1. “Painted” olives In February, Italian police seized 85,000 tonnes of olives “painted” green with copper sulphate. The olives were from previous years’ harvests and had lost their colour—so someone had the bright idea to give them a fresh coat of paint. Copper sulphate is often used in pesticides, and overexposure can cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
2. Shellacked jelly beans Shellac is a resin secreted by the female Lac beetle and it’s used to give candy, like jelly beans, their hard-coated shine. It’s also the wood finish on your dining room chairs.
3.“Brown” bread Before you pat yourself on the back for switching to whole wheat bread, check the package. Some loaves marketed as “wheat bread” are just white breads dyed brown. Look instead for the words “whole grain” or “whole wheat.”
4. No-clump cheese Wood pulp and cotton create powdered cellulose, which is added to shredded cheese to prevent clumping. We wonder if it would work as well on mascara.
5. Perpetually pink meat Carbon monoxide inhibits oxidation (which is what turns fresh meat from pink to brown), so it’s injected back into the packaging once all the air has been removed. It’s not a common practice anymore, in part due to concerns that it makes meat look fresh even after it has spoiled.
6. Bright yellow butter Butter’s creamy colour comes, in large part, from the amount of beta-carotene consumed by cattle. In the summer months when the cows are out to pasture, butter is a more vibrant yellow. In the winter, it’s typically paler yellow—unless producers add extra beta-carotene or another dye to give it a boost.
7. Powdery coffee creamer You can find it on the beach, in those packets in your new handbag, and in your coffee creamer: silicon dioxide. Despite its scary-sounding name, it’s a natural, safe-to-ingest compound. It removes moisture, so it’s also added to salts to prevent clumping.
8. Smooth chocolate milk You’ve probably seen carrageenan on some ingredient lists. It’s a seaweed extract that works as a thickening agent and emulsifier. It’s added to chocolate milk to prevent the milk from separating from the cocoa, but you’ll also find it in everything from veggie dogs to personal lubricants.
9. Whiter sugar Bone char—produced by, you guessed it, charring animal bones—is used as a decolourizing filter to turn naturally brown sugar into white. A nasty shock for many sweet-toothed vegans.
10. Clear beer Isinglass is a form of collagen produced in the swim bladder of a fish. It’s added to beer to remove the residue yeast and solid particles that give beer its hazy colour. Cheers!
11. “Plumped” chicken Nope, this isn’t a bad Botox job. Manufacturers inject salt water into raw meat—usually chicken—to enhance flavour, increase its weight, and make it look juicier. But so-called “plumped” chicken can have over six times the amount of sodium of non-plumped chicken.
12. Insect dyes Carmine and cochineal extract are made from the dried bodies of the female cochineal bug. They’re used to dye food red or pink—you’ll find it in fruit drinks, ice creams, yogurt and candy.
13. Waxy apples Do your apples glisten under the kitchen lights? That sheen comes from a wax coating designed to prevent spoilage and dehydration. (It doesn’t hurt their display appearance, either.)
14. De-greening oranges Sometimes oranges will become fully ripe while their peels are still green. To make sure the fruit lives up to its namesake colour, it’s sprayed with ethylene gas, which destroys chlorophyll in the peels, or a dye will be added to the skins.
15. Pinker salmon The distinctive pinky-orange colour was named after the fish—but what if the fish was really grey? Wild salmon’s pink colour comes from the krill and shrimp they eat, but farmed salmon don’t eat krill. Instead, farmers add a compound called astaxanthin to farmed salmon’s diet, turning grey fish a ruddy hue.