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What's Really in a Hot Pockets Ham & Cheese

Ready for some cheese and waterfowl feathers?
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Some combos just can't be beat: PB&J, pizza and beer, cheese and waterfowl feathers … Wait, you've never tried that one? If you've had a Ham & Cheese Hot Pocket, you have. Sure, some of that smoky-sweet ham flavor is authentic (presumably), but some of it comes courtesy of the duck feather-derived amino acid L-cysteine. In its role as a food additive, its purpose is to emulate certain flavors. For example, when L-cysteine reacts with sugar, the combination creates a meaty flavor. Disturbing as the ideal of fake ham flavoring may be, however, it doesn't even compare to the absurd fact that it requires duck feathers for Hot Pockets to achieve it.


Yes, even the insides of the Hot Pocket are dyed to look more appealing. Annatto is a natural colorant derived from the South American achiote tree, and it's often used in processed cheese products to impart a rich, golden hue. But hey — at least it's not Yellow 5, right? Well, not so quick; annatto might actually be just as bad as the chemical dyes. A study published in Archives of Toxicology Supplement found that the dye caused allergic responses as frequently as artificial dyes did.


Fish and seaweed have a place in your diet. Take the sushi bar, for instance: it's a great place to get both. But in your Hot Pocket? That doesn't sound so good. But essentially, that's what you're getting here. Disodium guanylate is made from dehydrated sardines or seaweed. It's used to imbue a smoky, meaty flavor that apparently Hot Pockets' pork, noted here by the unsavory moniker, "ham water added ground and formed," simply can't match.