Freaky facts about food

The bizarre things you may not know about some common foods

All foods mentioned are considered safe to consume, but these facts may lead you to think before you eat

Rodent hairs and insect parts in Canadian Food

Have you ever found a hair in your bagel? It might belong to a rodent, and according to Health Canada, that may not be a food safety infraction. Health Canada provides guidelines for the general cleanliness of food, outlining how much microbiological or extraneous matter can be present before it is considered a food safety issue. Extraneous matter includes "animal and insect filth such as excreta, hairs, feather barbules, whole or parts of insects."

Under these same guidelines, it is acceptable to find up to 10 insects, defined as "whole or equivalent whole forms of insects (more than half a head including entire frons)" in a 225g serving (about 1.5 cups) of processed raisins or currants. The unacceptable upper limit is 20 insects per 225 g. You will probably never find any insects in your raisins or currants, as these are the testing protocols for determining food safety. But knowing there are permissible levels of rodent hairs or insects in some foods, you may want to inspect them closely before consuming.

Jellybeans are coated with bug excrement

Jellybeans are a tasty treat and come in many flavours, but did you realize their shiny coating is made from bug feces? Shellac, also known as confectioner's glaze, is made from a resin excreted by the female lac beetle, indigenous to India and Thailand. The resin is processed into flakes, dissolved in denatured alcohol to make liquid shellac, and then sprayed on food products or used to make lacquer for hardwood floors and furniture.

Shellac is also sprayed on grocery store apples to make them shiny and keep them fresh in the store. When you pick an apple fresh from the tree and rub it on your shirt, you will produce a nice shine from the natural waxy protection already present in the apple skin. But if you wash that apple first, you won't be able to make it shine as washing it removes the waxy coating. Apples sold in grocery stores must be washed for sanitary reasons and then sprayed with a fine mist of shellac to restore outer skin protection. Without this waxy layer, the washed apples would spoil too quickly.

Gelatin is made from cattle hides and pork skins

Gelatin is used to make many desserts, such as jelly powders, marshmallows and frozen cakes. Gelatin is made from the collagen of animal skin and bones. Gelatin melts to a liquid state when heated, and solidifies when it cools. You may see gelatin form if you use animal bones to make your own soup stock and cool the broth.

Gelatin is the main ingredient in jelly powder. On its website, Kraft Canada states that the gelatin used in JELL-O is extracted only from cattle hides and pork skins, and only from the hides of healthy animals that have passed strict inspections and are found fit for human consumption. You do not recognize gelatin's taste as an animal product because, as Kraft says, "during the manufacturing of gelatin, chemical changes take place so that the final product, the composition, and the identity of the original material is completely eliminated." If you have chosen to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may prefer to avoid eating products made with gelatin.

Fruit flavoured snacks are made with the same wax found in car wax

Carnauba wax, a key ingredient in car wax that produces a brilliant shine, is also found in gummy bears and fruit flavoured snacks. Carnauba wax comes from the leaves of the carnauba palm tree, native to Brazil. The leaves are beaten to loosen the wax and then the wax is refined, bleached and sold.

While it may also be found in floor polish, shoe polish, or cosmetics, carnauba wax is used to give a glossy shine to many things you put in your mouth, such as chewing gum, candies, gravies and sauces. It is also commonly used on pharmaceuticals as a coating on tablets to aid swallowing.

Bee vomit in honey

If you think honey is made from flower nectar you are only partially correct. An important part of the process is what happens inside the bee. Bees use their digestive systems to process the nectar by swallowing and regurgitating it several times before finally depositing it into the honeycomb for evaporation and storage.

While this sounds gross, it helps remove some of the water and natural yeasts present in the nectar, which could otherwise cause the sugars to ferment. Ripe honey is shelf stable and never spoils. Honey comes in various tastes and colours, depending on the type of flower nectar the bees collected. For example, clover honey is mild tasting and light in colour whereas buckwheat honey is bolder tasting and darker. Honey may also darken or become a bit stronger tasting with age, but will keep indefinitely in a sealed container at room temperature. If older honey crystallizes, simply warm it up until it turns clear.

REF: Besthealthmag Canada