“Do you know what’s in that?” a friend of mine asked me, as I approached our table with a strawberry shake in hand.
Those of us that have heard this line, in reference to what we are about to consume, know where this conversation is headed. When we hear that our hygienic standards are subpar, that our homes are just teeming with pathogens and microbes, that the automobile we’ve chosen has some substandard emission that is harmful to the environment, we know that we can’t just run away. We put up with it, all of it, because the alternative means conceding to the idea that there’s too much knowledge out there.
The premise of the idea that there could be too much knowledge makes us wince. How can there be too much knowledge? It makes no sense. If we thought this contention was limited to the idea 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 acceptable for him to share his knowledge on the ingredients of the food we’re about to eat, we might still wince at what we hope amounts to nothing more than casual, and humorous observations. We might consider the idea of placing some kind of Orwellian governor on the information available on the net, but we won’t concede to the idea that there’s too much knowledge available to concerned consumers. Knowing that such an institutional governor on information outlays violates our personal constitution, we might want to ask informed consumers to place a cap on the type of information they provide others, insofar as it they deem it irrelevant to an audience that “simply has to hear about it”. We think the onus should be on the speaker to notice when their audience becomes visibly agitated that so few people recognize the violation of intruding upon the enjoyment of a meal with trivial information that is often vulnerable to contradictory studies.
This friend of mine was on the edge of his seat, as if he couldn’t wait to hear what he was about to say, or that he couldn’t wait to share his knowledge with me.
“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “What would you say if I asked you if you couldn’t 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. One cannot just say that you don’t want to receive this information dump, for we know that if we play ball with them 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. Those that enjoy eating strawberry, raspberry, and vanilla iced cream are, in essence, a big fan of beaver taint. And if they’re willing to pay a little bit more for a product that contains the words “natural flavorings” tagline on its product face, they should know that they’re either eating beaver taint, or a wide array of animal byproducts, that may shock them. The natural assumption is that the opposite of natural flavorings involves manmade, chemical enhancement, but does the average consumer know the true extent of the term ‘natural flavorings’ in the products they purchase? Chances are if they prefer natural flavoring in their strawberry shake, they’ve been devouring a yellowish secretion from the dried perineal glands of the beaver, in a gratuitous manner, for years now.”
The Castoreum Connection
Castoreum is the exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver and consumers have stated that they 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 is 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 exudate 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. Rather, enterprising young hands milk it from the castor sacs located in its anal glands. Those curious enough to pursue too much knowledge on this subject should know that entering the search term “Milking the beaver” in a search engine, to find in search of instructional 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 manmade, but these two terms are now 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 finding the difference between natural and artificial flavorings requires one to look to the original source of these chemicals used.
“Natural flavorings just means that before the source went through many chemical processes, that it came from an organic, 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?” and “Do you know what they do to the animals you eat?”
“I used to be a vegan,” a friend of mine said. “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 had no idea I was eating a chicken when I was a little girl. 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.”
On that note, how much does the average consumer enjoy M&M’s and jelly beans? Would their enjoyment of these products lessen if the tender, chewable morsels 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 we put on our wood furniture to give it that extra shimmer, is the same additive they add to our favorite tasty, little morsels to make them shine. What’s the problem with that, if it has passed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rigorous standards?
“Nothing,” writes Daisy Luther, for the Organic Prepper, as long as they know that shellac “is a resinous secretion from bugs during their mating cycles, the female lac beetle in particular. Glazed donuts and glossy candy shells owe their shininess to these secretions.
Does the average consumer 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 tested 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 some discovered the product to be a cochineal extract, a color additive derived from the cochina beetle’s shell. The process involved drying up the cochina beetles, grounding them up, and processing them to give the drink a more sustainable red flavoring. Informed consumers forced Starbucks to end the practice when informed groups caterwauled them into transitioning to lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes.
As usual, all this caterwauling is 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.
Fish Bladders and Bitter Beer Face
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 receive no harm from these products. I would also submit that in most areas of the food and beverage industry, profits are a lot slimmer than infotainment purveyors would have consumers 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 the consumer, are often the difference between being able to deliver said products, and folding up shop. If an informed consumer that “DEMANDS!” more corporate responsibility along industry lines, they should be ready to pay for the alternatives they pass onto the consumer. Informed consumers are also fickle beings that force corporations into changing from natural flavorings to synthetic and back, and they almost undermine their effort with constant barrages from their ‘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 an uninformed consumer would step up, en masse, and say something along the lines of this:
“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, but I’ve been drinking this beer, and its fish bladder remnants, for decades. 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 Us 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 us in the mood.
Castoreum gives off a musky scent 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. Ambergris is a bile duct secretion the whale produces to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale may have ingested. As such, enterprising souls often locate the ambergris used in perfumes floating on the surface of the ocean in whale vomit.
Well-known lover, and raconteur, Giacomo Casanova, often sprinkled 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 would add an extra coat of it on his collar.
The theory that Casanova, and research scientists in the field of perfumes and colognes, bought to the study was that our sense of smell once served the dual purpose of warning us of danger as well as attracting a prospective mate. Market research used these findings and expounded on them. They found that animal “materials” such as civet, castoreum and musk (from a cat, beaver and deer, all located in the same region) give a fragrance sensuality, because they found their chemical structure to be 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 the match received their reward, the 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 began huffing on that handkerchief with celebratory 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 stories of this moment depicted it as a symbolic one of a damsel giving her hand. The details of this “huffing on the handkerchief” moment suggest 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, the handkerchief received a coating of her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was greater knowledge he attained of the damsel’s true essence.
Having said all that, man needn’t 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 ritual required staple of day-to-day bathing deprives us the very human scents that are, in many ways, attractants. Decide not to bathe very often and your visual cues will suffer, of course. Some might consider it a juggling act fraught with peril, but if we manage our bathing ritual in such a manner that our visual cues are still scoring high in the world of attraction, we might be able to maximize our smegma production if we lessen our bathing. Doing so, according to the research scientists quoted here, could land us atop the dating world without having to say 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 –located on and around our reproductive organs, and in our urine– on a day-to-day basis. The same, prospective dating community then requires us to replace those scents we wash away on a day-to-day basis, with the scents 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 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?
Did it have anything to do with the fact that someone noticed that an inordinate amount of women had an inordinate attraction to whalers? Did this first observer set about trying to find out why? Did whalers, after a number of successful conquests of women, begin to realize that there was something to their success rate? Did they find that there was something more than the rugged individualism that women seemed to associate 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 someone officially unlocked the alluring properties of ambergris? On that note, who was the first person to mix beaver taint juice and ice cream together and decide that it was such a winning proposition that it could be used in a pitch to corporations, and what was he forced to say in that pitch to make it persuasive? While we’re on this topic, how was the psychedelic and psychoactive properties of the toad discovered?
For those that don’t 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? How did they discover that this particular toad’s venom had these properties? Did they discover it by accident, or did they walk around licking the forest, the trees, the antelope, and the shrubbery trying to find a natural high that would lead to fame and fortune? We can make an educated guess that an individual that persisted in this manner, probably doesn’t care about money as much as they do achieving a state of mind where they no longer cared about money, or anything else.
We know that the idea that natural properties in plants and animals can provide homeopathic remedies, and that those theories date 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 environments that were not sterile, that produced less consistent results that would have a difficult time standing up to the kind of peer review such a finding would experience today. With that in mind, the natural questions that arise from this trial and error approach. How many people became ill due to the error, how many experienced short-term and long term paralytic effects? How many died before they found that it was the 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), chemical that is a derivative of bufotenine located 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 there had to be a person, or a number of people, that began licking a wide variety of toads before they discovered the perfect toad, secreting the perfect venom, for those that wanted to experience the euphoria that can result from killing brain cells?
The 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) chemical is a natural venom that the toad 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 the human being, otherwise viewed as the toad’s attacker, is susceptible to the same consequences of any other attacker if they ran up and licked it. The human attacker could become ill and paralyzed when attempting to milk the toad in a squeezing motion and taking it in an oral manner. 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 crossed out the words “lick it”? This researcher, or the researcher after him, must have tried drying it and smoking it, until word “got out” that someone found the holy grail of brain cell killing euphoria. Word leaked, of course, and the secretions of the Bufo alvarins toad soon became so pervasive in a society. This knowledge soon became so ubiquitous, and eventually so detrimental, that Queensland, Australia, placed possession of toad slime on its list of illegal items, under their Drug Misuse act?
My Advice to Informed Consumers
If the reader is anything like my informed consumer friend, from the restaurant, and they are interested in trivial information about consumable products, they already know that there are websites that will feed their hunger for such information. These websites provide tidbits, and warnings, on just about every product and service available to man, on a daily basis. If this informed consumer is so interested in this information that they feel an overwhelming need to share, just know that an ever-increasing segment of the population has reached a tipping point, based on the fact that most of this information has proven to be either a trivial concern or contradictory.
My initial fear, in publishing this article, was that it might contribute to what I deem to be violations of social protocol, 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, like my informed consumer friend, that are now so overloaded with such information that they don’t believe that sharing such information can do any harm. I also know that that moment of sharing will arrive soon after the unsuspecting sits down to enjoy those products that the informed consumer is now afraid to consume based on what they know about said product. To these people, I paraphrase one of Mark Twain’s most famous quotes: “Some of the times it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear uninformed, than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Therefore, the next time someone approaches your table with a strawberry shake, a bottle of beer, M&M’s, or a fried Bufo alvarins toad that they plan to consume in some manner, let them do it in peace. I know it’s going to provide the informed consumer the biological equivalent of letting a kidney stone calcify in their system. If they were to ask me for advice, however, I would tell them to use discretion. I would tell them that ever-increasing segment of the population doesn’t care one-eighth as much about this information as most informed consumers do, and the discretion the informed consumer shows, by allowing the consumption to continue without comment, could go a long way to them making friends and influencing people.