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13 Most Disgusting Things Hidden In Your Food

Please be aware that many of these things are still being researched. While in high concentrations, some of these ingredients can be toxic; in lower concentrations, they can have no discernible adverse effects. Many medicines work this way—they are toxic in large quantities and beneficial in lower concentrations. Long-term research projects are underway for a few of the more concerning items. Always stay informed by reading peer-reviewed articles!

1. Arsenic


Arsenic has been used in rat poison, agriculture, and for various medical applications. It is found in a variety of different foods and drinks and has been for a long time. The United States is not free from these concerns.

Of note are some wines and beers which appear clearer—they may have higher amounts of arsenic in them than less refined versions, as diatomaceous earth is used to filter out sediment. Diatomaceous earth has various naturally occurring metals (such as arsenic) in it.

Of more concern is the levels that are found in rice. According to the National Academy of Sciences, people who drink water with 10 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic in it have about a 1 in 300 risk of developing some form of cancer over the course of their lifetime. A similar level of arsenic can be found in under a cup of rice.

As arsenic can be found concentrated in the outer layers of the rice grain, it’s not surprising that brown rice has been found to have higher amounts than white rice. Many people eat brown rice for the nutritional benefits (diets high in white rice are linked with type-2 diabetes), but now it seems there may be other risks associated with brown rice.

Some tips to reduce arsenic are to wash your rice thoroughly, and avoid foods sweetened with brown rice syrup, which has more concentrated levels of aresnic. For more information, read the Consumer Report on arsenic in rice or check out some more tips to avoiding arsenic in your diet over at the Huffington Post.

2. Castoreum — Beaver Scent Gland Excretions (A.K.A. Beaver Butt Juice)


This one is harmless, but pretty gross. Apparently beaver butt tastes and smells like vanilla? Go figure. Castoreum is a secretion of the castor sac of North American and European beavers which is yellowish in color. It’s not only got their scent-marking juices in it, but also their urine. Yummy.

Castoreum is sometimes found in a variety of mass produced vanilla ice creams. The FDA lists it as safe and natural, and manufacturer’s will typically let it fall under the “natural flavors,” category in ingredients lists. With that in mind, fear of its presence in mass produced foods is overblown; it’s predominantly used in the perfume industry, and due to the difficulty in obtaining it compared to actual vanilla (or synthesized vanillin), castoreum’s presence in food is actually rather uncommon.

3. Carmine — Boiled Bugs


Rather than natural flavors, this one is usually listed under the amalgamation “natural colors,” and is used in a variety of foods that are dyed red. It’s made by boiling Cochineal insect bodies in ammonia or water to extract the carminic acid, and alum is added to preserve the color. It’s pretty harmless, aside from people with possible allergies to the compound. It’s typically considered healthier and safer than red dye #40, albeit more gross seeming.

Starbucks came under fire for having carmine in some of its strawberry-flavored drinks, but they have since removed it from their products.

4. Lanolin — Sheep Secretions


Sheep sweat! Ahem. Lanolin is excreted by sheep. It’s a waxy substance that protects and waterproofs their coats. It can be found in some types of chewing gum.