Bug parts, beaver glands, and fish bladders: You’ll never believe what those unpronounceable words on your food’s ingredient lists actually mean.
Who hasn’t glanced at the wrapper of a recently eaten snack and wondered, what the heck is guar gum, anyway? As much as consumers are encouraged to read labels, it doesn’t do much good if you can’t understand them—and unless you have a PhD in food science, odds are you won’t even recognize half the ingredients listed.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, points out Ginger Hultin, RD, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Ascorbic acid, for example, is a form of vitamin C that is used as a preservative in food,” she says. Some ingredients, though, have less-than-savory origins, even if there’s no evidence they cause any negative impact on your health. Some turn up in research with links to a health issue. “An association is not a cause, but consumers don’t want to eat foods that are in question,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. Here are 11 common ways people read nutrition labels wrong.
Bugs as food coloring
Starbucks faced a backlash when it was revealed that some of their frappuccinos were colored using carmine or cochineal, which is derived from insect shells. The chain has since phased out the additive. They now use tomato extract, says Hultin, but you’ll still find the insect shell-derived ingredients in other products as a colorant. One issue: It makes a seemingly vegan-friendly product not so.
Fish bladders in beer
Isinglass, an ingredient derived from the organs of tropical fish, is used to filter some beers and wines. Public outcry caused at least one manufacturer, Guinness, to change their production and make their beverage vegan-friendly. Check out 14 unbelievable food facts that will change the way you eat.
Pig skin in Jell-O
Isabel Sala Casteras/Shutterstock
“Gelatin is something that most people are familiar with and often feel fine about consuming, but it is in fact made from animal connective tissue, commonly pig skin,” says Hultin. That puts anything containing gelatin on the do not eat list for vegetarians and vegans. Make sure you’re not falling for these 21 common food myths.