Chances are you probably eat quite a lot of processed food. Even the healthiest eater is prone to it: that soggy supermarket sandwich you eat your desk, the packet of crisps you scoff on the bus, the sweets you eat in front of Netflix. And, if you were asked, would you know what’s actually in them?
Probably not. Because if you did you’d… probably stop eating it because LOOK AT THE STATE OF WHAT’S IN YOUR DINNER.
Weird rather than gross, wood “dietary fibre” can be used to reduce fat in foods like bread or wraps. And it comes from wood. Which is weird.
Antifreeze: useful in the winter. Also, apparently, useful for anyone who likes cake.
Propylene glycol, the main ingredient in antifreeze, is used to enhance flavour in cakes and frozen desserts – it stops the fat clumping together, apparently. It’s also toxic to pets, so don’t let them lick the plate whatever you do.
Borax – a type of cleaning powder – is used to make caviar.
Known as E285, the powder is used to ‘preserve’ the incredibly expensive food. So, y’know, not that hard to avoid really.
Also legitimately gross: there is apparently loads of hair in your food.
L-Cysteine, an amino acid found in human and pig hair and duck feathers, is often used to enhance flavour in cakes, pizza, bagels and doughnuts.
Worse than pig hair? Better? Dunno, but loads of your food has boiled beetles in it, which sounds like some kind of Harry Potter universe delicacy but is actually a real and not that appetising thing.
It’s normally listed as ‘E120’, ‘carmine’ or ‘natural red 4’, if you (very reasonably) want to avoid it.
So disgusting that it’s literally toxic if you eat too much of it, flame retardant is often used to stop flavour separating from food. In 2014, Coca-Cola removed it from all its drinks because of its toxicity - probably one to avoid, then.
Carnauba wax – the very same stuff you get in shoe polish – is a popular ingredient in doughnuts and sweets.
Jet fuel: can’t melt steel beams, can be used to preserve food and drinks.
A compound, BHT, found in jet fuel and other petrol products is technically classed as an ‘antioxidant’ but is, as you might expect, not that good for you.
Coal tar oil
If you’ve ever eaten anything that’s been artificially dyed (which you almost certainly have), you’ve probably ingested coal tar oil. It can be found in crackers, fast food, frozen fish and noodles.
The oil is obtained from raw petrol, and has other uses in varnish and diesel.
Beaver anal gland secretions
THERE IS BEAVER ANUS IN YOUR DINNER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL: THERE IS BEAVER ANUS IN YOUR DINNER.
Sort of, anyway: an additive called castoreum, which you can find in sweets, alcohol, ice cream, cakes, chewing gum and various fruit flavourings, is found in beaver anal glands.
Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to exclude it from your diet because it’s normally listed as ‘natural flavouring’. So…enjoy your anal secretions, I guess?