Shellac is what makes jelly beans shiny and gives that lacquered  finish to other sweet treats along with fruit and coffee beans as well, and it’s all thanks to excretions of the Kerria lacca insect. Shellac is also used as a wood finishing material. This is generally regarded as safe for human consumption, but the gross factor may freak some people out.

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2 Responses to “6 Incredibly Gross Additives in Everyday Foods”

  1. Susan P says:

    Yuck! More reasons to stick with whole foods and cook from scratch in our own homes. I find shopping the local farmer’s markets and growing my own is satisfying and it teaches my kids where their food should really come from. Thanks for the insight.

  2. IrishHopeful says:

    I wonder how they can make the mass production of this economically viable… never heard of beaver farms but maybe they exist?

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