What does caffeine have in common with nicotine and cocaine?

It’s an “alkaloid plant toxin; plants use it to kill bugs.” And it’s also a part of your daily cup of joe; as is 2-Ethlyphenol, which is a component of cockroach alarm pheromones that warn a colony of danger, and putrescine, a chemical that is naturally present in coffee beans that is the same stuff that makes spoiled meat poisonous to eat.

But wait, let’s not stop with coffee.

In the new book “This Is What You Just Put In Your Mouth? From Egg Nog to Beef Jerky, the Surprising Secrets of What’s Inside Everyday Products,” journalist Patrick Di Justo takes a look at what’s inside several household objects that we either eat or use fairly frequently. There’s even an entry on heroin, which, if you didn’t know, is very much on the rise in Chicago suburbs.

Apparently, heroin (actual name: diacetylmorphine) goes down easier when mixed or chased with caffeine. And when that happens, the resulting stuff ends up crystallized and can be smoked like crack. Who knew that these drug dealers knew all this stuff?

The book solidly fits within the infotainment arena. It’s also a good read for people concerned about what they are ingesting or smelling on a daily basis. It might even make you give a side-eye to certain baby formulas, shampoos and beef jerkys.

Other items whose ingredient lists are examined in this book include Southern Comfort Egg Nog (odd ingredient: guar gum, which is the ground up endosperm of the guar bean); Freshburst Listerine (interesting ingredient: methyl salicylate, “the chief constituent of wintergreen oil, this flavoring – a phenol – is found in root beer, Bengay and cigarettes);  Doritos Late Night Hamburger Chips (interesting ingredient: MSG, which he says  could be responsible for the “crypto-ketchup taste sensation.”)

Di Justo has a knack for writing about obscure yet interesting things. He’s the author of the popular Wired magazine column, “What’s Inside,” and is an editor at Make magazine. And for anyone who has looked at the ingredient list of well, anything, his book attempts to explain the purposes of things such as polyquartium and every single one of the ingredients in Red Bull, which includes something called taurine.

In fact, let’s take a closer look at taurine.

Di Justo writes: “Also known as 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, taurine was originally isolated from bull bile in 1827. Now made synthetically, it is the magical elixir said to bring out the kit-surfing extremophile in any web-surfing nerd…. it even has the power to steady irregular heartbeats.”

Maybe that’s why Red Bull gives you wings.


– Adrienne Samuels Gibbs