Deciphering food labels is tricky business. They're filled with lots of multisyllabic words that border on being impossible to pronounce, chemicals that sound like they could kill you just by touching them, and much, much worse. Read on, unless you've eaten recently ...
Most everyone is familiar with shellac as a wood-finishing product. It's often used to give furniture, guitars and even AK-47's that special shine. But did you know it is also commonly used as a food additive? Yep, that's why those jelly beans you gorge on every Easter are so shiny.
But what exactly is shellac?
Are you sure you want to know?
Shellac is derived from the excretions of the Kerria lacca insect, most commonly found in the forests of Thailand.
The Kerria lacca uses the sticky excretion as a means to stick to the trees on which it lives. Candy makers use it to make those treats you love so much shiny and beautiful. Then you eat them. The insects that is.
You see, the process used to harvest the Kerria lacca excretion is a pretty simple one. They just scrape that shit right off the tree. Unfortunately for you and your future enjoyment of shiny candies, this leaves little room for quality control measures to guarantee that the insects themselves aren't scooped up also.Once that happens, and it almost always does, the insect simply becomes part of the shellac-making process. And the candy-making process. And the candy-eating process.
Before some health nut out there pipes up to tell us they don't eat candy, we'd like to point out that, during the cleaning process, apples lose their natural shine. Care to guess how it's restored?
If all of this is making you a bit queasy, we understand. It's not every day that you find out you've been celebrating the resurrection of Christ by consuming handfuls of insect-infused treats your entire life. But before you head to the medicine cabinet, consider this. That pill you want to take to quell your nausea? It didn't get shiny on its own. Alright, we swear, this is the last time we'll mention that you've been eating insects for a good majority of your life.
Some things are not as they seem. Just like Keith Richards appears to be alive but has really been dead for years, that sugar you put on your cereal in the morning isn't really white. Or at least it doesn't start out that way.
When it starts its sweet, delicious life, sugar is brown--a color deemed to be "undesirable" by the sugar industry. Don't be such racialists, sugar industry! To make their product more acceptable to whitey, sugar companies use a filtering process to strip it of its color. In some cases, the process is a typically boring one, using ions and such. But sugar derived from sugar cane (about a quarter of the sugar in the United States) goes through a ... different process.
Domino, the largest sugar producer in America, uses bone char to filter impurities from its sugar. Bone char is delightfully produced using the bones of cows from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan that have died from "natural causes," like when cows forget to wear a helmet when riding their motorcycles.
The bones are bleached in the sun and sold to marketers who then sell them to the US sugar industry after they've been used by the gelatin industry. What the gelatin industry does with the bones, we don't want to know. The bones are then heated to the point that they become a perfect means of filtering sugar.
We don't know by what alchemy this method purifies the sugar, we're certainly no scientists. But when you tell us that your purification method involves the ground-up bones of a sacrificed animal, well, we're just going to assume Satan is involved.