16 July 2010

Human hair as food

The thought may be an appetite killer, but human hair can be used to make an additive that is found in foods such as the dough for pizza crusts and bagels.

Your [hair] is a rich source of L-cysteine, an amino acid that can be extracted from hair and used as a flavour enhancer or flour improver. It is sometimes listed as E920 on food packaging. As well as being found in dough it can be used to give food a meat-like flavour, especially in dog food.

Ten to 15 years ago human hair was a main source of L-cysteine. Producers, mainly based in China, extracted it from hair clippings from salons, even strands collected from hairbrushes.

But as people became more aware of what was in their food, they simply didn't like the thought of human hair having anything to do with what they ate. More Chinese people also started perming their hair, which made extracting the amino acid more difficult...

Now L-cysteine comes mainly from chicken and duck feathers, which can be collected in larger quantities than hair. In recent years it has also started to be manufactured synthetically...

"People find this more palatable," says the spokesman. The synthetic stuff can also be eaten by vegans and is considered by most to be halal and kosher.

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