Thursday, December 8, 2016

Beaver Bums

by Paffi S. Flood

I can only imagine what thoughts must be racing through your heads after you read the title. Were you thinking beaver bums and holidays? Specifically, beaver bums and holiday cookies? Probably not.

So, a couple of weeks, National Geographic posted this article about how secretions from beaver bums are used for vanilla flavorings. They appear in everything from the aforementioned cookies to ice cream to candles.

Ah, yes, breathe in and smell the warm, homey feel of vanilla. Or a beaver bum. Let your mind fly as you think of all the possibilities to how we knew beaver bums smelled like this humble scent. Yes, go there. Or maybe not.

Supposedly, when beavers mark their territories, secretions called from their scent glands, castoreum, is mixed in with their urine. It’s the castoreum that has the vanilla scent and flavoring.

Generally anal discharge stink because of odor-causing bacterium, but this one doesn’t, since the beaver’s special diet is bark and leaves. It’s extracted from the animal after it has been anesthetized. Then, the brown goo, with the consistency of molasses, goes through a rigorous refining process.

Only after that can it be used as an FDA-approved food additive. Because it’s classified as such, it can be mentioned either as vanilla flavoring or just natural flavoring in the product ingredient list.

Great, right?

Happy beginning to the holiday season.

Oh, yeah, that “new car smell?” It’s castoreum mixed in with birch tar oil.

Paffi S. Flood is the author of A Killing Strikes Home. You can also find her on twitter and facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Oh no, sugar cookies are never going to taste the same! I'm guessing these are not the only two examples of things we'd rather not know! And another question: how in the world was beaver bum vanilla ever discovered/invented??