hairybread-feature If you read the ingredients label on a loaf of bread, you will usually find an ingredient listed there as L-cysteine.

This is a non-essential amino acid added to many baked goods as a dough conditioner in order to speed industrial processing. It’s usually not added directly to flour intended for home use, but you’ll find it throughout commercial breads such as pizza dough, bread rolls and pastries.

While some L-cysteine is directly synthesized in laboratories, most of it is extracted from a cheap and abundant natural protein source: human hair.

The hair is dissolved in acid and L-cysteine is isolated through a chemical process, then packaged and shipped off to commercial bread producers. Besides human hair, other sources of L-cysteine include chicken feathers, duck feathers, cow horns and petroleum byproducts.

Most of the hair used to make L-cysteine is gathered from the floors of barbershops and hair salons in China, by the way.

Hair, however, is not the only commercial source of l-cysteine. Poultry feathers also contain substantial amounts of l-cystine, and are often processed in the same manner as hair for this purpose. While the thought of eating dissolved hair might make some people uneasy, most Western consumers ultimately have no principled objections doing so. For Jews and Muslims, however, hair-derived L-cysteine poses significant problems.

Muslims are forbidden from eating anything derived from a human body, and many rabbis forbid hair consumption for similar reasons. Even rabbis who permit the consumption of hair would forbid it if it came from corpses – and since much L-cysteine comes from China, where sourcing and manufacturing practices are notoriously questionable, this is a real concern. In one case, a rabbi forbade the consumption of L-cysteine because the hair had been harvested during a ritual at a temple in India.

June 2011 Update: Situation is still the same
L-Cysteine in Bread Products Still Mostly Sourced from Human Hair, Duck Feathers, Hog Hair
By Vegetarian Resource Group

The VRG recently surveyed food ingredient manufacturers and suppliers as well as bread and bagel companies to find out if the animal sources of the common amino acid dough conditioner and human and pet food reaction flavor used to make flavor enhancers, L-cysteine, were still dominant in the marketplace as they were in 2007 when we last reported on L-cysteine. The answer was a resounding “yes.”

One leading amino acid supplier reported to us in February 2011 that “duck feathers or human hair” were the sources, based on an official statement received from its Chinese supplier.

A product manager with another food ingredients company reported to The VRG in August 2010 that “it’s not human hair, not duck feathers, that’s the major source of L-cysteine today; it’s hog hair.” He estimated hog hair to be the source of 90% of the Chinese L-cysteine supply.

A manager of company that produces non-animal L-cysteine stated in September 2010 that the major animal source of L-cysteine today was “human hair mostly” followed by “duck feathers or hog hair when the human hair supply was low.” According to this source, feathers and hog hair “are reportedly inefficient compared to [human] hair [in yielding great quantities of L-cysteine]. So if there is a problem with hair [supply], then hog hair or feathers may be a backup.”

In September 2010, the VRG asked companies that produce non-animal versions of L-cysteine how their product was doing on the market. Estimates given by the leading companies put the vegetable-based fermentation or synthetic product at approximately 10% of the L-cysteine market today. The reason given for the low market share is the high price of non-animal L-cysteine (two to three times as much) compared to the much cheaper and much more plentiful Chinese (and Indian, to a lesser but growing degree), supply.

A second reason given is that a growing number of food companies are demanding a “natural” product and a “synthetic” L-cysteine does not meet that criterion. Furthermore, a major reseller of L-cysteine told us in September 2010 that the company policy is to label anything using an animal-derived (i.e., hair or feathers) L-cysteine as “non-vegetarian” even though it is still technically “vegetarian” and considered “natural.” Their labeling decision was precautionary in response to those who prefer to avoid all animal-sourced ingredients. (Note: one company does sell an L-cysteine manufactured through microbial fermentation and another is in the process of developing their own fermentation technique. The latter company estimates that it may take two-three years to perfect the process on an industrial scale and then bring it to market.)

By Mike Adams, Editor of View source



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