Friday, June 11, 2010

Hair - It's What's For Dinner

Or: Everything you never wanted to know about L-cysteine

What’s in your morning bagel? If you get it from Noah’s Bagels, it contains either human hair or duck feathers, and it’s your guess as to which. The substance, called L-cysteine or cystine, is used as a dough conditioner to produce a specific consistency. While artificial cysteine is available, it is cost prohibitive and mostly used to create kosher and halal products.

L-Cysteine is used as a reducing agent in bakery products. It is used to:
  1. Reduce the mixing time of the flour dough.
  2. Stop shrinking of pizza crust after it is flattened.
  3. Help move the dough through various bakery processing equipments or dough conditioners.

L-Cystein is used in Bagels, Croissants, Hard Rolls, Cake Donuts (from human hair in Dunkin Donut's cake donuts only, Yeast raised donuts do not contain L-Cysteine), Pita Bread, some Crackers and Melba Toast. It is also used as a nutrient in baby milk formula and dietary supplements.

Many consumers are unaware they are eating hair additives everyday in popular products such as Lunchables, TasteyKakes, Cajun food maker Zatarian’s, as well as products like cigarettes and Emergen-C. Cereal maker Kellogg's no longer uses L-cys in Pop-Tarts, while Safeway said that they use "duck feathers" for in-house bakery goods.

The source of L-Cysteine is human hair, chicken feathers, cow horn, petroleum by-products and synthetic material. L-Cysteine is manufactured in Japan, China and Germany only. Human hair is the cheapest source for L-cysteine.

Mother Jones first brought large-scale attention to this situation in an article earlier this year.

You can read more about L-cysteine and other food additives here.

Read more about why Lunchables are anything but lunchable here.

If you have the time, you should really read all of the above articles. They are such an eye-opener. The more I look into perfectly legal and often "natural" food additives, the more bizarre and disgusting things I discover.

This issue yet again proves the need for feeding our family foods that are as close to the source as possible. Whenever you can, try to cook from scratch with such ingredients as meat and dairy produced by small local ranchers, fresh local produce, and whole grains that you yourself mill and process into your baked goods. Boxed, prepackaged, processed foods should be eliminated from our diets as much as possible. One figure I read said that average Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their food budget on processed foods.


  1. Thank you for this post... I do not cook very often, so I mostly eat takeout, and bagels are one of my favorite things. I think I'm going to have to look into what goes into my food a little more, because, well, yuk. I don't want to eat duck feathers, that's just disgusting.

    Do you know whether or not I can find out whether a restaurant uses this additive in their food online?

  2. Ewwww...that's just NASTINESS!

    One of the reasons I check in and read your blog is because I learn so much! Thanks for keeping my head out of the sand. :)

  3. Thanks for sharing this. Keep coming with information we can all use. I recall seeing, but could be wrong, L-Cystein being used in some otc supplements. I didn't know how that compound is made. BLECH.

  4. I thought it was "'s what's for dinner..." LOL...totally kidding..I know what you meant. It really is disgusting when you think of all of the things that are added to the food of today. But funny thing about that is the public (in general) demands fast, easy food and with it comes all that crap, disease, obesity, blah blah blah.

    The average American will complain about all of those things being in the food, yet how much money does that same person spend eating fast food or better yet microwavable meals. I'm not saying that's you...I know you cook from scratch, organic, etc etc.

  5. Thanks for your post. I try to cook at home as much as possible but I just cannot seem to get into the groove like you do. I am a long time reader (not often commentor) and I posted this information on my blog with a link to you as the original source. I seem to recall you having some issue with blog linking before so wanted to mention it. The post can be found at

  6. the sad thing is I am eating lunchables while I read this

  7. L-cysteine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the subunits of proteins. So you find cysteine in a lot of different kinds of proteins

    Keratin is an important source of cysteine. Keratin also is used to make gelatin. And where do we get keratin? Horse hooves, beef bones, feathers and hair.

    I honestly do not see the big deal here. The homespun way of making gelatin is to boil skin, bones and hooves. Our grandmothers did this. They used that gelatin to make confections, mousses, aspics, consomme and so much more.

    So why is it so frightening to take it one step further to isolate the cysteine from the protein?

    If you are afraid of cysteine, then do you also oppose lysine supplements that are a common remedy for cold sores?

    I am not saying you should eat processed junk. I just think some of the apprehension is misguided.

  8. It's unclean according to the Bible because it comes from an unclean animal, the duck. Read Leviticus 11 to learn about what you can and cannot eat


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