Want some crushed beetles in your shake? That’s just what you get when you order a Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino at Starbuck’s. You may have heard about this recently in the media that Starbuck’s colors its strawberry drinks with a red dye made from crushed beetles. Starbuck’s explained they use the cochineal red dye because it is a natural ingredient and it helps them use less chemical ingredients in fast food. Couldn’t they use other natural red fruits or vegetables to color their beverages, like real strawberries, for instance?
But Starbuck’s is just one of countless companies that puts unusual ingredients in fast food products that Americans consume by the tonnage every day. Here are some of the most unusual ingredients in fast foods we eat. And despite the “ewe factor,” these items have been generally determined as safe for consumption.
1. Duck feathers and human hair (L-cysteine):
These are the two most commonly used ingredients in fast food that provide L-cysteine, an amino acid used in dough products to facilitate machine processing. According to a CNN report, the biggest suppliers of human hair are Chinese women who sell their hair to chemical processing plants in order to help provide for their families.
2. Sand (silicon dioxide):
Silica, or silicon dioxide (sand), is used to make glass, optical fibers, ceramics, cement, and chili. It is often added to processed meats to prevent clumping.
3. Wood (cellulose):
Processed wood pulp, or cellulose, is a common additive in everything from cheeses and salad dressings to muffins and syrups. It is used to thicken foods, replace fat and boost fiber content, and it is cheaper to use than more costly ingredients in fast food such as oil and flour. Powdered cellulose is produced by cooking virgin wood pulp in chemicals to separate the cellulose, and then it is purified. Some modified cellulose additives need additional processing, often involving exposure to acid in order to break down the fiber.
4. Silly Putty plastic (dimethylpolysiloxane):
Who would have ever thought that Silly Putty ingredients would end up in French fries, but somehow they did. Dimethylpolysiloxane, a type of silicone used in cosmetic products and Silly Putty, is also added to many fast foods. It is a secret ingredient that prevents oil from foaming in the deep fryers. Is there cause for alarm? The World Health Organization says they found no adverse health effects linked to dimethylpolysiloxane.
5. Petroleum-derived preservatives (TBHQ):
Tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) is made from compounds of petroleum, and it is used in cosmetic and skincare products, varnishes, lacquers, resins, and processed foods.
After years of pressure by the fast food industries, TBHQ was approved by food regulatory agencies with a mandate that the chemical must not exceed 0.02% of the oil and fat content in food products. As it turns out, there are good reasons for this mandate. Consuming five grams of TBHQ would be lethal; and one gram can cause nausea, vomiting, delirium, feelings of suffocation and collapse. But you may not have to swear off Chicken McNuggets just yet. You would have to eat more than 11 lbs. of McNuggets in order to consume a dangerous level of TBHQ.
6. Beetle juices and extracts (carminic acid and confectioner’s glaze):
There has been a recent push to use natural food coloring in the food industry. However, some natural dyes come from things you would never want to eat and that just might give you nightmares. For instance, carminic acid, a common red food coloring that comes from the dried, crushed bodies of insects called cochineal. In the food industry, it’s known as Cochineal Extract, Carmine, Crimson Lake, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470 and E120. It is added to many products ranging from meats, sausages, processed poultry products, marinades, baked goods, toppings, cookies, icings, pie fillings, jams, preserves, gelatins, juices, drinks, dairy products, sauces and dessert items.
7. Meat paste (mechanically separated meat):
Mechanically separated meat (MSM) has been produced since the 1960s. It is commonly called “pink slime” and looks more like frosting than pureed meat. The official definition of mechanically separated poultry (MSP) is a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue. Mechanically separated pork is also used. However, mechanically separated beef is not used because in 2004, it was prohibited for use as human food to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.
Mechanically separated meat is used to make hot dogs, salami, bologna, burgers and chicken nuggets. Many fast food restaurants commonly use “pink slime” in their foods. However, McDonald’s is one restaurant that recently stated it no longer relies on MSM as an ingredient in its hamburgers.
Generally recognized as safe (GRAS):
Although these ingredients may make you think twice about what you are eating, the ingredients listed above have been generally recognized as safe in scientific studies.