Castoreum is a bitter, orange-brown, odoriferous, oily secretion, found in two sacs between the anus and the external genitals of beavers. The discharge of the castor sac is combined with the beaver’s urine, and used during scent marking of territory. Both male and female beavers possess a pair of castor sacs and a pair of anal glands located in two cavities under the skin between the pelvis and the base of the tail.
Castoreum is a product of the trapping industry. When beavers are skinned for their fur, these glands are taken out, and are sold after being smoked or sun-dried to prevent putrefaction…
Well, that’s a relief.
The European Beaver was hunted to near extinction, both for fur and for castoreum, which was also believed to have medicinal properties. The North American beaver population was once more than 60 million, but as of 1988 was 6–12 million, largely due to extensive hunting and trapping. Although sources report that beaver populations have now recovered to a stable level, some experts say that today’s American beaver population is only 5 percent of what it was when Europeans first settled in North America.
Castoreum is used in “high class” perfumery for “refined leathery nuances.” It is also reportedly used in some incense, and to contribute to the flavor and odor of cigarettes. In food, castoreum is used to flavor candies, drinks, and desserts such as puddings.
Grossed out? Horrified that humans think nothing of killing innocent beings so we can dress ourselves in their fur and flavor our candies with their secretions? I have a solution for you: Go vegan – really vegan. Don’t use cosmetics that are made using animal products, read the ingredients on food packages, call customer support when you see those scary words, ‘natural flavors’, and guess what? You’ll never eat anyone’s anal fluid again.
Co-written with M Butterflies Katz
Image: Flickr – Steve