Read the ingredients label on any food item and you’ll soon see you need a doctorate in chemistry to understand it. Today’s food is jam-packed with additives that preserve, flavor, color, and enhance the appearance of food. With over 700 food additives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some of them may even turn you off dinner entirely.
7. How About Some Viruses with Your Lunch Meats
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Ever wondered how lunch meats never seem to go bad? Well, that because they’re covered in a virus. Bacteriophages is that virus, but it’s a virus that help preserve food. Its name literally means “bacteria eater.” The virus specifically targets Listeria monocytogenes which can cause severe illness and kills 500 people a year in the United States. The phage is sprayed onto ready-to-eat meat and poultry goods. The virus only attacks the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria and according to the FDA is perfectly safe to consume. So think of this virus as your friend, or even a superhero--a good virus fighting an evil, deadly bacterium.
6. Dog Pheromone in Your Canned Goods
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Be very careful, especially around dogs, whenever you eat something that contains the food additive methylparaben. Not only is it an anti-fungal agent used as a preservative in canned goods such as tomato, it’s also a potent pheromone found in the vaginal secretions of some female dogs. When a dog is in heat she’ll let off this pheromone to attract a mate. Gross! No wonder you’re popular with the canines after a big bowl of marinara pasta.
5. Hair in Your Cinnamon Roll
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Bite into a cinnamon roll or bagel and you’re not likely to chomp into a tuft of hair. But you are still consuming hair. Well, a by-product of hair. L-cysteine or cystine is an amino acid that is commonly used in breads and baked goods. It is a dough conditioner and strengthener used to produce more stable dough. It’s also used as a flavor enhancer. L-cysteine, as it’s commonly named on food packaging, can be engineered artificially, however this is cost prohibitive. Instead it is derived from human hair found on the floors of Chinese barbershops, duck feathers, and to a lesser extent from the bristles and hooves of pigs.
4. Sand in Your Soup
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Silicon dioxide is the fancy chemical name for sand. Yes, sand. That fun stuff you play in at the beach also pops up on your plate. Sand, or to be more scientifically correct “silicon dioxide,” is added to food as an anti-caking agent.
The silicon dioxide works by absorbing 120 percent of its weight, while still remaining free-flowing. It is commonly used in salt, flours, and powdered soups to prevent caking caused by moisture. It is also used in powdered coffee whitener, vanilla powder, baking powder, dried egg yolk, and tortilla chips. The usage level ranges from 1 to 2%, so you probably consumed more sand while playing at the beach.
3. Mmm, Bread Taste Better with Soil Fertilizer
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Ammonium sulfate is an inorganic salt that’s a major component of soil fertilizer. When it’s not making your grass lush and green or helping your daffodils bloom, it’s used to make bread. (It’s also used in pesticides and as a flame retardant)
In the garden, ammonium sulfate is used for alkaline rich soils and works by releasing a small amount of acid into the soil, which lowers its pH balance. In the kitchen, the chemical aids the preparation of bread by providing nitrogen for the yeast to grow and activate. The result is a consistent, fluffy bread roll. (You’ll see it appear as an ingredient in the bread of a major sub chain). Ammonium sulfate also helps give bread a darker, whole-grainy color.
So, now you have something in common with your lawn.
2. So That Red Color Comes from Coal Tar/Petroleum
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Ever wondered how ultra-red food products like cotton candy and cherry cola get their bright red color? Well, that color is added and is controversially derived from coal tar and petroleum.
The widely used red food coloring is known commercially as Allura Red AC, which is sometimes listed on packaging as Red 40. This additive was originally derived from coal tar; however it’s now more commonly made out of petroleum--yes, the stuff you put in your car. The additive is also used to color sodas, candies, soups, wine, and sauces. In Europe, Allura Red AC is not recommended for consumption by children and is banned outright in Denmark, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Sweden. That’s some food for thought.
1. Antifreeze in Your Birthday Cake
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Somehow a non-toxic antifreeze traveled from our cars onto our plates and in our drinks. Propylene glycol is a petroleum derivative that is colorless, nearly odorless, and has a slightly sweet taste. The additive is used in products as food stabilizer -- it gives food an even consistency and stops it from falling apart. It also attracts and traps moisture, helping keep food moist and delicious.
Propylene glycol is also used as a color stabilizer and carrier of flavor in drinks (for a long time it was used in Dr. Pepper), biscuits, cakes, and sweets. It also acts as a thickener, clarifier, and stabilizer in food and beverages such as beer, salad dressings, and baking mixtures.
The National Peanut Board and New York sandwich shop Peanut Butter & Co. have recently announced the opening of the Nutropolitan Museum of Art next month. The culinary exhibit and gallery will celebrate the art of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. PB&J lovers are not the only ones who can enjoy learning about their favorite foods — there are museums dedicated to a host of culinary delights, such as the Currywurst Museum in Berlin, or the Jell-O Gallery in Le Roy, New York. Here is a look at some of the most over-the-top food museums.
The Currywurst Museum — Berlin, Germany
Immerse yourself in the culture and history of this popular German snack food. At The Currywurst Museum visitors can enjoy the spice chamber, where they can taste and sniff distinct currywurst flavoring blends, or explore what it’s like to own their own currywurst snack bar.
The National Dairy Shrine Museum — Fort Atkinson, Wis.
The dairy industry has had a rich history in the American landscape. Learn the history of ice cream, explore the evolution of dairy technology, and be sure to check out the dog-powered butter churn.
The Jell-O Gallery — Le Roy, N.Y.
Did you know that Jell-O was one of the first products sold door-to-door? Increase your trivia knowledge about this iconic treat with a trip to the Jell-O gallery. The museum currently features an exhibit on how Bill Cosby has influenced the Jell-O industry.
The National Mustard Museum — Middleton, Wis.
This museum boasts a collection of more than 5,600 mustard varieties. From historical memorabilia to an extensive array of mustard pots, this temple to one of the world’s most popular condiments has it all.
The Idaho Potato Museum — Blackfoot, ID
Idaho has long been associated with the potato industry. This museum seeks to showcase how Idaho potatoes are grown and harvested, and educate visitors on their history. Those visiting the museum from out-of-state will receive a box of hash browns with each ticket of admission.
The Shinyokohama Ramen Museum — Yokohama, Japan
Explore the rise in popularity of ramen that began in Japanese port cities. This museum has an exhibit featuring the different types of ramen, both traditional and modern. Visitors can take note of the subtle differences in the varieties of ramen found throughout Japan.
The Spam Museum — Austin, Minn.
Surely the most elaborate museum dedicated to canned meat, The Spam Museum has an extensive collection of memorabilia dating back to World War II. Test your Spam knowledge by playing the game show quiz, or watch a classic Spam commercial.