Cochinilla del carmín (Dactylopius coccus) is the source of the red food dye many of us eat on a daily basis.

Maggots, feces and rodent hair are a few of the gross food ingredients you might be eating without knowing it. There’s plenty of gross food made or allowed in production. It can be natural or processed foods. Does your veggie burger contain magnesium cabonate, a chemical used in flooring and fireproofing? Certain all-natural ingredients are  just as stomach-turning. Maybe you’re squeamish about disgusting food? Or maybe you’re an extreme adventurous eater?  We’re here to help. We compiled a list of gross foods. So, if you don’t mind losing your appetite, read on!

A female cochineal bug gets its red color from Prickly Pear Cactuses. They are harvested and dried. Cosmetics, food and fabrics are a few of their uses.

Gross Food Facts

1. Red Bugs

Artificial red food dyes are linked to many cancers. Many are banned in the United States. So, many us welcome natural red dye. The only issue: This one is made with Cochineal bugs. It goes by the names carmine, cochineal extract or natural red 4. This is how it’s made: The female cochineal bug is harvested from prickly pear cactuses. They are then dried and turned into dyes.  Pottery, fabric, cosmetics and paint all use the natural dye. You can find it everything from Yoplait yogurt to juices, popsicles, candy, canned tomatoes or cherries. Not everyone is on board with it though. Starbucks now uses lycopene a tomato-based extract for coloring after its customers made a stink about cochineal. 

Many popular brands of ranch dressing contain titanium dioxide. Consider making your own if you can’t find one without.

2. Sunscreen salad dressing

Titanium dioxide is in lotions and sun screens and is also found in ranch dressing to give it a white color. The Food & Drug Association allows Titanium dioxide as long as it composes less than 1 percent of the food product’s ingredient list. Critics claim titanium dioxide damages your DNA and your immune system.

The FDA allows for a certain number of rodent hairs in canned foods.

3. Insect legs, rodent hair and feces

If you think grocery stores sell only perfect food, think again. This FDA guide lays out just how many insect parts, rat droppings and hair is allowed in everyday foods. The list includes herbs, flours, grains and canned foods. For instance, the FDA says it’s OK to have up to 3 rodent hairs per 100 grams of apple butter. Meanwhile, apple butter can contain an average of 4 whole or equivalent insects. This doesn’t count mites, aphids, thrips, or scale insects per 100 grams. Popcorn also allows for  rodent droppings, hairs and gnawed grains.

Canned mushrooms and tomatoes may contain fly eggs or maggots.  For instance, mushrooms are allowed to have an average of 19 maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms.

A worker harvests wild civet droppings. Partially digested coffee beans become the expensive koi luwak coffee. Photo credit: National Geographic

4. Coffee made from animal poop

One of the most expensive coffees in the world comes from animal poop. Credit goes to the Southeast Asian cat-like Civet, also called a luwak. A civet eats coffee beans and then defecates partially digested beans to make Kopi luwak coffee. The coffee beans go through the fermentation process as they travel through the civet’s digestive system. Workers hand-pick the partially digested beans. They then wash and dry and roast the beans to make the coffee.

What makes the coffee so good? Civets only eat the best coffee beans (or cherries). This results in a coffee with a unique aroma and taste. A 2.4 oz bag of  Wild Kopi Luwak coffee is $60 on Amazon. However, critics warn that it’s not worth the price. Wild civet coffee is hard to find because it’s labor intensive. So, more coffee growers are producing it with caged civets or not being honest about their practices.

Italy prohibits the sale or purchase of casu marzu cheese. It is only sold on the Island of Sardinia.

5. Cheese with maggots

There’s a good reason casu marzu has the title “world’s most dangerous cheese” from the Guinness World Records. It is filled with maggots. The Italian island of Sardinia is famous for this cheese. It’s made when the cheesemonger allows cheese skipper flies to infest a locally made cheese. It’s  usually a round of pecorino, which is a hard, sheep-milk cheese. When the maggots hatch, they break down the cheese proteins and turn it into a soft cheese.

Serving the cheese

Serving the cheese is a production. People carve out a soft section untouched by maggots. They also cream the critters into the cheese. Or the truly brave eat a mouthful of the wiggling maggoty cheese on a cracker. Italy prohibits selling or buying this cheese because dead maggots can make you sick. However, tourists can still find it, as locals are proud of their cheese tradition. Other regions of Italy has their own version of the maggot cheese.

So, whether you’re a gross-food thrill seeker or get disgusted easily, it’s good  to know what’s really in your food.

-Patty Yeager

Patty Yeager is the managing editor of Smart Lifebites. Her stories include: 5 Cool things you probably didn’t know about pecans and Fake meat coming to a hamburger bun near you soon.


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