There are hundreds of components in your food that you read on the labels but never investigate. Carmine, Cysteine, Carrageen, Candelilla Wax - What are those ingredients in your food ? What all are vegetarian ? For instance, though Lecithin exists in egg yolks and tissues of animals, some companies extract it from Soy Beans. Lipase is derived from pigs !
Now we come to L-Cysteine. Do you know that you are eating human hair through commercial bakery food ?
It comes in the form of L-Cyteine, an amino acid derived from hair or feathers. L-Cysteine has a high sulphur content, 14 % of human hair is made of it. When hair is dissolved in hydrochloric acid, L-Cysteine is recovered. It is used in all bakery products - bagels, croissants, hard rolls, cakes, doughnuts, pasta, white bread, pita bread, pizza crust, some crackers and melba toast. It is used to reduce the mixing time of the dough, making it easier to move it through various bakery-processing equipments.
The elasticity of dough is due to the sulphur rich proteins in wheat. As the dough is kneaded, these proteins form gluten, which allows the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast to be trapped and bread to rise. However, the strength of gluten must be controlled and this happens in flour that is kept in
(How hair from Tirupati's barber shops comes to your dining table)
storage after grinding so that oxygen weakens the proteins. However, in the bakery industry, flour is used immediately after grinding, so it does not ripen. So L-Cysteine is used and it weakens the gluten making dough formation more efficient.
The other common food use of L-Cysteine is as a flavour enhancer for meat products. It is the standard flavouring for chicken and beef soup cubes, seasonings and meat products. It is also in baby milk formula and dietary supplements and pet foods. In the pharmaceutical industry it is used as a transfusion solution for patients with Hypo-proteinemia and Hypo-alimentation and in medicines for curing skin eruptions and eczema and as a Bronchodilator in cough syrups. It is used by the cosmetic trade in hair care permanent waving lotions and hair tonics.
How the hair comes
When the devotees offer their hair to the Tirupati God, it is collected and sold to companies. There are about 40 large companies in India that buy hair from Tirupati and export it. At Tirupati, there are about 50,000 visitors evry single day and millions of dollars come in as annual income from hair auctions ! And India exports human hair worth Rs. 1,300 crores each year. From this hair, L-Cysteine is produced and is used in preparation of biscuits, commercial cakes, soups made of cubes, and you have usually eaten it back in your body when you eat them !!
Synthetic L.Cysteine is available. But food producers prefer to list "natural" flavours, instead of "artificial" flavours, on their products' labels.
(From an article written by Maneka Gandhi, Chair Person of Animal Welfare movement at 14, Ashoka road, New Delhi, 110001.)
Published in the New Sunday Express dated 31st July 2005