“Do you know what’s in that?” a friend of mine once asked at a restaurant, 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 know that we can’t just run away when one of our friends take the proverbial pulpit. 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 some of 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 that some kind of Orwellian governor on the information outlays be placed on some of 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 voluntarily place a cap on the type of information they provide others, insofar as it might be deemed irrelevant to that 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 told you that 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 hard drive that if they don’t hit a release valve every once in a while, they may experience whatever occurs to one experiencing an excessive buildup. A guy cannot just say that he doesn’t want to hear it, for that would be a violation of the ‘too much knowledge’ idea. Those of us that have been through this numerous times, have learned 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 the informed consumer friend 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. And if you’re one that is willing to pay a little bit more for a product that contains the words “natural flavorings” tagline on its product face, you’re either eating beaver taint, or a wide array of animal byproducts, that may shock you. 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 in your strawberry shake, you’ve been devouring a yellowish secretion from the dried perineal glands of the beaver, in a gratuitous manner, for years now.”
The Castoreum Connection
The exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver is called castoreum, 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 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 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, 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 also important to note 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, 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 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 hot dogs?” 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? It 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? Or, better yet, do they think that their enjoyment would lessen if those tender, chew-able 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?
There is no problem, writes Daisy Luther, for the Organic Prepper, as long as the consumer knows 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 glow 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 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 forced 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 to fight bitter beer taste?
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 DEMANDS! more corporate responsibility along industry lines, they should be ready to pay for the alternatives they’re forced to 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 the uninformed consumer would step up, en masse, and say something along the lines of:
“I don’t enjoy hearing that a 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
Ambergris: The Love Molecule?
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 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 ingested. As such, the ambergris that is used in perfumes can often 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 theory 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, all located in the same region) give a fragrance 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 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 required staple of day-to-day bathing deprives us the very human scents that could be used as attractants. Decide not to bathe often and your visual cues may 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 manufacture these scents in a more organic manner, 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 day-to-day basis. We are then required, by the same, prospective dating community, to replace those scents we wash away on a day-to-day 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 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 more to their success rate 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 the history of ambergris was written? 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? 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 did they hope to achieve 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, 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 that knowledge, is how many people became 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 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 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, or even paralyzed as a result of an attempt 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 cross 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 a researcher had found it, 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, and then so detrimental, that Queensland, Australia, was forced to list possession of toad slime as illegal 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 numerous websites that will feed that hunger with numerous tidbits, and warnings, on just about every product and service available to man, on any given day. 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 the research I unearthed might contribute to the violations of social protocol outlined above, but I decided there might be some unsustainable quality in information overload. If there is no such thing as too much knowledge, in other words, is there a way to explore the too much information (TMI) meme to its fullest extent and beyond? If informed consumers are driven by providing interesting tidbits of information, is there a way to flood their circuitry in such a way that these tidbits of information become so passe that they’re drained of all value, by means of manually pulling the levers on a tipping point so that it is reached by artificial means?
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 does any harm, and 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.”
So, the next time someone approaches your table with a strawberry shake, a bottle of beer, a bag of Skittles, 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 your system, but do it with the knowledge that an ever-increasing segment of the population doesn’t care one-eighth as much about this information as most informed consumers do, and the discretion that informed consumer shows, by allowing the consumption to continue without comment, could go a long way to them making friends and influencing people.