No, this isn't a post about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. It is about the far more interesting predicament this Kentucky gentleman found himself in, when two of his buddies, enraged over a tractor deal gone wrong, shaved his beard and then force-fed it to him. I know, I know: God bless America. The idea of methodically chewing on hair, facial or otherwise, may understandably gross you out. But the Hot Dish is here to tell you that you may have been doing just that for years. And we're not talking about the stray strands that found their way through your school cafeteria lunch lady's hair net. No, we're talking about the deliberate use of hair as an ingredient in your food. Read on for more. Or don't, if you want to enjoy pizza again any time soon.
Cysteine is an amino acid found in human hair that also, handily enough, works as a tasty flavoring agent and dough enhancer. You might see it on packaged food ingredient lists as L-cysteine, or L-cysteine hydrochloride (HCL). Used in everything from pizza dough to Lunchables, the additive can be synthesized in a lab or extracted from poultry feathers, but human hair is the richest and cheapest source, containing up to 20 percent cysteine by weight. You'd be hard pressed to find a food corporation who will admit to using human hair as their source for the L-cysteine in their food, but you'd likewise have a hard time finding one who knows for sure what the source is. Many suppliers distinguish between animal and non-animal sources, but not between duck feathers or human hair (which are both classified solely as "animal").
According to this Mother Jones article, Jewish authorities have deemed the additive kosher, but for Muslims it is haram (forbidden). The secular among us will have to reach their own decisions on whether or not to snack on the contents of the barber shop trash can.