“Do you know what’s in that?” a friend of mine once asked, as I approached our table with a strawberry shake in hand.
Anyone that has been involved in this conversation knows where it’s headed. We’ve all been informed that our hygienic standards are subpar; that our homes are just teeming with pathogens and microbes; that everything we consume has some particular we know nothing about; and the automobile we’ve chosen has some substandard emission that is harmful to the environment. We all put up with it, however, because we know that the alternative means ceding to the idea that there’s too much knowledge out there.
The premise of the idea that there could be too much knowledge out there makes some of us wince. How can there be too much knowledge? It makes no sense. If we thought the idea was limited to the fact that too many people know too much about too many people, and that too many people focus too much of their energy on trivial matters, we might be able to get behind that. Even when an informed consumer decides that it’s perfectly acceptable to share their knowledge on the ingredients of the food we’re about to eat, we still wince at the mostly casual, and largely humorous, observation that we should place some kind of Orwellian governor on the information outlays that are available on net.
When we’re confronted by the extremes of these positions, some of us wonder if there isn’t some sort of middle ground on the matter. Couldn’t an individual go out and learn everything they can about the world, and couple it with some knowledge of the psychology of human being. That knowledge would allow them to spot indicators that suggest that either their audience is bored, or they just don’t care about whatever knowledge the informed have percolating in their heads. This might lead to fewer violations of social protocol when it comes to another person enjoying their meals, and while it wouldn’t place a cap on the amount of knowledge they have, it might help them learn when and where to use that knowledge.
This friend of mine had obviously never considered this argument, as his question placed him on the edge of his seat.
“Let’s put it this way,” he said, without any prompting. “What would you say if I asked you if you could tell the difference between the strawberry flavoring in your shake and beaver taint?”
I did everything but close my eyes here. This type does not stop. It’s almost as if they have so much trivial knowledge stored in their cerebral tank that if they don’t hit the release valve every once in a while, they may implode. You can’t just say that you don’t want to hear it, to these people, you simply have to play ball with the hope that it will all be over soon.
“I’d say I can tell the difference,” I said without yawning.
“You’d think that,” my friend, the informed consumer said, “but people confuse the two every day. Everyone that enjoys eating strawberry, raspberry, and vanilla iced cream is, in essence, a big fan of beaver taint. Especially if you’re one that is willing to pay a little more for a product that contains the words “natural flavorings” tagline on its product face? The natural assumption is that the opposite of natural flavorings is manmade, or chemical enhancement, but do you know the true extent of the term natural flavorings in the products you purchase? Chances are, if you’re one that prefers natural flavoring, you’ve been gratuitously devouring a yellowish secretion from the dried perineal glands of the beaver for years now.”
The Castoreum Connection
The exudation from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver is called castoreum, and consumers have stated that they actually prefer this natural flavoring augment to other natural flavorings … in blind, taste tests of course. There are no details on the net regarding whether this market-tested preference has been found to be derived from the scent of the secretion, if the flavor has been determined to be more delicious than the flavor of the product listed on the product’s face, or if the fact that scent is such a driving force in determinations of preferences for flavor that it is a combination of the two.
Whatever the case is, the beaver doesn’t produce this exudation from its castor sacs to tweak our senses. Rather, it is product they produce to mark their territory. As stated in some of the research articles listed here, the beaver doesn’t have to give up his life to provide us this enjoyment, as the castoreum can be milked from the castor sacs located in its anal glands, but those curious enough to pursue too much knowledge on this subject should know that entering the search term “Milking the beaver”, in search of instructional YouTube videos on the subject, may not pull up videos displaying the action described here.
It’s important to note here that research scientists in this field, called flavorists, have developed synthetic substitutes for castoreum, and almost all of the natural additives listed throughout this article. Yet, all of these substitutes fall under the umbrella of artificial flavorings, and artificial flavorings fall under the umbrella of man-made, two terms that have been deemed unacceptable to informed consumers. When informed consumers read the words synthetic substitute, chemical additive, or any other artificial flavorings, they may make the leap to animal testing, or to the unintended consequences of man messing with nature, because there are some anecdotal bits of information that stick in our head regarding chemical synthetics causing cancer and other health-related concerns. As a result, our preference is for those products that have “natural flavorings” listed on their product face.
Natural and Artificial Flavoring
So, what is the difference between artificial and natural flavorings? Gary Reineccus, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says that the distinction between natural and artificial flavorings is based on the original source of these often identical chemicals.
Natural flavorings basically just means that before the source went through many chemical processes, that it originally came from a natural source as opposed to an artificial one that has no natural origin.”
Informed consumers heed the warnings: “Know what you’re consuming,” and “You are what you eat.” “Do you know what’s in hotdogs?” “Do you really know what they actually do to the animals you eat?”
“I used to be a vegan. I grew up on a farm. I saw what they did to the chickens, and the ducks, to prepare them for our meal. I determined that I would not be eating them. I felt bad for them. I ate chicken blindly when I was a little girl, because I never associated chicken with chicken. Why did they give my food and the animal the same name? Made no sense to me. When they explained it all to me, and I saw how they prepared my friends (the ducks and chickens) for our consumption. I didn’t eat chickens, or any meat, for years.”
“And how much do you enjoy those M&M’s and jelly beans? Or, better yet, do you think that your enjoyment would lessen if they were less shiny?” The flavorists at these companies either experienced initial failure with the dull glow of their candy, or they decided not to risk it, and they added an additive called shellac. That’s right, the same stuff you put on your wood furniture to give it that extra shimmer, is that which provides a shine to your favorite tasty, little morsels. What’s the problem with that, if it’s obviously passed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rigorous standards? Nothing, writes Daisy Luther, for the Organic Prepper, as long as you know that shellac “is a resinous secretion from bugs during their mating cycles, specifically the female lac beetle. Glazed donuts and glossy candy shells owe their shininess to these secretions.”
“And did you know that Starbucks once had a difficult time keeping their strawberry Frappuccino drinks a vibrant red? Who would want to drink a drink that didn’t cast a vibrant color upon us? Starbucks found that most of the red flavorings they tried out weren’t able to keep their vibrant color through processing, so they turned to a Natural Red #4 dye, otherwise known as carmine. Carmine proved to be more successful in holding the color, but it was discovered to be a cochineal extract, a color additive derived from the cochina beetle’s shell. These cochina beetles were dried, and ground up, and processed to give the drink a more sustainable red flavoring. Starbucks was eventually forced to end the practice when informed groups caterwauled them into transitioning to lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes.”
As usual, the caterwauling was much ado about nothing, as research performed over the last sixty years by independent researchers, and the FDA’s research arm, has shown that while most of these additives may be high on our “yuck list”, there are no discernible health concerns or anything life threatening about any of the additives from the approved lists. There’s just the “Do you know what you’re consuming?” factor that has informed consumers saying “yuck” regarding the manufacturing process of some of the products they consume.
Most of the articles cited here took an anti-corporate stance with their findings. Some of these stances were subtle, others were overt in their call for greater corporate social responsibility. Their stances suggested that due to the fact that these companies are not listing beaver taint juice in their ingredients that they are engaging in deceptive business practices, and that the FDA should put a stop to it.
To this charge I would submit that most of these ingredients have been market-tested, FDA approved, and the consumer will most assuredly receive no harm from these products. I would also submit that in most areas of the food and beverage industry, profits are actually a lot slimmer than infotainment purveyors would have you believe. Those that prefer a clear beer, for instance, may believe that the use of the dried swim bladders of Beluga sturgeon (AKA Isinglass) to filter sediments out to be inhumane on some level, but the alternative is a yeast-filled beer that would lead to no one buying their beer. It’s such a competitive industry that the need to keep costs down, and pass those savings onto you, are usually the difference between being able to deliver said products to you, and folding up shop. If you are an informed consumer that
wants DEMANDS! more corporate responsibility along industry lines, however, be ready to pay for the alternatives they’re forced to use. Lastly, informed consumers are fickle beings that force corporations into changing from natural flavorings to synthetic and back, and they almost undermine their effort with constant barrages from the “outrage of the day” vault. Those of us that pay attention to such matters, long for the “push back” moment from corporations and consumers. We long for the day when the uninformed consumer would step up, en masse, and say something along the lines of:
“I don’t enjoy hearing that dried fish bladder spends time in my beer, and I might prefer that they find some other way of cleaning my beer out, but I’ve been drinking this beer for decades, and it’s fish bladder. I eat fish all the time. I see nothing wrong with it, and I think that this idea of bullying corporations to do things another way has reached a tipping point.”
To get you in the mood
The beaver’s castoreum has also been used to cure headaches, fever and hysteria, as it contains large amounts of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, and these anal secretions are said to contain around twenty-four different molecules, many of which act as natural pheromones … to get you in the mood.
Castoreum gives off a musky scent that is used in perfumes, much like a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish color produced in the whale’s gastrointestinal tract of sperm whales called ambergris. As with the beaver’s castoreum, the whale does not have to die for ambergris extraction, as it is a bile duct secretion the whale produces to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale may have accidentally ingested. As such, the ambergris that is used in perfumes can usually be found in whale vomit floating on the surface of the ocean.
Well known lover, and raconteur, Giacomo Casanova, was known to sprinkle a dash of ambergris in his evening hot chocolate, with the hope that by the time his lover approached its musky aroma would be permeating from his skin. If Casanova was feeling a particular bout of insecurity, with a promising damsel, he was known to add an extra coat of it on his collar.
The theory that Casanova, and research scientists in the field of perfumes and colognes, bought into was this idea that our sense of smell once served the dual purpose of warning us of danger as well as attracting a prospective mate, and market research has found that animal “materials” such as civet, castoreum and musk (from a cat, beaver and deer respectively, all located in the same “ icky” region respectively) give a fragrance of sensuality, because they have been found to have a chemical structure similar to our own sexual odors. Musk has almost identical properties to our testosterone, in other words, an enzyme that powers our sex drive.
Most people have at least heard of the martial game, of the middle ages, called jousting. At the end of a joust, some victors of a vital match were rewarded with a damsel’s handkerchief. If you’ve witnessed a proper portrayal of this scene, in the movies or elsewhere, you’ve witnessed the spoils of victory: the knight huffing on that handkerchief with satisfactory joy. Most believe that the greater import of the scene is a symbolic one depicting the sweet smell of success, on par with drinking wine from a gullet, or showering a locker room in champagne. The handkerchief moment has also been depicted as a symbolic one of a damsel giving her hand. Greater understanding of the “huffing on the handkerchief” moment would occur if modern cinema were to reveal that the damsel carried that handkerchief in her armpit throughout the jousting match. According to an article posted by Helen Gabriel, after the handkerchief spent a sufficient amount of time in the damsel’s underarm area, it would be coated with her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was the greater knowledge he attained of the damsel’s true essence.
Having said all that, man probably wouldn’t have to look to the animal kingdom, or its artificial equivalents developed in research labs, if we didn’t feel the need to bathe so often. It may seem contradictory, but the ritually required staple of daily bathing deprives us the very human scents that could be used as attractants. Decide not to bathe very often and your visual cues will suffer, of course, but if we could manage our bathing ritual in such a manner that our visual cues were still scoring high in the mating world, and our smegma production was permitted to organically manufacture these scents more often, provided that they weren’t produced so often that our smegma became overwhelming to the point of being counterproductive, we might be able to sit atop the dating world without saying so much as a kind word to anyone. As stated in a previous post, we are now required to bathe and wash away this smegma substance –that can be found on and around our reproductive organs, and in our urine— on a daily basis. We are then required, by the same, prospective dating community, to replace those scents we wash away on a daily basis, with the scents that can be found in castoreum, civet, musk, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs, or their preputial glands.
Who was the first to discover this?
The first question that naturally arises from any discussion that involves the “yuck factor” properties that the beaver, and the whale, have provided mankind is: Who discovered this, and how did they arrive at the notion that it could be used in the manner it is now used? Were women, at one point, so “unnaturally” attracted to whalers that observers set out to find out why? Did whalers, after a number of successful conquests of women, begin to realize that there was something more to their success rate than the rugged individualism normally associated with whaling? Did one whaler begin to put some whale vomit behind his ears before he went to the tavern, and the others followed suit after watching him succeed, until the history of ambergris was written? And who was the first person to mix beaver taint juice and ice cream together and decide that it was such a winning proposition that he would pitch it to corporations, and what was he forced to say in that pitch to make it persuasive? And what of the psychedelic and psychoactive properties of the toad?
For those that don’t already know, the toad produces a venom that can have a psychoactive effect on the human brain. What was the trial and error process that led to this discovery? Did one person eat this toad and find themselves feeling a little loopy in the aftermath? Or, did an individual walk around licking the forest, the trees, the antelope, and the shrubbery trying to find a natural high that would either make them a ton of money, or a state of mind where they no longer cared about money?
We know that the idea that natural properties in plants and animals can provide homeopathic remedies dates back to the Native Americans; to Aristotle; and beyond. We know that there had be a great deal of trial and error in that research, in unsterile environments, that produced results less consistent results that rarely had to stand up to the kind of peer review such a finding would experience today. With that in mind, the natural question that progresses from that knowledge, is how many people became gravely ill in the trial and error process, how many were paralyzed, and how many died before the 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), chemical that is a derivative of bufotenine was finally found in a toad. This chemical, after all, is not available in all toads. It appears to be the exclusive property of the Bufo alvarins toad (pictured here), so what person went searching before finally finding the perfect toad, secreting the perfect venom, for anyone that wants to experience the euphoria that can result from killing brain cells?
The 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) chemical is obviously a venom that the toad naturally produces to kill off its attackers, and recent research has discovered that this whole toad licking phenomenon is a dangerous, old wives tale. Recent research has found that you, as the toad’s attacker, would suffer the same consequences of any other attacker if you ran up and licked it. You could become gravely ill, or even paralyzed as a result of milking the toad in a squeezing motion and taking it in orally. This leads to the next question, which researcher watched their fellow researcher, or test subject, fall to the ground in paralytic spasms, or death, and then cross out the words
lick it? This researcher, or the researcher after him, presumably tried drying it and smoking it, until word got out that a researcher had finally found it, the holy grail of brain cell killing euphoria. That word soon spread to so many, and soon became so detrimental, that Queensland, Australia was eventually forced to list possession of this toad slime as illegal under their Drug Misuse act?
My Advice to Informed Consumers
If you are still interested in this trivial information, there are numerous websites that will feed your hunger with tidbits, warnings, and cautionary tales on just about every product and service available to man. If you’re one that is so interested in it that you feel an overwhelming need to share, just know that some of us have reached a tipping point, based on the fact that most of this information has proven to be trivial and contradictory. My initial fear, in publishing this article, was that I might be contributing to such violations, but I decided to proceed with it under the “There’s no such thing as too much knowledge” banner. I do know, however, that there will always be some informed consumers that are now so overloaded with such information that they obviously don’t care that sharing such information could be considered a violation of social protocol, and that that moment of sharing will arrive right before their friend plans to enjoy the products that the informed consumer is now afraid to consume based on what they know about said product.
If you’ve ever been in a situation like this, and I have so many times that I probably read too much into it, but I’ve often had a palpable sense that they’re watching me consume this new taboo from a confusing distance of disdain and jealousy. They’re staring, and they probably consider me an idiot for not caring, but another part of them feels trapped by their new found knowledge in a manner they haven’t fully explored until they witness a heretic disregarding information for the purpose of enjoying the occasional shake. To these people, I offer an escape clause in the form of a paraphrase from one of this country’s most famous satirists, Mark Twain: “Some of the times it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear uninformed, than to open it and remove all doubt.”
So, the next time someone approaches your table with a strawberry shake, a bottle of beer, M&M’s, or a Bufo alvarins toad that they plan to consume, just let them do it in peace. I know it’s going to provide the biological equivalent of letting a kidney stone calcify in your system, but do it with the knowledge that they probably don’t care one-third as much about this information as you do. The discretion you show, by remaining silent, could go a long way to helping you making friends and influencing people, and you might be able to go back to that person that enjoyed the occasional shake too, without anyone thinking any less of you.