Did you know that the food industry uses castoreum, a secretion that comes from the anal glands used by beavers to mark their territories? So what is the star ingredient in this secretion? Vanilla flavouring!
Castoreum is an oily, yellowish and odorous secretion produced by the glands of two existing species of beaver – the Castor fiber (in Eurasia) and the Castor canadensis (in North America). However, these glands are located in the animal’s cloaca (a tube shaped organ), which is situated near the penis and the anus!
Far from being terribly interested in beavers’ anatomy, the reason we are talking about castoreum is that this secretion has, since the beginning of the 20th century, been widely used in food agriculture to enhance strawberry, raspberry and especially vanilla flavours.
Are you a big fan of vanilla pudding or vanilla ice cream? Then you are sure to be ingesting castoreum, but you should be aware that this substance is non-toxic. On the other hand, the fact remains that vanilla, strawberry and raspberry flavours are used in a multitude of products, such as syrups, all sorts of cakes, breads and even alcohols such as whiskey!
However, castoreum also has many other applications, such as in making perfumes. In fact, it is one of six of the main forms of animal-based raw materials used in perfumes, along with musk, ambergris, civet, beeswax and hyraceum. Once castoreum is diluted, its aggressive odour becomes pleasantly gentle and warm.
Castoreum was also widely used in medicine in ancient times, and was included in medical treatments in order to soothe or treat fever, headaches, uterine problems or even epilepsy. Certain men also believe it has aphrodisiac properties, although this has never been proven.
Nonetheless, nowadays castoreum is being used less and less, whether for making perfumes or in food agriculture, because in order to obtain the famous secretion, the animal has to be killed.