Secret Ingredients in Your Favorite Foods

Ingredients you may not have known were in some of your favorite food products

Do you really know what is in your chicken nuggets?

A doctor friend of ours pooh-poohs fears about chemicals in our food. “Everything is made up of chemicals,” he says. He’s right, of course, and in that spirit we offer this article, with a warning that if the idea of weird stuff being in your food bothers you, you might not want to read on.

Click here for the Secret Ingredients in Your Favorite Foods Slideshow

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Chicken McNuggets
Good news: a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget does contain chicken. But it’s not the main ingredient—not even close. According to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a McNugget is made up of 38 ingredients, mostly chemicals and corn derivatives. In total, a McNugget is 56 percent corn products. But 0.02 percent is tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum byproduct used as a preservative. TBHQ is actually butane, also known as lighter fluid.
Cool Whip
Though it’s often used as a substitute for whipped cream, Cool Whip contains no cream and no milk. The only dairy in the product is a milk protein called sodium caseinate. Instead of milk, Cool Whip uses a combination of ingredients, including water, corn syrup, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil, which have a much longer shelf life.
Red Bull
The main ingredient in energy drinks like Red Bull and RockStar that revs you up isn’t caffeine. In fact, an 8.5-ounce can has only about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. The “energy” actually comes from taurine, a stimulant much more potent than caffeine. Today taurine is synthesized in laboratories, but it was first discovered by German scientists in 1827, as a naturally occurring substance in the bile of oxen.
As milk hardens into cheese, it leaves behind a liquid byproduct called whey. Many cheese manufacturers just threw the whey in the garbage, until Kraft found a use for it. With an added stabilizing agent called carrageenin—a derivative of Irish moss—the whey can be processed into a soft, spongy cheesy brick, better known as Velveeta.
Polysorbate 60 is one of many chemical compounds in a Twinkie. One of the ingredients in polysorbate 60 is ethylene oxide, a highly flammable material that’s toxic if consumed in extremely high amounts. It was used in grenades during the Vietnam War.
Jamba Juice, one the country’s biggest fruit-smoothie chains, offers a non-dairy option for customers who are allergic to milk. Amazingly, the second most prevalent ingredient in the non-dairy blend: nonfat dried milk.
Magic Shell
A chocolate-flavored ice cream topping similar to chocolate syrup or fudge sauce, Magic Shell hardens into a thick candy shell when it’s poured over ice cream. (Similar to the chocolate coating on Dairy Queen’s chocolate-dipped cones.) How does the chocolate liquid harden? The effect comes from a mixture of soybean oil and paraffin wax, a petroleum product also commonly used in candles and skin cream.