Are there bugs in your chocolate?

By March 7, 2023 Health, Lifestyle

We came across the following post on a popular Telegram channel with over 136,000 subscribers:

The post, which was viewed by over 17,400 people at the time of writing, comprises of a video taken at a supermarket by an unidentified individual. The individual uses the camera to zoom in on the ingredients of a packet of Kinder Schoko-Bons chocolates.

The information on the packet of chocolates is written in German, and the individual points out that ‘Schellack’ is one of the ingredients. The video cuts to a web search of ‘Shellack’, with results showing images of an insect.

Together with animated overlay of crawling insects over the video, the caption reads, ‘There’s bugs in your chocolate’.

A Creeping Realisation

We translated ‘Schellack’ into English and found that it referred to shellac, a refined substance made from the secretion of the Kerria lacca insect. It is usually found in the forests of India and Southeast Asia, has been harvested for millenia, and has multiple uses.

Shellac helps to add shine to an object’s exterior and limit contact to moisture and oxygen. It is often used in cosmetics such as nail polish and hair styling products, in woodworking, and as a coating for food, including for candy, fresh fruit and medicine pills. Shellac is often listed as an ingredient under the name ‘confectioner’s glaze’, and can help to prolong the life of food items.

While this means that shiny food items often contain the insect-derived shellac, this is not a universal rule. The animal rights organisation PETA, which opposes the use of shellac in food because ‘nearly 100,000 bugs die to produce about 1 pound of shellac flakes’, note that some candy with shiny exteriors like Gobstoppers, Tic Tac and Skittles do not use animal ingredients.

It is also untrue that the use of shellac in confectionery means adding entire insects to candies. While a large number of insects die during the harvesting process, these are screened out during manufacturing. As a result, insects are more likely to end up in a candy bar if it has been sitting on a store shelf for a long time, rather than during the manufacturing process.

The Unvarnished Truth

Looking up Kinder products in particular, we found that shellac was listed as an ingredient for Schoko-Bons on Kinder’s UK website, as well as for Choco-Bons, the Australian version.

Kinder’s Singapore website did not indicate the product availability of Schoko-Bons or Choco-Bons here. Other popular locally available Kinder products such as Kinder Bueno and Kinder Joy did not include shellac in their ingredients.

Nevertheless, we found that shellac is a food additive that is permitted in Singapore and regulated by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).

While this may come as a surprise to some, it must be noted that shellac has been used in confectionery for decades without any indication of health risks to humans. Moreover, human consumption of insect-derived products is already relatively commonplace through food items such as honey and some variants of food dye.

As such, though the post is mistaken to claim that insects are an ingredient in confectionery themselves, it is true that chocolates and other candies can contain insect-derived products.

Leave a Reply