12 Funky Food Facts We Never Needed To Know

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Vote up the bizarre facts about foods that have you side-eying your plate.

The foods we eat may be purchased at the grocery store, ordered at a restaurant, or procured in some other fashion, but eating is a part of daily life. Historically speaking, food has been a luxury, a gift, or a limited resource, but throughout it all, food has remained an essential part of life. 

You probably have some favorite edibles - junk foods, snacks from your childhood, or something you like that no one else does. Learning new things about the viands we eat every day can be a fun exercise, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. We discovered a few funky food facts that have us rethinking our orders, rewriting our grocery lists, and reconsidering what we put on our plates.

Proceed with caution - you may never look at food the same way again. 

  • Most Gummy Bears Are Made Out Of Pig Flesh And Bones
    Photo: ThoBel-0043 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    The gelatin used in Jell-O, gummy candies, marshmallows, and any other comparable food usually derives from animal products - specifically the collagen found in the flesh and bones of pigs

    When pigs and the like are slaughtered for meat, the remnants of their bodies are boiled and broken down into a gelatinous substance. This is then flavored, colored, and mixed with sugar, corn starch, and other ingredients to make sweets in various shapes, sizes, and forms.

    Non-animal gelatin does exist and derives from vegetable gums and seaweed extract.

  • The Food Defect Levels Handbook from the US Food & Drug Administration lays out guidelines for how much mold, how many maggots, the number of animal hairs, and what amount of insect damage is acceptable for consumer food products.

    When it comes to mold, the FDA employs the Howard mold count method, which uses a measuring cell to determine mold contamination on a microscopic level. According to the FDA, tomato paste, soup, and comparable products are considered satisfactory as long as mold counts sit below 40% to 45%. Tomato ketchup can possess up to 55% average mold counts, while tomato powder goes as high as 67%. 

    Some canned and frozen vegetables and fruits can contain certain percentages of rotten material - it ranges from 5% to 7% - while ground oregano can average up to 1,250 insect fragments per 10 grams before being deemed defective. 

  • Pineapple contains a mixture of two enzymes called bromelain, a substance that breaks down proteins. Bromelain is also found in meat tenderizers due to its efficacy in digesting protein.

    When you consume bromelain in pineapple, the enzyme eats away at the proteins in your mouth. Combine this with the acidity of the fruit itself, and you get that a tingle, a twinge, or even a burning on your tongue or other parts of your mouth.

    Pineapples are the lone possessors of bromelain, with two different types: what's in the stems digests proteins better than that found in the fruit. Similarly, kiwifruit contains actinidin, papaya has papain, and figs possess ficin - all enzymes with comparable digestive properties.

  • Many foods are radioactive, but bananas are high on the list due to their abundance of potassium. Bananas contain the radioactive isotope potassium-40, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the radiation level is minimal, and it would take an exorbitant number of bananas to cause any harm. 

    Exposure to radiation is measured in sieverts (Sv), but the presence of radioactive isotopes in bananas has resulted in an informal way to note radiation exposure - the Banana Equivalent Dose. One BED is what you'd take in after eating one banana.

    Brazil nuts, butter beans, avocados, and potatoes all fall into the top 10 most naturally radioactive foods.

  • Those Black Lines On Shrimp Aren't Veins
    Photo: SungMinSeung / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    Shrimp eat living and decaying algae, plants, worms, and other bits floating in the waters near them - and sometimes consume the excrement of other living creatures. When shrimp are caught, killed, and sold to consumers, the remnants of their omnivorous eating habits are still visible in what are generally thought to be veins. 

    There may be a vein or artery visible - as well as nerves - in a raw shrimp, but the most prominent "vein" is actually the intestinal tract. The black substance is fecal matter. Removing this line and its contents may be called deveining, but it's really a "de-pooping."

    It's not essential to devein shrimp before consuming it, but not doing so may change the flavor of the shrimp itself.

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    Confectioner's Glaze Is Made Of Bug Secretions

    Confectioner's glaze, also known as shellac, is what keeps candy and other sweets shiny, essentially serving as a varnish to the goodie. You may not give shellac much thought, but it's actually derived from the secretions of the lac bug (Kerria lacca) - hence the name.

    Female lac insects take in sap from specific types of trees - often in either the Fabaceae (legume) family or the Rosales (rose) order. They absorb it as food, lay eggs, and then excrete the sap. When air combines with the excretions, it becomes hard, and in theory, protects the eggs. It's at that point workers scrape the coating off the trees, refine it, and process it for a variety of products. 

    Candy corn, for example, is covered in shellac (adding to its vilification each October), as are jelly beans, and chocolates like Milk Duds and Raisinets. Skittles removed shellac from its product in 2009, but some Skittles still contain Red 40 - a dye derived from carmine, which comes from cochineal insects, also called scale insects.

    Sometimes called "beetle juice," carmine doesn't contain any actual bugs, but rather is extracted from female cochineal insects when they're crushed.