What are we eating? 

My post today is all about gross things that we are eating, mostly without knowing! I’ve been learning about this for a while and as a vegan thankfully I’ve been steering clear of most of these for a long time, but it’s still quite disturbing to know that these are ingredients in every day foods!

First of all I must say that as horrible as these ingredients sound (they shouldn’t be called ingredients to be honest) they are all safe for consumption in regulated doses.

1. E153 Carbon

This product is basically charcoal and can be made from burned meat, bones, wood and vegetables. It is used as an ingredient in foods like jelly, jam and liquorice and has actually been banned in the USA, and partially banned in Australia who only allowed the plant based variants there. All variants are still used here in the UK though so watch out!

2. E542 Edible Bone Phosphate

I thought I’d follow number 1 with something along the same lines, and that is edible bone phosphate – quite self explanatory. The bone usually comes from pigs and this ingredient is used as an anti-caking agent. In the USA it is often used in sugar production, which isn’t great for vegetarians/vegans over there, but luckily in the UK we don’t have to worry about that! It is still found in foods in the UK though so be careful! 

3. E920/21 L-Cystine 

When we find bits of hair or even eyelashes on our food either at home or eating out we are usually quite disgusted and definitely pull the hair out before we eat the food. Well l-cystine is exactly that! Made up of feathers and animal hair (and outside of the EU human hair too), l-cystine is used in bread products and tortilla wraps. As one of the essential amino acids we need to survive it is not something we can remove completely from our diets, but l-cystine can be found in other animal and plant products that don’t include hair or feathers!

Do you want this in your belly?

4. Cholic Acid

Cholic acid is cow bile. Bile is a gross liquid produced by the liver in order to break up fats during digestion. Another byproduct of cows, I think it’s a bit disgusting that difestive fluid from another animal is going into our food.

5. E904 Shellac

This shellac is in no way related to the manicure shellac (unfortunate brand name), but does in fact come from the secretion of a female lac bug. During the mating season these bugs leave shellac on trees, where it is taken by humans to use in a variety of things from glue, wood primer, varnish, stain blocker and you guessed it, food colouring! The type of tree it is on defines the colour of the shellac, and it can be anything from red and yellow to green and blue! Unfortunately as well as being gross, many insects often get stuck in the shellac and mixed up with it so not only are you eating bugs secretions but you’re also eating insects too! 


6. E120 Carmine/Cochineal

This one, similar to shellac, comes from insects. Who knew we were at an everyday bush tucker trial? Instead of secretion, carmine is made by boiling up scale insects and adding things like gelatine to them. This produces a red colouring that is widely used in foods. 

7. E319 TBHQ

TBHQ is a manmade substance used in food as an antioxidant, so it makes the food last longer. It is derived from petrol but is safe to eat in small quantities, and the amount of it in our food is very small so don’t worry, you’d have to eat A LOT of food at once for it to have an effect. It can be found in a variety of foods from bread to sweets, and is also found in cosmetics (as are a lot of food additives). Even though it is safe and regulated, I still find it horrific that I’ve been putting this in my body even in miniscule amounts. 

8. E460 Cellulose

I’d actually heard of cellulose a lot before starting this research but it turns out I had the complete wrong idea about it. For one I didn’t know it was in food, but thought it was some sort of skincare ingredient. Actually, it’s wood. It doesn’t seem like such a strange thing to be eating, especially for a vegan (ha ha) but it’s what it’s used for that bothers me. These wood shavings are put in our food basically to fill it out, bulk it up and basically make it look like there’s more food. This is the epitome of what I think when I imagone western society now. Big companies who make millions of profit annually, filling our food with wood shavings in order to keep production cheap and prices high. It really sickens me actually. 

9. Castoreum

I thought I’d leave the most disturbing until last. I actually came across this one just as I was about to start writing, so while I was in the last little bit of my research. It sounds like it should be on the periodic table but in actual fact it comes from a beaver’s castor sacs, which are near the animal’s anus. It has a vanilla flavour to it and although it isn’t widely used anymore, being replaced by actual vanilla beans, it is still used so still something to watch out for in anything sweet. 

There are so many other disturbing food ingredients out there, with well known ones like gelatine (which i didn’t write about since the majority of people know what it is) and others like coal tar which I might go into another time. I hope that I’ve made you a little more aware of what is going into your body every day! I will try and make my next post a little less minging!

Aly x
Images from:

  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lac#/media/File%3AKerria-lacca.jpg
  2. https://au.be.yahoo.com/food/a/18950492/Would-you-like-some-beaver-butt-with-that-castoreum-sweden-vanilla/


  1. http://www.food-info.net 
  2. http://www.ivyroses.com/Define/E153
  3. http://www.nootriment.com
  4. http://www.foodreactions.or
  5. http://www.ukfoodguide.net/e153.htm
  6. http://www.kashrut.com/articles/L_cysteine
  7. http://www.noshly.com/913/glazing-agent/913
  8. http://www.vegsoc.org/enumbers
  9. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird/9-things-weve-been-eating-7343641.amp


One thought on “What are we eating? 

  1. L-Cystine is the one that freaks me out–especially because I have such severe allergies to animal hair so it is not only gross, but potentially dangerous for me to ingest. This is a good list–I learned so much about the way food was produced after being vegan. This is really educational. And yeah…cellulose (AKA wood) is in, loads of vegan stuff–like Linda McCartney sausages.


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