Gross things that help your favourite foods taste better – from beaver anal secretions, to rat hair and opium


But the truth is, even if we're buying things like fruit and veg, we have no idea what they've been treated with or how to got to the supermarket.

So it shouldn't come as a massive surprise to learn that there are some pretty random things in our everyday foods.

Remember when we all found out that you could test positive for opium (a derivative of heroin) after eating a poppy seeded roll?

And some of the other random food additives are mega grim, according to Dr Robert Chilcott, from the Centre for Research into Topical Drug Delivery and Toxicology at the University of Hertfordshire.

Writing for The Conversation, he says that we've been adding suspect flavourings and preservatives to our food since at least the Victorian Era.

Beaver anal secretions = vanilla ice cream

Castoreum used to be used to give puddings a vanilla flavouring.

But that didn't come from a pod, oh no. It came from the anal glands of beavers.

People were so made for the taste, in fact, that beavers were almost hunted to extinction by the end of the 19th century.

It was only when German chemists discovered that vanillin (one of the chemicals responsible for the vanilla taste) could also be extracted from a plant.

And today, 94 per cent of all vanilla flavourings is synthetic.

But, Dr Chilcott says, beaver anus is still in usage today – although you're unlikely to get a mouthful unless you're paying big bucks.

"Their contribution to the food industry now accounts for a tiny fraction of natural vanilla flavouring and tends to be limited to luxury foods and beverages."

Lamb stomach = milk

The dairy industry is a lot darker than most of us like to think.

It's not all little calves suckling on their mums' teets and us taking a little milk here and there.

And one rather grim aspect is rennet.

"It traditionally came from the mucous membrane of the fourth stomach of calves, lambs and goats," reveals Dr Chilcott.

"The enzymes separate milk into curds and whey – a key stage in the manufacturing process."

Traditional rennet is still used today although other alternatives are increasingly becoming available.

Rat hair = cornmeal

Ever taken a bit of an apple only to find that a worm has burrowed through part of it?

Even in today's ultra-sanitised world, bugs, poo and hair manages to make its way into our grub.

"Two cupfuls of cornmeal may legitimately contain up to five whole insects, ten insect fragments, ten rodent hairs and five rodent poop fragments," says Dr Chilcott.

"It certainly puts that half-eaten apple into perspective."

Mercury = water

Back in the day, hat makers used to use mercury to make animal fur softer.

That seriously impacted on their health, causing what became known as "mad hatters disease", which was where they'd swing between irritability and excitability, muscle spasms, loss of teeth,  hair and nails, memory loss,  confusion and death.

Despite the fact that hardly anyone uses mercury now, it's still in our air and water, thanks to industrial pollution.

And that especially prevalent in seafood.

If you eat big fish like tuna, the chances are that you're chowing down on a whole load of mercury.

C. botulinum (the world's most toxic substance) = honey

Did you know that you're not supposed to give babies honey?

That's because the sticky stuff can contain spores of C.botulinum, the world's most toxic substance.

Just two thousand millionths of a gram can kill you – it's that lethal.

Eating foods contaminated with the stuff can cause botulism, which stops the nervous system from functioning properly.

That then leads to general muscle weakness, paralysis and death.

"Spores of C. botulinum are often found in honey," explains Dr Chilcott.

"While relatively harmless to most people, the immune system of young infants is relatively ineffective against these bacteria, which can lead to a related condition known as infantile botulism.

"This is why many government agencies advise against giving honey to children under a year old."



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