Bad news for fans of the colorful novelty drink called tapioca tea, or boba tea: The sugary specialty beverage, generally milk-based and filled with chewy balls of tapioca, may also include cancer-causing chemicals known aspolychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, the Daily News reports.
German researchers from the University Hospital Aachen have reportedly found traces of the carcinogenic chemical in tapioca ball samples. The tapioca was taken from an unnamed chain in northwest Germany and originated in Taiwan, according to the Daily News.
"[What we found] includes in particular styrene, acetophenone, and brominated substances that shouldn't be in food at all," scientist Manfred Möller, of the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital Aachen, told German newspaper The Local, notes the AFP.
According to the EPA, PCBs belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals manufactured between 1929 and 1979. The chemicals still exist in the environment despite their U.S. manufacturing ban. Ranging in toxicity, PCBs have been shown to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system, the government site continues.
Bubble tea has gained widespread popularity in recent years across Europe, and Germany in particular, after already converting young people across North America. German McDonald's have even begun selling the dessert beverage as part of its recently revamped McCafe menu, the Independent reports.
The cancer concerns were compounded by another public health warning, released earlier in August by the country's German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. German authorities warned that the beverage's hallmark gummy balls, may pose a choking risk.
"Especially with children aged up to four years, there is a risk of foreign objects accidentally entering the lungs," said Dr. Andreas Hensel in a press release on the Institute's website. "And that is precisely what can happen when the bubbles are sucked up through a straw."
UPDATE: According to Taiwan's Central News Agency, a leading manufacturer of bubble tea drink ingredients has since disputed the researchers' claims. Wang Chun-feng, chairman of the Possmei Corp., held a press conference Tuesday from his offices in New Taipei, to defend the safety of his products. Meanwhile, an official from Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration also refuted the German safety warnings, calling into question the authenticity of the test results.
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<strong>What it is:</strong> A salt compound <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ammonium sulfate" target="_hplink">comprised of nitrogen</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> In <a href="http://w3.uwyo.edu/~dwwilson/pamphlet.html" target="_hplink">some fertilizers </a> -- and in some breads, like the <a href="http://www.subway.com/Nutrition/Files/usProdIngredients.pdf" target="_hplink">rolls at Subway</a>. Chemicals with ammonia are typically added to neutralize a food that's too acidic, says Doyle, which can affect texture. It's safe in the amounts it is used in foods, he says, but admits it will certainly be startling to many people, who may only be familiar with it as a heavy-duty cleaner.
<strong>What it is:</strong> An amino acid made from human hair or duck feathers <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Used as a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/24/processed-food-ingredients_n_1441700.html#s890346&title=KFCs_Chicken_Pot" target="_hplink">dough conditioner</a> in some bread products, Bradley says, which can improve the texture and feel of products, as well as prolong their shelf life. Feathers and hair are readily-available waste products that would cost more money to dispose of, says Doyle, and since both are protein, they can be digested down to amino acids.
<strong>What it is:</strong> Also known as silica, it's most often present as <a href="http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/silicon+dioxide" target="_hplink">quartz or sand</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Various fast food options, like <a href="http://www.wendys.com/food/pdf/us/nutrition.pdf" target="_hplink">Wendy's chili</a> and <a href="http://www.good.is/post/silicon-dioxide-and-smoke-flavor-taco-bell-s-definition-of-meat/" target="_hplink">Taco Bell's meat filling</a>. It's added to foods as an anti-caking agent, to keep them from clumping, explains Doyle.
<strong>What it is:</strong> A chemical related to the mined metallic element <a href="http://www.rodale.com/gross-food?page=2" target="_hplink">titanium</a>, according to Rodale <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Sunscreen. It's a UV light absorber, says Doyle, but also works as a lightener in foods. It's often used to whiten skim milk, which, after the fat is removed, can appear slightly blue, he says. It may also be used in <a href="http://eatthis.menshealth.com/slide/3-salad-dressing" target="_hplink">salad dressings</a>, coffee creamers and frosting, according to <em>Men's Health</em>.
<strong>What it is:</strong> A <a href="http://www.fao.org/ag/agn/jecfa-additives/specs/Monograph1/Additive-049.pdf" target="_hplink">processing</a> agent <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2011/10/27/why-lovin-the-mcrib-isnt-a-heart-smart-idea/" target="_hplink">Plastics, like yoga mats</a> and the soles of your shoes, according to <em>TIME</em>'s Healthland -- as well as <a href="http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/ingredientslist.pdf" target="_hplink">hamburger buns</a>.
<strong>What it is:</strong> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20588763_5,00.html" target="_hplink">Secretions from a bug native to Thailand</a>, Health.com reports <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Coating your favorite shiny sweets, like jelly beans. Look for it on ingredients lists as "confectioner's glaze."
<strong>What it is:</strong> Charred <a href="http://www.peta.org/about/faq/Are-animal-ingredients-included-in-white-sugar.aspx" target="_hplink">cattle bones</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> While it's used less and less in foods these days, says Bradley, it was historically used to filter sugar appear to make it appear whiter and more pure. <em><strong>Clarification:</strong> Language has been added to indicate that bone char was used in the refining process, not as an additive.</em>
<strong>What it is:</strong> <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916.html" target="_hplink">Wood pulp</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> In shredded cheese, salad dressings, chocolate milk and more, according to the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>. It's added to foods to keep them from clumping by blocking moisture, and can <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916.html" target="_hplink">thicken foods in the pace of oil or flour</a>, which cost more.