We've previously debunked popular ocean myths here at Azula, and today we have another widely believed notion for you that you're gonna wish wasn't true. The claim? Vanilla flavoring is made from beaver anal secretions.
You can thank chef Jamie Oliver for propagating this one while on the "Late Show with David Letterman," per NPR.
He informed a horrified Letterman that vanilla ice cream supposedly contains "beaver anal gland."
There is a shocking amount of truth to that story, though he didn't get the whole thing exact.
For one, it's not even just vanilla that beavers are accused of getting all up in. NPR reported that some believe strawberry and raspberry flavorings contain this "beaver anal gland" as well.
But, here's the real deal.
First of all, none of these flavorings have ever used anal gland — it's actually the beaver's castor gland that produces a "fragrant, brown slime" called castoreum that's almost as thick as molasses, according to NatGeo. (Not to be confused with castor oil, which comes from a plant.)
To be fair, the beaver's castor glad is near the anal gland, so NatGeo reports that castoreum can be a mixture of castor gland "goo," anal secretions and even urine.
Don't worry, wildlife ecologist Joanne Crawford told NatGeo that it's not as bad as it sounds. In fact, she loves lifting up beaver's tails and smelling their castor glands. (We're barfing just writing this.)
"People think I'm nuts," she said. "I tell them, 'Oh, but it's beavers; it smells really good.'"
She isn't really wrong. I mean, if there wasn't a delicious benefit to castoreum, it wouldn't be used in sweet flavorings.
NatGeo reported that beavers' secretions don't smell bad because the animals' diet of bark and leaves doesn't produce smelly gut bacteria. It comes out of the other end as rosy as it went in.
Or, vanilla-y, in this case.
Now that we've spent way too long making you think that your ice cream sundae has beaver butt in it — fear not. The
International Journal of Toxicology notes that this secretion has been "added to food as a flavor ingredient for at least 80 years ..."
... But it's not that common in today's culinary world.
Flavor chemist Gary Reineccius told NPR that it's simply too costly to mass-produce beaver castor gland. After all, as NatGeo reported, you have to literally milk anesthetized beavers to get the castoreum.
Nobody wants that job.
"In the flavor industry, you need tons and tons of material to work with," Reineccius told NPR. "It's not like you can grow fields of beavers to harvest. There aren't very many of them. So it ends up being a very expensive product — and not very popular with food companies."
Business Insider reported that in 2011, the Vegetarian Resource Group asked five top vanilla flavoring companies if they used castoreum — none of them did.
So, you're probably not actually coming across it in your daily vanilla-eating life. If you have ever accidentally ingested beaver butt, though, don't stress too much. The International Journal of Toxicology said it's classified by the FDA as safe for human consumption.
Do you want to consume it? Maybe not. But you can.
You can still find castoreum in perfumes, though. Much like musk, which the Huffington Post reports comes from a gland nearby a deer's penis, it's popular in scents.
For example, Saks Fifth Avenue sells S and X Eau De Parfum for a whopping $150 a bottle. The secret to its supposed "sensorial translation of the seduction" smell?
Beaver castor gland!
Saks Fifth Avenue
Don't you just automatically know what Russian leather smells like?
In any case, you probably haven't eaten any beaver anal gland, and you probably won't. So you can keep on enjoying that vanilla ice cream knowing it's the same boring old flavor as always.