Common Bread Ingredient, L-Cysteine Derived From Human Hair


Bread-ingredient-hair-319x208It’s been a bad week for uncovering unfortunate ingredients in the foods we eat. Yesterday it was meat glue and today human hair. The ick factor is serious. 

The sad thing is that L-cysteine is a common ingredient, that is to say I’ve seen it many times. After finding this out I ran straight to the kitchen to read the ingredients on my bread labels. 

So let me explain what it is and how it gets into your bread. L-cysteine is a non essential amino acid added to bread dough to speed up industrial processing. According to Health Freedoms, human hair is a cheap and abundant source of the ingredient as well as chicken feathers, duck feathers, and cow horns. Who knew there was such a blatant animal and human byproduct in bread?

Health Freedoms reports:

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.

Much of the L-cysteine comes from China where there’s a history of poor regulation. 

This is a frightening phenomenon especially considering that if you asked most people how they felt about eating human hair, they would be disgusted. But in a way it’s a positive because it reminds us that the only one we can trust we it comes to food safety is ourselves. Read every ingredient in the bread you buy. If you don’t know what it is, look it up. 


Photo: Photodisc/Thinkstock

L-cysteine isn’t added to flour made for home use, so if you don’t have any good local bakeries, or you’d rather not pay $5 per loaf, why not consider making your own bread at home? It’s much tastier and it's free of human hair. 

Photo: Stockbyte/Thinkstock

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.









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