The craziest food myths, debunked

Thanks to the internet and its ability to spread information far and wide in a matter of minutes, our social media feeds and inboxes are chock full of dubious claims, and nothing seems to spread faster than horror stories about our favorite food and drinks. As unbelievable as these stories may seem, they gain steam as they get thousands of outraged "likes" and retweets, and since fact checking seems to have fallen out of favor these days, these urban legends live on.

Take Coca-Cola, for instance. If we're to believe what we read on the internet, drinking the popular soda is practically a death sentence. If it can dissolve pennies and meat overnight, what's it doing to your body? And did you know that it magically coaxes worms out of pork? Bananas are probably off the table too, since eating six at once will kill you. Or will it? Let's get to the bottom of the craziest food myths floating around on the web.

Too many bananas will kill you

The myth: Six bananas contain a lethal dose of potassium — eat that many at once and risk death.

The reality: We can't imagine why anyone would really want to, but should the overwhelming desire to scarf down six bananas at once hit, it's perfectly safe to do so. According to Mayo Clinic, hyperkalemia, the medical term for high potassium levels in the blood, is dangerous and usually requires treatment. And it is true that one of the causes is "excessive use of potassium supplements." But overdosing on bananas? Not going to send you to the hospital. BBC reports that you could safely eat around seven-and-a-half bananas in one day and still be under the recommended daily allowance of potassium, which they say is 3,500 milligrams per day for adults. In fact, Catherine Collins, a dietitian at St George's Hospital in London, told them the average person would need to eat about 400 bananas a day to put you in serious danger. Unless you've been practicing for your debut into the world of competitive eating, that's probably never going to happen.

Coke makes worms come out of raw pork

The myth: Give your raw pork a Coca-Cola bath and wait for the worms to come out.

The reality: The reasoning behind this is actually a combination of two myths. First, the worms-in-pork myth: Once upon a time there was a real concern that we would all get sick from eating undercooked pork that was infected with a parasite — the larvae of the Trichinella worm. But these days, according to the CDC, trichinellosis is no longer such a threat due to legislation prohibiting the feeding of raw-meat garbage to hogs. In other words, there should be no worms or worm larvae in our pork.

The next part — that Coca-Cola will compel these non-existent worms out of the meat — seems to stem from the "Coke will dissolve your insides" myth (more on that later). The idea being that the soda is so incredibly caustic that even the worms can't take it and must escape their Coke-ridden homes. But here's the real kicker: Even if your pork was infected with the larvae, it's microscopic and you'd never know if a mass exodus was happening.

Chocolate milk is actually bloody milk

The myth: Think cocoa is what makes chocolate milk brown? Think again — it's actually cow's blood.

The reality: Chocolate milk is apparently quite the perplexing substance. A 2017 survey revealed that an astounding seven percent of more than 1,000 actual real-life adults think chocolate milk comes exclusively from brown cows, and no, we're not kidding. Perhaps it's this seven percent that also believe the secret ingredient in chocolate milk is cow's blood?

This myth seems to stem from a social media post purporting to show what cow's milk looks like before it's "whitened." The image — a container of red-tinted milk — is real, but it's not the "real color of cow's milk," as the caption alleges. It's actually milk from a cow that had recently given birth, and the original video that the still was taken from explains that it can happen from "a blood vessel burst in the udder" and that the milk "is not fit for human consumption." A well-know dairy farmer and dairy educator, known as Dairy Carrie, even weighed in on the debate. She reiterated that while bloody milk does happen (though rarely), any bloody milk would be dumped. One more time for the people in the back: Cocoa beans are what makes chocolate milk brown. The end.

Margarine is practically plastic

The myth: One alarmist website asks, "Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?" Because, apparently, margarine is actually just one molecule away from being plastic.

The reality: Even if margarine was almost plastic, no one can deny that it tastes a lot better than melted Tupperware. But it's not. Adding one molecule, or ten for that matter, will never turn margarine into plastic. Their chemical structures are simply not the same. Dietitian Caryn Zinn explained in layman's terms to Healthy Food Guide, "When we examine the chemical structures in both materials, it is easy to see why someone would suggest this; margarine has a similar chemical backbone structure to plastic. However, the same could be said about butter, or any fatty acid present in the human body. Many varied substances share similar chemical properties, but the the slightest variation in molecular structure can make a world of difference."

Twinkies never expire

The myth: Twinkies will be our saving grace when the zombie apocalypse hits because they never ever expire.

The reality: Sorry, doomsday preppers — you're going to have to find something else to stock your underground bunker with, because those Twinkies aren't going to be very delicious after about 45 days. How could that be, when the ingredient list looks like an endless array of hard-to-pronounce chemicals? Steve Ettlinger, author of processed food bible Twinkie, Deconstructed, told NPR's The Salt that you might be surprised to learn that among that lengthy list, only one ingredient is actually a proper preservative — sorbic acid, which prevents the formation of mold. Otherwise, although no one can argue that a whole lot of food science goes into the making of a Twinkie, there is real flour, sugar, and even a small amount of egg in those spongy yellow cakes, and all those things do indeed spoil.

Baby carrots are made from deformed carrots soaked in chlorine

The myth: Those cute baby carrots are actually made from larger deformed carrots that are soaked in chlorine because they no longer have the protection of their own skin, and the white film that appears on the surface is that chlorine leaching out.

The reality: There is a bit of truth to this myth that has been circulating for years as a terrifying email "warning," but it's not nearly as alarming as it sounds. Decades ago, farmers did make baby carrots from broken and misshapen carrots that would otherwise have been a loss, but there was nothing wrong with these so-called "deformed" root vegetables. Today, baby carrots are made from long, skinny carrots that have been specifically bred to be sweeter, brighter, and coreless. 

What about the chlorine soak? That's taking things a bit too far. Yes, the baby carrots are given a chlorine rinse, but it's to guard against food borne illnesses like E.coli. This is a common practice with pre-cut foods, and —brace yourself — your tap water has comparable levels of chlorine. As for the white film? It has nothing to do with the chlorine rinse — it's simply dehydration setting in on the cut surface.

Combining Pop Rocks with soda means certain death

The myth: Remember Mikey from the Life cereal commercials? Well, poor Mikey basically exploded after eating Pop Rocks and washing them down with soda. RIP, Mikey.

The reality: First things first — Even if he did combine Pop Rocks and soda, Mikey is still very much alive, and according to Snopes, we can't even be sure that it actually happened. Nevertheless, the rumor persists, and is often cited as the reason the candy was pulled off the market at one point, which is also not true — it was just marketed under a different name.   

So can Pop Rocks really kill you? Food Republic answered the question: "Yeah, but you'd have to mix them with heroin and inject too much." That's a no then? The secret ingredient in the fizzy candy is pressurized carbon dioxide, and while that might sound scary, the amount in Pop Rocks is only one-tenth that of any typical soft drink. In other words, you might get a decent burp out of it, but you're certainly not going to explode. 

Coke dissolves all the things

The myth: Place a penny, a nail, a steak, a tooth — basically any object — in a of glass of Coca-Cola for a certain amount of time and said object will have dissolved. Basically, it will rot the teeth out of your head and melt your insides.

The reality: Yes, Coke does contain acids — phosphoric, citric, and carbonic, to be exact. And yes, acid can dissolve things. But Coke cannot dissolve any of these things overnight. Here's why: Even if these myth-affirming stories of a tooth dissolving in soda within 24 hours were true (and they're not), they don't take into consideration that we don't hold the liquid in our mouths for longer than a few seconds. Even if Coke did have the ability the dissolve our teeth, we simply don't give it the time to do so. Another point to consider is that the amount of acid in Coke is actually less than orange juice, and nobody is wagging a finger at your favorite breakfast drink. As for melting your innards? Nope, not going to happen either. The gastric acid in our stomachs is pretty similar to — and sometimes stronger than — anything Coke brings to the table.

Chewing gum takes seven years to digest

The myth: Swallow your chewing gum and it'll take seven longs years to make its way through your digestive system — it is indigestible, after all.

The reality: It's true that gum does contain a substance that's indigestible — a rubbery substance called gum base made up of resins, waxes, and other not-food ingredients. And it's also true that your body doesn't break that particular substance down. But that doesn't translate to gum being any harder to digest than any other food, and it's stickiness poses no problem when it comes to getting through your digestive system. In fact, gum will ride right along with anything else you've swallowed, and make its exit in the same timely manner as your dinner — no seven year wait time required. However, because of those resins and waxes, it's probably going to look a lot like it did when you swallowed it, if you catch our drift.

The secret ingredient in Red Bull is bull semen

The myth: Red Bull might give you energy, but it also gives you a dose of bull semen.

The reality: This one is really a case of people's imaginations running wild. Yes, Red Bull does contain taurine, a naturally occurring amino acid. And yes, bulls produce taurine, but so do humans and other animals — in fact, the human body contains 70 times more of this supposed unsavory ingredient than a can of Red Bull.

So how did we get to bull semen? Because of the Latin meanings of the word "taur" (bull) and its suffix "ine" (something derived from), it was concluded that taurine must be a substance derived from bull testicles. It's the only logical conclusion, right? Wrong. Do we really think bull semen is the secret ingredient in our energy drinks? The logical conclusion, which also happens to be the truth, is spelled out on the company's website. The taurine used in Red Bull is a "purely synthetic substance produced by pharmaceutical companies and is not derived from animals or animal materials." Now that makes a bit more sense, doesn't it?

There are beaver butt secretions in vanilla ice cream

The myth: Your favorite tub of vanilla ice cream gets its flavor from the secretions of a beaver's anal gland. Mmm.

The reality: We can thank Jamie Oliver for this one. During an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, he informed the audience of this disturbing vanilla ice cream "fact," and the rumor has persisted since. But don't go dumping your ice cream in the trash just yet.

Castoreum, the so-called anal gland secretions, actually comes from the castor sac, located next to the anal glands. Turns out, it actually smells good, with notes of honey, anise, and raspberry. And yes, it is an FDA-approved flavoring. So what's the problem? Castoreum is expensive. "In the flavor industry, you need tons and tons of material to work with," flavor chemist Gary Reineccius told NPR's The Salt. "It's not like you can grow fields of beavers to harvest. There aren't very many of them. So it ends up being a very expensive product — and not very popular with food companies." Bottom line? Your vanilla ice cream probably doesn't contain beaver butt secretions, or anything else from a beaver for that matter.

McDonald's burgers can't rot

The myth: McDonald's hamburgers are so full of chemicals and preservatives that they can't rot, and look perfectly pristine more than a decade after purchase.

The reality: Sorry fast food haters — under the right conditions, a McDonald's burger will rot just like any other food.

McDonald's turned to a food science expert for an explanation, and simply put, these hamburgers are dehydrated. Dr. Keith Warriner explained that the microbes that cause rot need warmth, water, nutrients, and time to grow. If you take any of these away, in this case water and warmth, the microbes can't grow. Because a McDonald's hamburgers is — let's face it — pretty dry after the cooking process, it's not surprising that it would continue to dehydrate if left out in a cool, dry place. And this phenomenon doesn't just apply to McDonald's fare, either. In an experiment comparing a homemade burger to a McDonald's burger, Serious Eats found that neither specimen showed signs of decomposition. However, when put in a plastic bag, both burgers rotted quite nicely. So, if you really want your Happy Meal to grow some mold, seal it up in a bag and put it in the sun.

Instant noodles are coated in cancer-causing wax

The myth: Your go-to budget noodles are coated in wax to prevent them from sticking together, and the microwavable container they reside in is also coated in wax. That wax is basically killing you with each bite as it builds up in your system and causes cancer.

The reality: Even if instant noodles did have a wax coating, it wouldn't necessarily be cause for concern. How do you think all that shiny grocery store produce achieves its gleam? You got it — edible wax, and yes, according to the FDA it's safe for human consumption. 

But do instant noodles even have that alleged wax coating? Nope. Cup Noodles maker Nissin says that their instant noodles do not contain any wax. "Noodle strands do not stick together as a natural consequence of the process of slitting or cutting the noodle dough into strands, steaming, and then frying in normal cooking oil." As for the microwavable containers, those are lined with food grade polyethylene material that prevents liquid from soaking through, and does not melt with heat. At the end of the day, a daily Top Ramen habit might not be the best for your health, but it's not because of wax, and it definitely doesn't cause cancer.