Don't Put Beaver Butt Juice in My Food
Like so many of you, we read food labels to find out what's in the product to make sure it doesn't contain any animal ingredients. Unfortunately, many shelf items don't have a "v" symbol or the word "vegan."
As we have discovered, many products contain ingredients we wouldn't even feed to our pets. In past articles we revealed information like coloring in fruit juice that was derived from cochineal (crushed beetles). We also wrote about non-dairy creamers that had the audacity to contain dairy. In both cases, if the buyer took the time to read the contents and understood what cochineal and sodium caseinate (a milk derivative) were, purchase would not be an option.
Unfortunately, avid label readers really don't know what they're getting when they see the phrase "natural flavor." or just the word "flavoring" as we pointed out in our V8 Juice/Campbell's Tomato Juice story.
Unless the product is confirmed as vegan, that natural flavor could come from a plant or animal source.
So, how does beaver butt juice fit into this natural flavor picture?
Beaver butt juice is known by the name "castoreum." Website snopes.com that deals with urban myths and legends describes it this way:
To put it more bluntly, this yellowish-brown fluid is full of piss and shit.
The Snopes description continues:
Your US government is responsible for including castoreum on a list of natural flavors that don't have to be identified on a food ingredient listing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) has placed this beaver butt juice on its generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list.
According to the FDA,
Chef Jamie Oliver stirred up the castoreum dust in April 2011 when he shocked late-night host David Letterman by telling him that castoreum was used to create a natural vanilla or strawberry flavor in ice cream.
The Vegetarian Resource Group joined the controversy in June 2011 by sending a query to five companies that used vanilla flavoring. VRG reported, "All five unanimously stated that castoreum is not used today in any form of vanilla sold for human food use. "
Fenaroli's Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, Fifth Edition reported that castoreum was used in alcoholic beverages, baked goods, chewing gum, frozen dairy, gelatins and puddings, hard and soft candy, and non alcoholic beverages. The book also included information about how much was used in the United States in 1994, approximately 292 pounds that year.
What none of these sources consider is that many beavers are killed for their fur. The beaver gland sacs are removed and then dried to create castoreum. Another method of obtaining castoreum is to anesthetize the beaver and then squeeze its anal glands to access a sticky fluid. You might call that putting the squeeze on the beaver.
Unless the consumer spends considerable time and energy to investigate "natural flavor," he/she will never know what lurks behind those words. It could be beaver butt juice or other unpleasant sounding ingredients a manufacturer is not required to disclose.
Many food companies feel they need to protect their foods from being duplicated by other food manufacturers. Their only protection is to hide behind labels like "natural flavor," "artificial flavor," and "artificial color." Perhaps, we need to have the FDA take a closer look at the items in those categories to see whether they're not only safe, but also desirable, if people knew their sources.
Unless the public demands a change in the policy of permitting food companies to use these broad categories instead of listing the actual ingredients, we could all all end up with fragrant piss and shit in our food.