When we look at food labels today, we expect that what we read is what we’re eating. Food quality standards are increasingly getting higher and regulations are getting tougher. What you may not consider harmful, however, are natural flavors and foods. While most of the produce we eat, for example, can be cleaned well enough in your kitchen sink to remain harmless, there are just some gross add-ons we sometimes don’t know we’re eating. Here are some of the pollutants, and disturbing things found in nature that may make their way onto your plates.
Slightly Creepy Natural Flavors
Fun or not so fun fact about beavers is that their anal secretions taste similar to vanillin, which is what gives vanilla it’s signature flavor. Beavers were actually almost extinct due to the amount of hunting for this precious flavoring. Thankfully for beavers and for all of us really, chemists in Germany found that the conifer also produced vanillin which could be extracted for vanilla at the end of the 19th century. Synthetic vanillin now makes up the majority of vanilla produced today. According to Business Insider, 95% of vanilla used in foods today comes from vanillin.
Rennet is another rather disturbing natural ingredient. Rennet comes from the mucous membrane of calves, goats, and lambs and is used to separate milk into curds as part of the manufacturing process. While rennet is still used to this day, mold, plants, and bacterial fermentation are becoming more common.
Pollution And Natural Contaminants
The more natural our food desires become, the higher our chances of ingesting some unsettling but mostly harmless extras. Mould, parasites, insects, dirt, feces, and rodent hair can all be found in food directly from the earth. This is something to think about when purchasing your next round of fruits and vegetables from the farmers market. Although there may not be any chemical additives, you may be unwittingly ingesting some surprises from the earth. Washing and inspecting everything thoroughly can remove most of these without any issue.
Pollutants such as mercury is a major source of destruction and pollution today. When industrial waste finds it’s way into the sea, a process called bioaccumulation occurs. This is the natural process in which smaller fish are eaten by bigger fish and they continue up the food chain. The larger the fish, the more mercury can be found.
For this reason, pregnant women are discouraged from eating large quantities of bigger fish such as mackerel, tuna, and sharks. Because of their size, these fish may contain higher amounts of mercury than a smaller fish. Eating large amounts of these fish often may cause pregnant women to eat an unhealthy level of mercury. Generally, eating seafood is encouraged while pregnant and this only posses a problem when large amounts of these bigger fish are consumed.
Typically, we hear about mercury, lead, and arsenic being leaked into the environment in the headlines. What you don’t often hear about are the natural pollutants and toxins that are found in nature. Certain flowers, for example, can contain toxic substances that honey bees collect while making honey. Consumption of this honey is rare but it can have pretty serious side effects.
Botulinum toxin is one of the most toxic substances that can form on food that hasn’t been preserved well enough. Food contaminated with this can cause botulism. Botulism causes the malfunctioning of the nervous system leading to paralysis and death. You may find this toxin in honey which is why doctors in the United States discourage giving honey to infants under the age of one. Adults can typically fight off this bacteria without even knowing. The immune system of an infant isn’t able to as easily.
It’s important to remember the fresher and more natural your food the better. Despite some unsettling additives provided by Mother Nature, you can often wash off anything left in the sink before you eat it and ingesting most of these in trace amounts is completely harmless.