Is The “Natural Flavoring” In Your Sweets Actually Beaver Anus?
Are you ready to enjoy sweets this holiday season? Excited to indulge in
a big savory slice of cherry pie complimented with a few scoops of vanilla ice
cream? If so, watch out for castoreum, or anal secretion from beavers, that is
labeled as “natural flavoring” during your celebration.
What the heck is castoreum?
Emitted from the castor sacs within the beaver’s anus, this slimy brown
pleasant smelling substance is originally used by the animal to mark it’s territory,
containing 24 different molecules that act as beaver pheromones. Because of its
close vicinity to the anal glands, this chemical compound is commonly a
combination of not only castor gland secretion, but anal gland discharge and
urine as well.
Usually in vanilla, cherry, raspberry and strawberry “natural flavorings”
with a consistency similar to molasses, castoreum has a somewhat musky vanilla
scent that derives from the beaver’s diet of leaves and bark. Since the smell is
sweet, the substance is incorporated in recipes for food and perfumes.
How do we obtain this substance?
Producing the castoreum is not as easy as it may seem. One literally has
to “milk” the anal glands to extract the fluid. Pretty gross, right?
While castoreum consumption is rather small due to the repulsive process
for both parties, extracting about 292 pounds yearly, the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration continues to label the goo as “natural” rather than showing it as
listed in the ingredients. After all, beaver anus is all natural, right?
Used for the past 80 years, castoreum is found in products like frozen
dairy, gelatins, candies, puddings and nonalcoholic beverages. In fact, the
beaver population in Sweden was nearly eliminated in the 19th century due to the
popularity of castoreum. Although the FDA highly regulates vanilla flavoring and
extracts, castoreum is free to be used to enhance strawberry and raspberry
flavorings. Fortunately it is less likely to find this goo in mass-marketed goods
for it is costly to milk the beavers.
So how do you know what you are eating?
Learn what is in your “natural flavoring."
Here is what the Code of Federal Regulations defines as natural flavors:
“The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil,
oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of
roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents
derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast,
herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs,
dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in
food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
It is deceptive labeling that can be the source of problems within our food.
When you find elusive terms as such, it is best to call the company and learn for
yourself what the ingredients are made from. The FDA labels with the intention
to make the ingredients sound healthy and amiable, but our power to obtain the
truth lies within us, not big corporations. Read labels thoroughly, understand the
basis of everything you are eating. While castoreum is most likely safe to
consume, who really wants to eat beaver anus? And who knows what else you
are eating unless you take knowledge into your own hands about what you ingest.