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Beaver-Based Alternative to Vanilla

Story at-a-glance -

  • Anal secretions from beavers, called castoreum, smell like vanilla and are used to flavor baked goods, pudding, chewing gum and more
  • Castoreum falls under the category of a natural flavor, so you won’t see it listed specifically on a food label
  • Many natural flavors are created in a laboratory and bear little resemblance to the natural product from which they came; the resulting chemical may even be identical to those created synthetically to make artificial flavors
  • Remember that both artificial and natural flavors are trying to simulate the flavors that nature readily provides when you eat fresh, whole foods

By Dr. Mercola

You probably know you're better off avoiding artificial flavorings in your foods. But what about natural flavors? Aren't they… natural?

Not necessarily. Both artificial and natural flavors can be made in laboratories, and natural flavors are not necessarily healthier than artificial ones. They may also be far from what you expect…

Now please understand this is not some type of massive food scandal. The use of this product is relatively uncommon but I thought it would serve as a good example of the many ingredients you have no idea are being used in your food. This is yet another example of how your food is perverted and manipulated -- especially when the word "natural" is used.

Vanilla-Flavored Processed Foods May Contain Anal Secretions from Beaver Butts…

Anal secretions from beavers, which beavers use to mark their territory, smell, ironically, like vanilla. These secretions, called castoreum, may be used as vanilla flavoring in baked goods, pudding, chewing gum and more.1

Here's the rub … you certainly won't see 'beaver anal secretions' on your food labels, and you probably won't see 'castoreum' either. All that has to be listed is vanilla natural flavor, because, after all, beaver anal secretions are natural.

It's clearly absurd that food manufacturers can describe secretions from beaver anal glands as natural vanilla flavor. This isn't a huge health issue, especially because beavers are not a bred animal, and the total consumption of castoreum is thought to be around just 250 pounds a year.2

Still, there's no denying it's deceptive, as most people would not knowingly buy such a product, especially when vanilla flavor can be extracted from other sources, like coniferous trees and vanilla beans (imagine that!). In case you were wondering, there are actually quite a few foods that could, theoretically, contain castoreum, including:

Alcoholic beverages Baked goods Chewing gum
Frozen dairy Puddings and gelatin Gravies
Hard candy and soft candy Meat products Non-alcoholic beverages

Many Natural Flavors Are Created in a Laboratory

Most people assume that a natural flavor describes something like strawberries, garlic or chili pepper used to naturally season food. In reality, most natural flavors are created in a laboratory, just like artificial flavors. The only difference is that natural flavors must be sourced from a natural product, whereas artificial flavors do not. According to the Code of Federal Regulations:3

"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,

These contain 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."

As you can see, in the end, natural flavors often bear little resemblance to the natural product from which they came. Many times, the resulting chemical may even be identical to those created synthetically to make artificial flavors, yet it will likely be more expensive. Today reported:4

"Both artificial and natural flavors are made by 'flavorists' in a laboratory by blending either 'natural' chemicals or 'synthetic' chemicals to create flavorings. Gary Reineccius, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says that the distinction between natural and artificial flavorings is based on the source of these often identical chemicals. In fact, he says, 'artificial flavorings are simpler in composition and potentially safer because only safety-tested components are utilized.

"Another difference,' says Reineccius, 'is cost. The search for natural sources of chemicals often requires that a manufacturer go to great lengths to obtain a given chemical… This natural chemical is identical to the version made in an organic chemist's laboratory, yet it is much more expensive than the synthetic alternative.' End result: We shoppers wind up paying the price for natural flavorings, and according to Reineccius, these are in fact no better in quality, nor are they safer, than their cost-effective artificial counterparts."

What Else Could Be in Your Natural Flavors?

The biotech company Senomyx creates novel flavor-enhancing compounds for the processed food industry in order to make foods and beverages that taste good while reducing sugar and salt content. The synthetically engineered flavor enhancers work by triggering taste receptors on your tongue, effectively tricking your taste buds into sensing sweetness, saltiness, or "coolness."

To accomplish this, Senomyx has developed patented "flavor enhancing" compounds using "proprietary taste receptor-based assay systems." It's a taste testing system that provides scientists with biochemical responses and electronic readouts when a flavor ingredient interacts with their patented receptor, letting researchers know whether or not they've "hit the mark" in terms of flavor.

Customers include Pepsi Co., Ajinomoto Co. (the maker of aspartame and meat glue), Nestlé and others, and, since these compounds (whatever they are) are used in such minute quantities, they don't have to be listed on the label. They'll simply fall under the generic category of artificial and/or natural flavors, adding yet one more questionable compound to the U.S. food supply…

The Word 'All Natural' Is Meaningless on Food Labels

It's not only natural flavors that are deceiving… the term "all natural" anywhere on food packaging means virtually nothing. This is because there's no standard definition for the term "all natural" when used on processed foods, which leaves it wide open for 'creative' interpretation. The term is only regulated on meat and poultry, for which an item labeled "all natural" may not contain any:

  • Artificial flavors
  • Colors
  • Chemical preservatives

But in the processed food arena, a "all natural" product can be virtually anything; it can be genetically modified, full of pesticides, made with corn syrup, additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients... so please avoid using this as a measure by which to find healthy foods. Unfortunately, surveys reveal that, contrary to reality, the majority of consumers believe the "all natural" label equates to "almost organic," and many believe the "all-natural" label means a product is better than organic! Industry is well aware of this powerful deceitful word-association, and they use it to their benefit to make health-conscious consumers believe their inherently unnatural food products are healthier than they actually are.

Nature Provides the Best Flavors

When choosing what to eat, I highly recommend you focus your meals on real food, and remember "food" equals "live nutrients." Nutrients, in turn, feed your cells, optimize your health and sustain life. To help you along, I've created a free optimized nutrition plan, which takes you step-by-step from the beginner's through the advanced level.

When you eat real foods as opposed to processed "food products," you don't need artificial or natural lab-created flavors or flavor enhancers, because real foods taste delicious. The fact that processed foods taste good is the culmination of a profitable science of artificial and natural flavors, enhancers and additives, without which most processed food would taste and look like shredded cardboard. Remember, both artificial and natural flavors are trying to simulate the flavors that nature readily provides!

Real food naturally has vibrant colors, rich textures, and is authentically flavorful. For times when you want to add some oomph to your meals, nature has provided herbs and spices, which are not only incredibly tasty but also will make your real food even healthier and full of truly natural flavor.

Processed Foods

Although I highly recommend that you eat real food and not processed foods, I understand that there are probably times where we all eat some kind of processed food. I encourage you to keep the consumption of processed foods to a minimum. When consuming anything processed, my comments above on natural flavors still apply. You really can't tell how natural the "natural" flavors are in the food. I suggest you purchase from reputable brands that don't use artificial sweeteners or GMOs in their flavors. Please understand that in some cases, federal law requires brands to declare natural flavors. So even though I am opposed to this because it doesn't give the consumer good information, brands are sometimes required by law to say this.