The Fear Babe, Part 6: Castoreum

Yesterday I wrapped up a five part series on veggie burgers and just when I thought I was finished with the Fear Food Babe (Vani Hari) and her nonsense, up pops this gem, “Do You Eat Beaver Butt?“. In this video Hari informs viewers that “tons” of strawberry or vanilla flavored foods in the grocery store are flavored with a substance from a “beaver’s butt”, hidden under the name “Natural Flavors”, because it is cheaper than using the real ingredients. This substance, called castoreum, is an aromatic secretion from glands at the base of the beavers tail and is a cruel product of the fur trapping industry. Castoreum is indeed approved as a food ingredient, but is all the hype over “beaver butt” in your vanilla soymilk really justified? Not really, as Michaeleen Doucleff reports for NPR,

In 2004, the food industry used only about 300 pounds of the beaver extract, according to according to the fifth edition of Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, an industry bible of sorts. That’s a mere drop in the bucket compared with the amount of vanilla extract used. And in 2011, the Vegetarian Resource Group asked five companies that make vanilla flavoring if they used any beaver extract. All of them said no.

The average consumer is unlikely to encounter much, if any, castoreum at the grocery store. Where it is more likely to be encounter is at the perfume counter. A desire to avoid castoreum is perhaps one point of agreement between the Food Babe and I. But contrary to what she would have us believe, castoreum simply isn’t commonly used in food anymore. So it makes little sense to be telling people, as Hari does, to avoid all products that contain “Natural Flavors”. If in doubt about a particular product or ingredient simply contact the manufacturer. Be informed and empowered, not fearful.

See:
Does Beaver Tush Flavor Your Strawberry Shortcake? We Go Myth Busting by Michaeleen Doucleff
Social Media and Isolation + Monsanto + Castoreum on The Reality Check podcast

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3 Responses to “The Fear Babe, Part 6: Castoreum”

  1. unethical_vegan Says:

    The 2005 edition of Fenaroli’s handbook indicates that it is widely used (albeit in minute concentrations).

    http://books.google.com/books?id=A8OyTzGGJhYC&pg=PA277&lpg=PA277&dq=castoreum+food+ingredients&source=bl&ots=YeByZKDtcL&sig=hSfcnSCnX9LkQ7PBprj7zFg0004&hl=en&ei=Ca7HTNu5I42-sQOfkqnSDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CDMQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false

    I give far more credence to the above than a silly 5 company survey by the VRG. It’s also quite common for company PR people to be completely clueless about product ingredients. Barnivore’s list, for example, is notoriously flawed.

    • skepticalvegan Says:

      It is up to those claiming use of castoreum as a reason to avoid a certain food or category of food to demonstrate the actual presence of castoreum in a particular product from a particular manufacturer, not merely show that it *can* be used in this or that product. Around 300 pounds were used in a year, I’m pretty sure the perfume industry along with the Swedish snaps industry can easily account for that. If people are gonna say that vanilla flavored foods have beaver butt in em then they need to specify.

  2. unethical_vegan Says:

    I only bothered to look this up because I sometimes use trivial contaminants to challenge vegan purity obsession. I’m a long-term supporter of non-fear-based veganism and other forms of vegan apostasy.

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