“Soylent Green is made out of people. They’re making our food out of people. We’ve gotta stop them somehow!”
Confession: this is the most fun I’ve had brainstorming a post title. Sadly, it’s not clickbait, there’s nothing sensational about the title. A lot of yummy store-bought carbs (purposely) contain an additive sourced from human hair, animal feathers, hog bristles, or occasionally cow horns. It’s called L-cysteine.
L-cysteine is a non-essential amino acid that has strong antioxidant and anti-aging properties. It is good for the immune system and helps keep hair and nails healthy due to its role in synthetizing protein. Natural sources are highest in soybeans (655 mg per 100 g), sunflower seeds (451 mg per 100 g), and chicken eggs (272 mg per 100 g). If you’re a meat eater, pork, salmon, and chicken average about 220 mg per 100 g.
Reuse & Recycle 2.0
But the L-cys I am blogging about today serves a different purpose and comes from another source: the floors of hair salons in China.
China is the number one trade partner of the United States. Why? Because so many products can be had at a great price, including barbershop hair clippings. These are swept up and collected by laboratories, dissolved in a big vat of hydrochloric acid, then sold to commercial bakeries across the US and beyond for use as dough conditioner and shelf-life extender in many, many bread products including bagels, breads, and ready-to-bake pizza dough.
Why hair? Because it’s packed with L-cysteine. People hair is 20% L-cys by volume, double that found in animal hair or feathers, though these are used when the supply of human locks runs low.
Less Hairy Sources
There are versions made from less human sources like vegetables and sugar, but they are more expensive to produce and command only about 10% of the market share. Synthetic L-cysteine is out there but it’s not so popular because it can’t be labeled “natural” like food products containing the Homo sapiens version.
Don’t want to wonder what and where the ingredients in your baked goods are coming from? Hit up a local baker or make your own stuff. Flour does not contain this additive. Plus it will have a lot less other mysterious junk in it.
For me, this discovery is but a single slice in the problem pizza that is mass production for cheap consumption. My solution: vote with your dollar. Buy locally from people who use normal ingredients and who take pride in the food they make, like the good old days I wasn’t alive to experience.
In the end, maybe a bit of hair in our food is not so bad. It is natural, after all. And it beats ingesting more carcinogenic, unpronounceable chemicals, right? Or does it? I’d like to hear your thoughts.