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Yum Yum - Natural Beaver's Bum?

Yum Yum - Natural Beaver's Bum?

Is that 'natural' raspberry or vanilla flavouring from a beaver's bum?

Been eating anything lately that contains the natural food flavouring called castoreum? It has been widely circulated that castoreum is typically used as a natural flavouring in processed food like ice cream, jelly, chewing gum, frozen dairy as a raspberry, vanilla or strawberry flavour.  The truth is that it's use is extremely rare in food, but mostly it is used in perfumes. 

If it is used in food, you wouldn't know anyway as it is one of those things referred to on a label as 'Natural Flavouring'. And that is because it is technically natural.

While castoreum is natural, it is slightly incorrect to say that it comes from a beaver's bum. It comes from somewhere far more complicated, but close by. Castoreum is stored near the beaver's anal glands and combined with urine, then excreted by the beaver to mark its territory.

Even as one wonders how on earth such a thing was discovered in the first place, it does seem somewhat unfair for vegans and anyone else who doesn't really care for beaver anal gland excretions to be under the delusion that their natural raspberries are, well, natural raspberries.

According to Fernelli's Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, most castoreum comes from Alaska, Canada and Siberia and is taken from the beaver when it is being skinned. At that point, the castoreum is dried out, then ground and processed. It is then used as a 'natural flavour' and also in perfume (reputedly contributing to that 'new car smell' we all like to wallow in).

In case if makes you feel any better, Snopes fact checkers points out that the 'mining' of castoreum, by definition, makes its widespread use unlikely as it's hard to get a beaver to cooperate in a milking process and anyway it's expensive.

Most castoreum is now used in perfume making. Think about that one as you spray yourself in your favourite perfume next time. The problem with perfume of course is that there is no requirement for ingredients to be declared at all, so unless volunteered by the manufacturer, you would never know what you are spraying  yourself with. 

The real point here is that consuming food labels on face value can have side affects. In this case, consuming castoreum in food or perfume doesn't seem to have any particular side affects beyond making you feel squeamish. Of course, if you are vegan or vegetarian, it's off the menu.  The best advice is to be suspicious of ingredients like 'natural additives' rather than take them at face value and do  your research.

Long before you picked up the spray bottle, jar or can, hordes of marketers have been beavering away on how to get you to willing buy the product, which if accurately described for it's real contents, you may choose to put back on the shelf. Pictures of raspberries on the packet are no guarantee there are actual raspberries inside the packet. 

In the case of pretty much all processed foods, consider the contents caveat emptor. See more at An Easy Guide to Reading Food Labels.

Images: Shutterstock & Snopes Fact Checkers / Unsplash - Daniel Hjalmarsson

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