The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

L-Cysteine in Bread Products Still Mostly Sourced from Human Hair, Duck Feathers, Hog Hair

Posted on March 09, 2011 by The VRG Blog Editor

by Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director

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.)

The writer noticed through canvassing many companies in February and March 2011, compared to 2007 when The VRG last updated L-cysteine, (, that a growing number of companies are requesting or reselling only non-animal derived L-cysteine for food use.

Concerned individuals who would like to see more of the non-animal L-cysteine used in their bread products as well as in other human food and pet products are encouraged to voice their opinion politely to food companies and restaurant chains that are using the animal-sourced L-cysteine. Likewise, food companies and chains which are using non-animal L-cysteine are due a "thank you."

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23 to “L-Cysteine in Bread Products Still Mostly Sourced from Human Hair, Duck Feathers, Hog Hair”

  1. Karen says:

    That is shocking!!!! Bread should be vegetarian!! I have enough trouble finding things to eat!!!

  2. The VRG Blog Editor says:

    Not all bread has L-cysteine — as with any other ingredient that you might want to avoid, check the ingredient label for L-cysteine and/or ask the company/seller if there is L-cysteine in the product.

  3. Mel says:

    I am just curious, I am not a vegetarian, but I work in the food industry. I can understand why vegans might object to animal hair, but I thought vegetarians did not eat animal flesh. How does duck feather and/or hog hair for that matter impinge on that?

  4. The VRG Blog Editor says:

    Vegetarians would want to avoid L-cysteine sourced from duck feathers or hog hair because they are a byproduct of the animal being slaughtered.

  5. Nessie says:

    What other food additives are derived from human hair?

  6. Sara says:

    I emailed Trader Joe’s about their pizza crust and was told that the l-cysteine used is synthetic and not from animal or human sources. So please support Trader Joe’s!

  7. Booger says:

    Well this proves the well-known fact that everything is
    Made In China. I am not eating bread again. Dissolved
    Chinese Hair in bread is appalling.

  8. Dhru says:

    L-cysteine is a sulfur-containing amino acid. In addition to maintaining healthy hair, L-cysteine aids in the detoxification of the body by binding to substances left behind by drugs, nicotine or alcohol and allowing them to be removed in the body’s normal cleansing processes.

    L-cysteine promotes hair growth by increasing the diameter of the hair shaft. The percent of increase will differ for each person.

    L-cysteine can be found in protein-rich foods. Chicken, turkey, broccoli, milk and eggs are all good sources of L-cysteine.

    L-cysteine can also be found in synthetic form. It is most commonly taken in pill form but it can be used in liquid form. Once digested L-cysteine is released into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream L-cysetine is absorbed by the scalp and passed through the hair shaft.

    Side Effects
    Side effects from L-cysteine are rare, however it can interfere with insulin. If you are taking insulin consult with your doctor before incorporating L-cysteine into your diet.

    Read more: L-Cysteine & Hair Growth |

  9. MYCON says:

    IT is really disgusting,like who wants to eat that stuff????

    Gross!!!!!! 🙁

  10. Scorpluvin40 says:

    DHRU – Thanks for the knowledge. I had been thinking OMG, what will I eat if not wheat bread. I was told that the bleach in white bread is not good for you and now here’s a problem with wheat. I feel a little better now knowing how L-cysteine works in the body…I guess. Thanks though:)

  11. I wantknow if make a greca pita bread for any hog feater,s or humain hiars

  12. Jaji says:

    Pls i would lyk 2 know what kind of bleach is used in bread and is it our local bread dt’s bleached or wheat bread. I’v not been seeing L cysteine over d counter here in Nigeria. Pls reply carbon copy via email

  13. jes says:

    Ever check your shampoo bottle? It might have urea in it. That’s urine, everyone. So that hair in your bread? Might have urine on it.

    hahaha. Gross.

  14. Kailey says:

    To Mel:
    Vegans and vegetarians object to duck feathers and down because they are not ethically sourced. The fashion industry and food industry, in order to acquire feathers for products, run the animals through a machine that forcibly yanks out their feathers and leaves the birds bloody and mangled. Now, not all down/feathers are sourced this way, but vegetarians and vegans like myself object to contributing to the suffering of non-human animals.

  15. Melissa says:

    Ever thought of making your own bread, makes it much easier to control what you eat, much tastier too.

  16. Trevor Makepeace says:

    Just curious, but do vegitarians/vegans avoid killing _all_ animals? How do they get on with taking antibiotics to kill bacteria? If that’s “different” because its only a single celled animal, what about parasites: ringworm, malaria etc. If they’re not “big enough”, what about -say- killing rats in an infestation? Wheres does it start?

  17. Alexi says:

    “Likewise, food companies and chains which are using non-animal L-cysteine are due a ‘thank you.'”

    Synthetic L-cysteine is made from vats of fermented mutant shit. Not figuratively, I mean literally, a genetically-engineered mutation of the fecal bacteria e. coli. During fermentation, the e. coli actually excretes L-cysteine, so in a sense it’s the shit of the shit. Somehow, the end product is considered kosher, halal, and vegan. The only marketing downside is that it’s ridiculously unnatural. The US FDA considers cysteine derived from the hair of imprisoned Chinese dissidents to be “all natural,” and in comparison to centrifuging the shit out of shit, that actually sounds reasonable.

    So anyway, yeah, remember to thank these companies for making their bread shittier. And I mean it figuratively there; cysteine speeds up dough mixing by breaking gluten’s disulfide bonds, but makes a denser, less pleasant bread. Various oxidants (ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, calcium bromate, calcium peroxide, potassium bromate, potassium iodate, etc.) are needed to counteract the negative effects of cysteine, which is how you can wind up with 25 ingredients in place of “flour, water, sugar, and yeast.”

  18. Anthony Hall says:

    Yesterday I recieved an email from Vogel’s bread company. It confirmed unequivically that neither they, nor anyone in their supply chain add L-Cystiene (E920 / E921) to their product.

    Ive found my loaf of bread! Yay Vogels!!

  19. Kendall says:

    To reply to the question about whether vegans/vegetarians kill bacteria, worms, parasites etc., and where we draw the line, I personally, as a vegetarian, will kill anything that is killing or harming me or my children or pets. The bacteria in my body that are helpful only get killed as innocent bystanders when I take antibiotics. Of a mosquito (potentially carrying deadly bacteria) chooses to land on me and bite me, I will swat it. If there are insects in my house, as long as they leave me alone or don’t invade en masse, they are left alone or gently put outside. I love animals but if a vicious one, any species, attacks me or mine and could cause major harm or death, I will take whatever measures are necessary to stop the attack, even if it means killing them. Otherwise, live and let live!

  20. My sister just bought bagels from Kroger that are labled VEGAN and have L-Cystiene. Looks like Kroger is due a big thank you.

  21. Virgil says:

    @”jes says:
    November 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm
    Ever check your shampoo bottle? It might have urea in it. That’s urine, everyone. So that hair in your bread? Might have urine on it.”

    Uh, well, close…but no, and please stop spreading wrong information.
    While urea is present in urine, jes needs to learn about Wöhler, the father of organic chemistry.
    Urea is not urine, is an organic compound, and can be synthesized from inorganic starting materials.

  22. Adela says:

    THIS all, will make me stop eating bread faster than if it caused me to get fat!!! I’ll try making my own bread one of these days. Will make many loaves so that I can freeze them.

    Commercial food manufacturing are pushing their luck too much. If several hundred people in each community started making their own food and telling them why…chances are they’ll start making food without weird, undesirable ingredients. What’s wrong with flour and water and maybe a bit of leavening? I’m throwing away what breads I have in the refrigerator. :o(

  23. Lav says:

    I am a vegetarian and travelling to USA and will be obliged if you can Please let me know breads and wraps of which FAST FOOD RESTAURANTS like SUBWAY,TACO BELL,TACO TIME, MC DONALDS ETC., are suitable for vegetarians. Thank you very much.

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