I’m going to be honest with you – our food is gross. By using terms such as “natural flavoring” or long, weird words, companies get away with putting the most disgusting, incredibly awful things in our food.

It’s one thing to add pine needles to cookies, eat weird snack pairings, or put eggs in your coffee because you want to. It’s another thing to not even know what’s in the food you eat. The labels are hiding the truth behind twenty-letter disguises.

Here’s a breakdown of those long, unpronounceable and confusing words on the back of your favorite snacks.

1. Polydimethylsiloxane


Photo courtesy of ocmomblog.com

What’s this food additive? Basically, this very long name means it’s the same thing as Silly Putty. You can find this additive in most fast food and fountain drinks. It can also be used in caulks and adhesives. Tasty. You just learned a new word today.

2. Shellac


Photo by Devon Russell

Isn’t shellac a shiny, glossy coat on cars, or paint, or something? Well, recheck your label – it’s also on jelly beans, candy corn and any glazed candy. But this shiny substance isn’t some sort of sugar – it’s a secretion from a Thailand insect, Kerria laca. And when you browse the nutrition facts, keep an eye out: they call it “confectioner’s glaze.” Sneaky.

3. Methylparaben


Photo by Devon Carlson

Words this long are usually preservatives, and in this case it’s true. Methylparaben keeps your wine (and beer) tasting fresh. But take note: how does it accomplish this magical, magnificent feat? This tasty additive is a pheromone found in dogs’ vaginas when they’re aroused. Bet you’ll be checking ingredients on your wine bottles from now on.

4. Ammonia


Photo by Kelda Baljon

You know, ammonia. We know it as the toxic chemical used to clean stuff and kill germs when you’re tidying up around the house. But here, it’s the toxic chemical to get rid of the germs in your meat. Companies spray meat with ammonia to kill bacteria before packaging, which, as a result, make “pink slime.” Um, gross. Plus, it’s rarely if ever on the label. You just got to take a deep breath and accept that you’re eating it.

5. Gelatin


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This probably wouldn’t scare you if you found it in an ingredient list. But what is gelatin (commonly found in Jello, yogurt, candy and more), and what makes it so gross? Gelatin is actually made from collagen – a protein taken from animal skins, often pigs. So next time a vegan or vegetarian opts out of the Jello, maybe you shouldn’t judge. They read up on the facts.

6. Silicon Dioxide


Photo by Dave Toussaint

This sounds like a salt or some nice naturally-occurring compound. In a way, it is. But not one you’d want to eat. You know how sometimes you go to the beach and get sand in your mouth? And it sucks? Yeah, well, silicon dioxide is sand, and it’s in your food. It is found mostly in liquids like coffee creamer or soup to help absorb humidity.

7. Castoreum


Photo courtesy of thestar.com

This fancy shmancy phrase is usually marked on the label as “natural flavoring.” I call it beaver anal gland secretions. Used to flavor food (and in perfumes, too), these glands are located near the beaver’s butt. Sometimes, it includes the beaver’s urine. And under the guise of “natural flavoring,” who even knows what foods it’s used in…

8. Carmine


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Bugs! Bugs everywhere! Carmine is a red food coloring made out of boiling or grounding up cochineal bugs, a type of beetle. Basically, if you want to avoid them, avoid any artificial red coloring. Mostly, that means drinks like a Starbucks Strawberries and Creme Frapp or anything artificially pink or red – most of the time with these drinks, you don’t even have a nutrition label to read.  “Strawberry” and “raspberry” are officially off-limits.

9. Maggots


Photo by Stephanie DeVaux

In your canned mushrooms. And they’re not even listed in the ingredients. As long as there aren’t too many, the FDA is totally okay with it. Just saying.

10. “Pink Slime”


Photo courtesy of nbcnews.com

Another ingredient you won’t find on the packaging. Remember that Spongebob episode where they make the Krabby Patties out of the that sludgey slime stuff? Well, they weren’t too far off. Pink slime, as it’s so beautifully called, is added to packaged meats as filler. It contains connective tissue and no muscle, so it was claimed “not meat.” But it’s packaged with your meat. That doesn’t sound too reassuring.

11. Brominated Vegetable Oil


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Keep an eye out for this one: Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, is a toxic flame retardant. And chances are, it’s in your favorite drink. It keeps artificial flavors from separating from the rest of the other liquid. My advice? Stick to water.

12. Titanium Dioxide


Photo by Cava Grill

This sounds like another safe, normal, natural chemical. Guess again. If you’re a fan of salad dressing, you might want to scale back. A lot of dressings contain titanium dioxide, which, aside from sounding pretty scary, is also used in sunblock and paint. You can also find it in icing and coffee creamer. The use for this icky chemical? To make colors whiter.

13. Phthalates


Photo by Kristine Auble

And here there’s no label at all, no warning about what you’re eating. Bite into your produce like you might bite into a vinyl shower curtain or suck on your shampoo – it’s basically all the same. Phthalates are plasticizing chemicals you can find in most fruits and vegetables. Possible causes? Sewage sludge or maybe even just pesticides that contain the chemicals.

And there’s a boatload of problems these chemicals bring in. They can cause eczema, behavioral issues, asthma, allergies, and can also harm our hormones. So dig in.