The answer might be castoreum, a fragrant, brown goo secreted by beaver butts, which the animals use to mark their territory. This chemical compound is actually secreted by the beaver’s castor sacs; due to the close proximity of these sacs to the anal glands, castoreum is a unique cocktail of castor gland secretions, anal gland secretions, and urine. Yum.
This beaver butt cocktail is used as a vanilla flavoring agent in everything from baked goods to meat products and from non-alcoholic beverages to chewing gum.
Because of the beaver’s steady diet of leaves and bark, castoreum has a musky, vanilla scent.
Don’t believe me?
Ask anyone who has ever been up close and personal with a beaver’s bum.
The FDA lists castoreum as a “generally regarded as safe” additive, and manufacturers have been using it extensively in perfumes and foods for over 80 years, according to a 2007 study in the International Journal of Toxicology.
How much of this stuff do we consume?
Cultivating castoreum for purposes of food processing isn’t easy, one must first anesthetize the animal and then “milk” its anal glands; the castoreum squirts out. An unpleasant task for both parties, I assume.
As a result, castoreum-consumption is less than 300 pounds per year.
Wondering how come you’ve never seen this unusual cocktail of beaver anal excretions listed on labels in your food pantry?
Because of its FDA label, in some cases, manufacturers don’t have to list castoreum specifically as an ingredient and may instead refer to it as “natural flavoring.”
I don’t know about you, but the term “natural flavoring” just took on a whole new meaning for me.
Cheers to the brave soul who first discovered that this brown slime tastes like vanilla.