That Vanilla Flavor You Love Might Come From Beaver Glands

If you are partial to a scoop of vanilla, raspberry, or strawberry ice cream every now and then (or more regularly than that) you may be in for a bit of a surprise: A key ingredient in many vanilla-flavored products — from ice cream to baked goods, pudding, and candy — actually comes from beavers.

The ingredient is called castoreum and comes from the castor sacs of beavers. Castor sacs are a type of scent gland located between the pelvis and base of the tail, and the castoreum that the glands produce is used by beavers to mark their territory. It seems totally bizarre that something used to denote territory by one mammal should be used by another mammal as a flavoring for food, but the reality is that castoreum (once processed) actually has a very pleasant smell.

If you find this ingredient slightly off-putting and want to avoid it, you may have more trouble doing that than you think, as castoreum is often listed simply as "natural flavoring." According to the Food and Drug Administration, castoreum is a generally recognized as safe — which means it is considered safe by experts and thus is exempt from more stringent tolerance requirements.

Safe or not, the thought of consuming beaver secretions might turn your stomach. If that is the case, then the best advice is to stay away from cheap, mass-produced items that do not use real vanilla extract — most products that somehow still manage to impart that oh-so-lovely vanilla scent to their products without the genuine article do so with the aid of castoreum.


For a list of Secret Ingredients in Your Favorite Foods, click here.