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 ingredients, 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 20-letter disguises.

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

1. Polydimethylsiloxane

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

candy, jelly beans, gelatin, sweetmeat, goody
Abby Mainwaring

Isn't shellac a shiny, glossy coat on cars, or a nail polish, 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 lacca. And when you browse the nutrition facts, keep an eye out — they might call it "confectioner's glaze." Sneaky.

3. Ammonia

meat, pork, beef, sausage, bacon
Andrea Leelike

We know ammonia 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, makes “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, I guess.

4. Gelatin

sweet, tea
Margaret Weinberg

This probably wouldn’t scare you if you found it in an ingredient list. But gelatin (commonly found in Jell-O, yogurt, candy and more) is actually kind of 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 Jell-O, maybe you shouldn’t judge — they read up on the facts.

5. Silicon Dioxide

Beach, sand, toes, Ocean, Summer, beaches, holiday, vacation, Pedicure, sandy
Denise Uy

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 when you go to the beach and get sand in your mouth? And it sucks? Yeah, well, silicon dioxide is a major constituent of sand, and it’s in your food. It is found mostly in powdered foods to absorb any clump forming moisture. 

6. Castoreum

bird, grass
Photo courtesy of @cbcdocs via Instagram

This fancy shmancy word is usually marked on the label as “natural flavoring.” But surprisingly, it's actually 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…

7. Carmine

ice, milk, milkshake, soda, coke, chocolate
Thomas Chou

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.

8. Maggots

mushroom, vegetable, nut
Lisa Xu

Maggots can be found 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. WHAT?

9. “Pink Slime”

beef, meat, pork
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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 actually packaged with your meat. That doesn’t sound too reassuring.

10. Brominated Vegetable Oil

Sammy Mintzer

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

11. Titanium Dioxide

salad, rice, cheese, Dressing, vinegar, balsamic, napkin, fork, carrot, lettuce
Julia Gilman

This sounds like another safe, normal, natural chemical, but 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. Beware — you can also find it in icing and coffee creamer. The use for this icky chemical? To make colors whiter.

12. Phthalates

vegetable, carrot, local produce, fresh vegetables, farmer's market
Sam Jesner

Phthalates aren't usually on the label because there's no label on produce; 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, as some pesticides contain the chemicals.

Most of these chemicals have been deemed safe by the FDA, but still — gross. Next time you're about to dig in, especially if you're eating something processed, you'll know what you're really biting into.