Yesterday, a friend of mine shared a post on Facebook that claimed anal secretions from beavers are used to flavor foods. After immediately gagging at the thought, I decided to do some research because I sure hope it's not true!

What is Castoreum?

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Castoreum is a yellowish-brown substance located in beavers’ castor sacs, which are found between the pelvis and the base of the tail. The animals mark their territories by building piles of mud, sticks or grass along the water’s edge and secreting castoreum on top. These “castor mounds” give off scents strong enough that humans can easily detect them."

It apparently has a "sweet but musky" smell which is a side effect of their diets. Humans have used Castoreum for various purposes for thousands of years. Mainly for medical purposes like headaches, toothaches, gout, but it's also been found in perfumes. I want to know how that came about. Like, who was the first person to think "oh I wonder what I can do with this beaver juice."

Castoreum as Food Flavoring

In order extract the Castoreum, beavers are given anesthesia and then "milked." Can you imagine having that job? It can also be harvested if a beaver has died of natural causes and their castor sac removed and dried. It was, in fact, used as raspberry or vanilla flavoring in the early 20th century, but was mostly discontinued around 1987. . So, the chance of it being in modern day foods is pretty much non-existent.

Even thought the Food and Drug Administration lists Castoreum as safe for human consumption, the process for harvesting the beaver secretion is not conducive for fast-paced food economy. The popularity of the Castoreum also led to a dangerous decline in beaver populations which if it continued would have been bad for ecosystems everywhere. And poor beavers! A much more efficient vanilla-substitute has since been developed called Vanillin.

So thankfully, we can go ahead and call this viral social media post de-bunked. You don't have to worry about ingesting beaver goo in your favorite ice cream or baked goods. Whew!

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