Weird and disgusting food additives - Exposed!

The processed food industry has been experimenting with different ingredients and compounds from all imaginable walks of life for many years. Not all of them turn out to be successful, but some have proven helpful in food production and become common in many processed foods today. We often think that if it is naturally sourced it must be good for us. However, there are some food ingredients that have natural origins, but may not be what we quite expected to find in our food at all.


Shellac is often used as a polish for furniture, but it is also used as a food additive in many confectionery products, like jelly beans to get them to shine. Shellac is derived from the excretions of the kerria lacca insect most commonly found in the forests of Thailand. The kerria lacca creates a sticky excretion to help it stick to leaves and plants. The excretions are harvested by simply scrapping them off the tree, which often ends up with the insects themselves getting harvested too. This concoction is used as the basis for producing shellac to add the shine to sweets. If you are a health enthusiast, watch out for apples that have lost their shine during the cleaning process before sale in the supermarket because shellac may also be used to provide that waxy shine too!

Kerria lacca excretions on a branch - called 'stick lac'

Propylene glycol:

This food additive, E1520, is used in a variety of foods as well as many other industrial uses. It is used as a moisturiser in toothpaste, hair care products, cosmetics, as an ingredient in smoke machines, in photographic solvents and as an anti-freeze ingredient in water and engine coolant systems. When mixed with water it has a lower freezing point and is very similar to its sister compound ethylene glycol, an industrial antifreeze, only less toxic. In fact some softer scoop ice creams use propylene glycol as an added ingredient to prevent the product from becoming too solid. So the next time you try to be 'healthy' by eating a lower fat ice cream, just remember the anti-freeze your consuming that is 'oh so tasty' too!


Cochineal / Carmine:

Cochineal is a very common red food colouring. It is also used as an industrial dye for clothing and materials. It has a long history of use that has all too often been ignored today despite its slightly off putting source. The cochineal is a small red beetle that typically lives in burrowed into a specific type of cactus plant. The dye is made from the dead, dried remains of this beetle that is ground up into a powder. They are harvested from large cactus fields with female beetles inserted into the cactus and allowed to lay eggs and grow into a large population of beetles. At regular intervals throughout the year the beetles are collected from the cactus (at about 90 days old) and used as the basic ingredient for this popular food colouring. It takes about 70,000 insects to make about 1 pound in weight of the powdered dye. The next time you are sipping some anti-oxidant rich cranberry juice or eating a red berry yoghurt remember the added 'protein' that comes courtesy of the cochineal beetle.



The food additive (E218) has been used in many foods as a preservative for over 50 years as a result of its potent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Whilst methylparaben is said not to have any toxic accumulation effects on the the human body, some sources suggest it may increase the risk of breast cancer, allergic reactions and increased oestrogenic activity. The slightly disturbing origin of methylparaben is that it is a potent pheromone present in the vaginal secretions of some female dogs to attract a mate during the appropriate phase of their menstrual cycle. So when you are sipping on a glass of wine, a soft drink or fruit juice made from concentrate and your pet dog starts on your leg, its probably the E218 in the drink driving him insane!

It is bizarre that in the world of food science they have sourced and extracted all kinds of compounds from the world of nature, no matter how weird or gross, and found a use for them in our food! Whilst we support the use of natural food wherever possible, we are still not convinced about any of these 'apparently' natural compounds being used in todays processed foods. Whilst it is certainly a good step to move away from artificial additives, there is no guarantee that eating natural additives are necessarily a better move, as evidenced by the above examples. No matter the source, additives in our foods may not be the best for optimising health.

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