What’s in My Food: Starburst Ingredients Explained
It's one thing to read the ingredient list on your food label and another to understand what you're reading.
In this article, I identify and define each ingredient in Starbursts and explain any known side effects on health.
Like all science, food science is a work in progress, and there is wide debate about many of these ingredients and what they do to our bodies. Do your own research to learn more about what various sides are saying. Knowledge is power.
Starburst Original Ingredients Are:
- Corn syrup
- Hydrogenated palm kernel oil and/or palm oil
- Fruit juice from concentrate (apple, lemon, strawberry, orange, and cherry)
- Less than 2%: Citric acid, tapioca dextrin, gelatin, food starch-modified, natural and artificial flavors, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), and coloring (red 40, yellow 5, yellow 6, and blue 1)
Note: There are many different kinds and flavors of Starburst, and the formulas may also vary by region and country. Many of the ingredients overlap, but not all. Always check the ingredient label of the candy that you are purchasing for the most recent ingredient list. When in doubt, call Wrigley (makers of Starburst) to get the most up-to-date ingredients.
Starburst: Ingredient by Ingredient
1. Corn Syrup
What it is: A sweet syrup made from corn starch that's been treated with acid or enzymes.
Health effects: May cause allergic reactions.
What it is: A sweetening additive made mainly from sugar cane and sugar beet.
Health effects: Safe if eaten in small amounts, but consumption of large amounts over time has been linked to tooth decay, periodontal disease, obesity, hyperactivity, B vitamin deficiencies, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
3. Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil and/or Palm Oil
What it is: Polyunsaturated vegetable oil that has been partially converted to saturated oil in order to create a solid or semi-solid substance, making it a trans fat. Its use banned in restaurants across the USA.
Health effects: It has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, liver dysfunction, and infertility in women.
4. Citric Acid
What it is: A weak organic acid used as a flavoring agent and preservative. It is extracted from citrus fruits or made by fermentation of yeast or mold. It may contain MSG or be genetically modified.
Health effects: It may provoke symptoms in people who are MSG-sensitive.
What it is: A thickener and foam stabilizer made from wheat or corn starch.
Health effects: May cause allergic reaction in some people. Should be avoided by those with celiac disease.
What it is: A substance made from the boiled skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones of hoofed animals, such as cows and pigs. A food thickener, it absorbs five to ten times its weight in water. It may contain MSG and sulfur dioxide.
Health effects: It may provoke symptoms in the MSG-sensitive.
7. Food Starch-modified
What it is: A thickening agent also known as modified food starch. It is starch that has been chemically altered for specific food applications. It also may be genetically modified.
Chemicals used for modification include, but are not limited to:
- Propylene oxide — A petroleum derivative
- Hydrochloric acid — A corrosive used to remove rust
- Succinic anhydride — Used in paper production to strengthen paper
- Potassium hydroxide — Used to make alkaline batteries
- Sodium hydroxide — Chemical base used to make detergents, paper, and drain cleaners
Health effects: Modified corn starch is frequently used in baby foods, and safety concerns have arisen due to the use of these various chemicals, especially since babies are still developing and have little resistance to foreign agents. More testing is required to understand its effect on human health.
8. Natural Flavors
What it is: Any flavor not chemically-derived. Natural flavors are obtained by physical processes from plants or animals and provide flavor to a food rather than nutritional value. They may contain MSG.
Health effects: Unknown. Different foods use different natural flavors and processes. Naturally-derived ingredients may be altered or rendered unsafe. It should be noted that the use of the word “natural” is often used to mask the use of harmful substances that are technically naturally-derived.
9. Artificial Flavors
What it is: A synthetic mixture not found in nature, designed to mimic a natural flavor. May contain MSG. Over 1,700 artificial flavors are approved by the FDA.
Health effects: Unknown. Companies are not required to identify the various synthetic mixtures used in foods, and are only required to list them under the umbrella of “artificial flavors." Some individuals are sensitive to artificial flavors and experience headaches, nausea, and drowsiness, among other symptoms.
A short list of some artificial flavors: Benzyl isobutyrate, ethyl acetate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate (petroleum derivative), methyl benzoate (petroleum derivative), hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone. An artificial flavor may be made up of any number of synthetic chemicals.
10. Ascorbic Acid
What it is: Vitamin C. A water-soluble preservative and antioxidant. It may be chemically synthesized.
Health effects: Considered safe.
11. Red 40
What it is: A coal tar-derived artificial food coloring that is also known as Allura Red AC, E129
Health effects: A suspected carcinogen that has been linked to hyperactivity, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and lower IQs in children. Some scientists question its safety since all the tests were conducted by the manufacturer instead of the FDA.
12. Yellow 6
What it is: A coal tar-derived artificial food coloring also known as Sunset Yellow FCF, E110
Health effects: Known to cause allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. Caution is advised in people who aspirin-sensitive.
13. Yellow 5
What it is: A coal tar-derived artificial food coloring also known also as Tartrazine, E102
Health effects: Has been linked to thyroid tumors, chromosomal damage, asthma attacks, hives and hyperactivity. When ingested, some aspirin-sensitive patients have been reported to develop life-threatening asthmatic symptoms.
14. Blue 1
What it is: A coal tar-derived food coloring that is also known also as Brilliant Blue FCF, E133
Health effects: Produces malignant tumors at the site of injection and by ingestion in rats. Possible effects include asthma, hives, hay fever, low blood pressure, and allergic reactions. Caution is advised for people who are aspirin-sensitive.
Are Starbursts Vegan or Halal?
According to an article from the Vegetarian Resource Group, as of 2010, Starbursts sold in the USA contain non-Kosher beef-derived gelatin and are not vegan, kosher, or halal. Wrigley's GummiBursts sold in the USA contain non-Kosher pork-derived gelatin.
Starbursts sold in the UK are vegan and say "suitable for vegans." They also do not contain any artificial colors or flavors.
Now you know the facts. You know what you are consuming, and can make an informed decision.