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Tinned mushrooms

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If you’re not confident about gathering your own mushrooms, you might prefer to buy them from the grocery story. However, opt for canned mushrooms and you could get more than you bargained for. Under US food laws, it’s legal for each 3.5 ounce can of mushrooms to contain a maximum of 74 mites and 19 maggots. Now, who’s responsible for counting them…..


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In Japanese, “shirako” means “white children”. But don’t worry: no children were harmed in the making or eating of this foodstuff, which some say tastes rather custardy. Instead, this delicacy, which looks a little like miniature brains, actually consists of the sperm sacs of various species of fish.

Soft drinks

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When you enjoy a refreshing soft drink, chances are that you’re also enjoying some propylene glycol. If that sounds familiar it’s because it’s a major constituent of anti-freeze. Worrying as this sounds, it’s considered safe and non-toxic at the levels used in drinks and various other consumables.


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It looks like an egg….and it is an egg. However, it might not be an egg exactly as you know it. In this version, the egg – which is a duck egg – has already been fertilized and started to develop. It’s boiled alive and the happy diner is supposed to pierce a hole in the shell and suck out the liquid before crunching up everything else.

Potato chips

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If you’ve ever bemoaned the quantity of potato chips consumed by your kids, here’s an idea to help put them off. Just tell them – and this is true – that some brands contain sodium bisulfate. Yes, it sounds like something from a school chemistry lesson but it’s also something you’ll find in most toilet cleaners.

Deep-fried arachnids

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No, we’re not talking about something made with a cookie cutter. Bite into one of these eight-legged snacks and you really will be munching on a deep fried spider. Usually featuring tarantulas, this high-protein dish is a regional delicacy in many parts of the world.


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OK, it’s most definitely not a deliberate ingredient but, in what must be a comment on food factory hygiene standards, some bars may contain unexpected – and unwelcome – extras. Under US food safety laws, each chocolate bar is permitted to contain a scattering of insect parts and even rat hairs.

Jellied moose nose

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Gelatine cube anyone? Perhaps not – at least once you learn that one Canadian culinary speciality sees moose nose boiled up with spices and onions before being boiled again, sliced, and set into a jelly. Don’t worry, though: the hair is removed after the first boiling.


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To be fair, we’re not talking about just any soup. We’re talking about white ant eggs soup, which, as the name implies, features ant eggs as one of its chief ingredients. Some cooks even add a scattering of baby ants to add a contrasting flavor. You might think this is one dish that’ll be easy to avoid but be warned: it looks surprisingly like risotto.

Coffee beans

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It’s lucky that the coffee beans you grind for your morning brew are going to be heated. This is because food safety standards permit every pound of those luscious beans to contain an average of 10 milligrams of animal excreta. And, if that’s not bad enough, an estimated 4 to 6% of all beans will be mouldy.


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The days of sawdust-“enhanced” loaves might be behind us but today’s mass-produced bread contains something else that might surprise you. It’s called L-Cysteine, and it’s an amino acid frequently used as a softening agent in commercial dough preparations. Derived either from human hair or duck feathers, we’re not sure which is preferable!

Fermented milk

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This is one drink that you’re unlikely to find in your local bar – unless, perhaps, you live on or near the Mongolian steppes. Made from fermented mare’s milk, the resulting sour, slightly fizzy and somewhat alcoholic liquid is best enjoyed chilled. Cheers! Whose round is it next?

Casu marzu

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You can’t go wrong with a good cheese, especially if it’s from Sardinia – can you? Made from only the best pecorino, Sardinia’s casu marzu achieves its spicy taste thanks to cheese fly larvae. Allowed to burrow into the pecorino, the maggots start to digest the fats and give the cheese its characteristic flavor. Foodies can then enjoy the result either with or without the maggots.

Muktuk; or whale candy

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Looking enticingly like liquorice all-sorts, the Inuit dish known as Muktuk is actually frozen whale skin and blubber. Available in both raw and pickled forms, the little cubes are pleasingly chewy, offering an excellent jaw work-out as well as healthy doses of vitamin C and vitamin D.

An Icelandic national dish

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You might want to ask a couple of follow-up questions if anyone ever offers you one of Iceland’s national dishes. The one in question is hakarl. It’s made from gutted and beheaded Greenland shark that have been buried for a couple of months before being disinterred, cut into strips and left to hang for a few more months. First-time diners can expect to gag.

Hundred-year eggs

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A delicacy to put boiled eggs and soldiers firmly in the shade, Chinese hundred-year eggs are covered in ash, salt and clay – and left to do what comes naturally for a few months. The resulting delicacy reeks of sulphur and has a worryingly dark green yolk but is immensely popular.

Stargazey pie

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Originating from Mousehole, a fishing village in Cornwall, England, this is a pie that marks a heroic effort by a local fisherman. Determined to save his fellow villagers from starvation, the fisherman braved December storms to make a huge catch. Locals cooked the fish into big pies – with the heads of the fish left intact and sticking star-wards out of the pastry.

Chocolate-covered locusts

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They might look like something from Willa Wonka’s chocolate factory but it’s a fair bet that even the greedy Augustus Gloop would’ve balked at this sort of candy. They are, in fact, chocolate-covered locusts – and a sweet variation of the even more popular deep-fried version. High in protein and inexpensive, some people are touting locusts as a possible, more environmentally-friendly, meat substitute.


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Did you know that most figs contain the remains of at least one female wasp? That’s because fig wasps lay their eggs in figs – although only in the inedible (male) caprifigs. A wasp entering an edible (female) fig is fatally trapped. After death, enzymes in the fig break down her body into its constituent proteins and absorb them into the ripe fruit.

Strawberry frappuchinos

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Fancy a frappuchino? If you opt for a strawberry-flavored version, don’t assume that the coloring comes from the sweet red fruit. Instead, some well-known takeaway coffee chains use the ground-up remains of cochineal beetles to color their drinks. This is perfectly legal and, in fact, cochineal is used to color a variety of foodstuffs.

Vanilla ice cream

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If you’re vegetarian, you probably include ice cream on the list of foods you occasionally eat. However, if you like vanilla or raspberry ice cream, you might want to check the ingredients – and, frankly, you might want to do so even if you’re not a veggie. That’s because some brands use castoreum – the urine and anal secretions of beavers – as a flavor enhancer.


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If you enjoy a hand-pulled pint of beer, especially one from a traditional British pub, you might end up swallowing more than you bargained for. Most traditional British beers use a substance called isinglass to give the finished drink its characteristic golden hue. And isinglass has nothing to do with glaziers. It actually derives from the swim bladders of certain fish.


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What do some commercially-produced brands of chilli have in common with a day at the beach? No, it’s not that you’d hope that both would be on the hot side. Instead, it’s that some chilli uses an anti-caking ingredient called silicon dioxide. Better known as sand or glass powder, if that doesn’t encourage you to make your own chilli, it’s hard to know what would.


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This powdered dessert, beloved of so many kids’ birthday parties and perhaps also the odd vodka-laced frat party, is definitely not one for the veggies. Whatever the final flavor, the product itself consists mostly of gelatin. This is a protein extracted from the skin and bones of animals (usually pigs but sometimes cattle) via a process of boiling, drying, treating with acid, and filtering.


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Are you a gum-chewer? Perhaps you’re also a champion bubblegum-blower – and, if so, you might like to learn exactly what you’ve been chowing down on. To make gum softer and easier to chew, it includes lanolin. This is a waxy substance secreted by the skin of sheep in order to help keep their fleeces waterproof.

Shredded cheese

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It would be annoying to reach for your packet of shredded cheese and find it all clumped together, right? Well, the manufacturers of some of the US’s best-known brands agree with you. That’s why they include virgin wood pulp in the form finely milled sawdust as an anti-caking ingredient.

Golden raisins

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If you worry about what your kids eat, you probably congratulate yourself if you can persuade them to scoff a mini box of golden raisins. However, did you know that as well as the vitamins from the raisins, they’re also likely to get a helping of protein from the four fruit fly eggs and one whole insect found in the average box?

Low-fat peanut butter

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If you’re watching your weight, you might opt for low-fat options of some of your favorite treats. However, this isn’t always a great plan. Take peanut butter, for example. The low-fat version sees the most nutritious components – the healthy oils and fats – removed and replaced with sugars and nutritionally-devoid fillers such as maltodextrin.


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While the fermented soy that you’ll find in the likes of miso is good for you, the same isn’t necessarily true of soy protein isolate (SPI). Although deriving from soybeans, SPI is a concentrated form of the protein and is frequently genetically engineered. It’s also a common allergen.

Fizzy drinks

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If you don’t opt for diet versions (which have their own health concerns), the average can of fizzy pop contains six teaspoons of sugar. This is the maximum total amount of sugar recommended per day for an adult woman. Excessive sugar is, of course, associated with weight gain, tooth decay, heart disease, various cancers, diabetes and a whole host of other health issues.

Packaged chicken

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Where do you expect to find saltwater? The ocean, right? Well, how about the packaged chicken you buy from the chiller cabinets at the grocery store? Incredibly, many manufacturers inject their chicken fillets with saline solution to plump it up, and improve its appearance and taste. Unfortunately, in filling the product with extra salt, they’re also risking the health of consumers.

Diet sodas

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If you love your fizzy sodas but are concerned about consuming too much sugar, you’ve probably already switched to diet drinks. However, the aspartame, saccahrin, neotame, and other artificial sweeteners used in place of sugar have their own health warnings. For instance, some are considered carcinogenic.

Red meat

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Much of the red meat sold to US consumers is pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. This is intended to help the animals grow more muscle mass in as short a time as possible, and to protect them from diseases. However, it’s also helping fuel the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and it means that the consumer is devouring a plate of testosterone, progesterone, and e.

Pizza and doughnuts

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As with many commercially-produced food products, it’s common for pizza and doughnuts to contain palm oil. This edible vegetable oil is widely used in the food industry thanks to its stability and versatility. However, it’s also a major cause of deforestation of important habitats. Choosing RSPO-certified products is the best way of ensuring that your pizza isn’t helping deprive an orang-utan of its home.

Instant chicken noodles

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Watch out if your packet of instant chicken noodles states that it is “chicken-flavored”. If so, there’s a good chance that your tasty snack is as suitable for your veggie friend as it is for your meat-loving self. Instead, the chicken taste will come from some combination of salt, soy and a variety of artificial flavorings.

Hot dogs and burgers

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Some processed meat products are made not from cuts of muscle meat but from “mechanically separated meat”. This is the paste-like end-product from a process that sees shreds of flesh left clinging to bones forced at high pressure through a kind of sieve. And, as well as flesh, the paste-like remains will include fragments of bone, sinew and tendons.

Packaged ground beef

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Packaged ground beef that turns brown (as a natural – and harmless – result of the oxidation process) tends to get left on the shelves. To avoid this, some producers still suck out the air from their packages of ground beef (and also other products prone to the same issue, such as tuna and tilapia) and then inject them with carbon monoxide.

Jelly beans

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Jelly beans and other hard, glazed candies achieve their glossy appearance thanks to a substance called shellac. It’s obtained from the secretions of a tiny insect, called the lac bug. Native to parts of India and Thailand, tens of thousands of the insects are required to make just 1 lb of shellac.

Canned tomatoes

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Following health concerns thought to affect the brain and the prostate, a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) was removed from most hard plastics, including baby bottles. However, BPA is still present in the lining of many cans. And, when that can contains something acidic like tomatoes, the BPA leaches into the food.


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Cereal can be a great way to begin the day. However, exactly how great depends on what type of cereal and how processed it is. At one end of the health scale is sugar-free, unprocessed oats. At the other end, we have processed cereals – many deliberately designed to appeal to children – that contain high fructose corn syrup, known to contribute to weight gain and diabetes.