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What the Mysterious Ingredients in Your Food Actually Look Like

What Food Ingredients Really Look Like

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In the new book, Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products (out September 29), Dwight Eschliman and Steve Ettlinger dive into common food additives, explaining their history, use, and chemical makeup. Curious what's really in your food (and what it looks like?) Read on to find out.

Carrageenan

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Carrageenan is often found under the list of ingredients in dairy-product alternatives like nut milks, coconut yogurts, and soy ice creams. It's extracted from seaweed, and can be made at home by boiling red seaweed wrapped in cheesecloth, eventually forming a gel when cooled. When made industrially, the gel is dried into a powder. It keeps fats and proteins bound together to create a smooth texture. (We asked our Diet Doctor: Is Carrageenan Okay to Eat?)

Photo: Dwight Eschliman / Regan Arts

Lycopene

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Found in pink grapefruit, paprika, guava, watermelon, and asparagus, lycopene is most often extracted from tomatoes and used in food products to enhance color. It's even used as a nutritional supplement for its antioxidant benefits.

Photo: Dwight Eschliman / Regan Arts

Yellow No. 5

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Also known as tartrazine, the dye is made by combining petrolium products with sodium hydroxide to create a neutral salt similar to Epsom salt. Food Babe petitionted to get the extract removed from Kraft mac 'n cheese because of it's supposed link to asthma, migraines, and cancer. (Which explains why mac 'n cheese is one of the 9 Common Foods That Contain Toxic Ingredients.)

Photo: Dwight Eschliman / Regan Arts

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

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The glutamate is mostly thought of with Chinese restaurants, which author Steve Ettinger credits to a 1968 report in which one person had a bad reaction to Chinese food, and the symptoms were guessed to have been a reaction to MSG (although no definitive connection has ever been established). The ingredient is naturally found in tomatoes and mushrooms, and responsible for their meaty flavor (also known as "umami"). Glutamates are used in condiments like Marmite and salad dressing as a flavor enhancer. You can find MSG by the bag in Asian food markets. Check out these 5 Low-Calorie Chinese Dishes next time you go.

Photo: Dwight Eschliman / Regan Arts

Mono- and Diglycerides

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These glycerdies are made from natural fat such as vegetable oil and hydrolized (hit with hot and pressurized water) then seperated into fatty acids and dried into a flake or powder. "Like most of these additives, they're not meant to be eaten in raw form," book photographer Dwight Eschliman explains, "they can make your eyes water a bit." Mono and diglycerides are used in butter substitutes and peanut butter as an emulsifier to keep fat and water together. (Of course, not all of food ingredients are weird. Check out these 8 Scary-Sounding Ingredients That Are Actually Safe.)

Photo: Dwight Eschliman / Regan Arts

Diacetyl

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The main ingredient responsible for movie popcorn's artificial butter flavor, Eschilman found that in concentrated amounts, it also stinks. "With only 10ml of it; half a soda can, my assistant had to leave the room. It smells like a sweet hospital antiseptic," Eschliman says. Diacetyl is made from natural gas, and some producers create dedicated buildings just to house the flavorant because of its smell. (You may want to reconsider eating popcorn or anything else that contains these 7 Crazy Food Additives You Probably Missed on the Nutrition Label.)

Photo: Dwight Eschliman / Regan Arts

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