Do you know the difference between Castor oil and Castoreum? Well, probably you even thought it was the same thing right? More and more we can read articles talking about the usage of Beaver glands extracts into the food industry. This might sound crazy indeed but most of these articles are pretty much serious about it. Of course it is all wrong and here is finally the explanation. So do not hesitate to share it so that everybody is updated.
So many articles got it all wrong
As more and more food scandals happen, people get more and more interested on what is written in the ingredient list. Nevertheless, it might be hard to understand all these latin words and what is behind all that.
Lately, several articles made a mistake by mixing up Castor oil and Castoreum. The first one is originated from beans of a plant, the second a substance from Canadian and European Beavers’ scent glands. So the result of this mistake is that we tell people that what they eat comes from anal glands of a beaver. As you can imagine, these articles become very popular online as people get mad about it. Even thought it is true that the food industry used to add castoreum as a natural additive on some vanilla flavor, today the production of Castoreum in the food industry is annually of 300 pounds / 136Kg. So nothing compared to the 2.6 million pounds / 1.2 million kg of vanillin, another substance naturally present in vanilla scent (source: Burdock, George A., Fenaroli’s handbook of flavor ingredients).
Moreover, if we check the multi-powerful U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is no trace of any animal or Castoreum substances in the Vanilla extract. You can read the original text here: Vanilla Extract.
When you ask to top main companies in the world about castoreum, They will all tell you that it is only for fragrances, and in a very limited usage. Nevertheless, it is true that Castoreum is considered as safe substance by the same U.S. organism. Read the official document here: Castoreum.
So most of the articles mix up Castoreum and Castor oil, that is in deed very well used in the food industry but also in cosmetics among other things. Apparently, all this mess came from Jamie Oliver, the world well known cook-chef. During the popular evening talk show of David Letterman, he “revealed” that cheap vanilla flavour is made with Castoreum. As you can already see, and will see moreover here below, Mr. Jamie Oliver should probably stay in the kitchen rather than in front of a TV camera.
Castor Oil, it is from a plant.
Castor oil is a vegetable oil extracted from the beans of the Castor plant (Ricin). The latin name is Ricinus communis The oil is colorless, tasteless and scentless. Which makes a perfect ingredient to be used in the food industry, but also in cosmetics, especially shampoos and skin creams. Every year several industries use in total between 600 to 800 million pounds, meaning 300 to 400 million kg, of Castor oil (source: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejlt.200900138/abstract).
Originally from Eastern Africa, India and certain areas of the Mediterranean bassin, today we can find this plant cultivated in all tropical regions around the globe and else where of course for ornemental reasons. The 3 biggest producers of Castor oil are India, China and Brazil. It is a fat acid, so perfect for different usage, especially in flavoring. Brings a soothing effect on every texture. It is also a perfect base for any cosmetic product as an excellent anti-dryer for the skin. The usage of Castor oil is dating back to 4’000 BC. Legend says that Cleopatra in person used Castor oil to brighten the whites of her eyes and soothe her hair and skin. Please note that the originality of the beans’ look, makes them quite popular in Jewelry. It’s price is quite affordable too. According to National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX), the average price for one ton of Castor beans is around 600 dollars.
Castoreum, a real luxury ingredient
Castoreum, from the latin name of the animal Castoreum Canadense, is a oily substance obtained from 2 little internal pouches on the back of the canadian beaver.
These pouches or glands allows the beaver to oil his fur and to mark his territory. For several centuries, Castoreum was used in luxury perfumery as part of the main 5 animal notes:
- Castoreum, from the Canadian Beaver
- Musc, from the Caucasian Musc Deer
- Amber gris, from the Sperm whales
- Civette, from the African Civet
- Hyraceum, from the African Hyrax
- Bee wax, from Bees
These notes are base notes, bringing richness, long-lasting and deepness to a fragrance. Most of these ingredients are not really used as for some as the Castoreum and the Musc, we need to kill the animal to obtain it. Many legislations around the world forbid this as now some of the species are protected. Another interesting point to note is that human tastes for animalic scents is also outdated and modern chemistry allows to obtain synthetic notes doing the same job as the original animal ones.
In Perfumery, Castoreum is used as a resinoid, obtained from a tincture of the beaver pouches. After a first crush into pieces, the pouches are submerged in alcohol for several weeks. The result is a strong substance. The pouches are in generally one to two years old, so the original harshness disappeared. Here below several Beaver pouches, ready to be tinctured out.
Price can also be something very limitating. Castoreum for example will cost around 600 dollars per kg, which is the price for one ton of Castor beans. In the food industry, where margins are very tight, Castoreum was replaced a long time ago by Vanillin or Castor oil. Some regions like Canada and Northen Europe continues a very small business for Castoreum as the Beavers are very prolific and need some human regulation. As said previously, the total world production of Castoreum is around 300 pounds, 136 Kg.
So, now you know the difference between Castor Oil and Castoreum. Probably the initial misunderstanding comes from the fact that in french, Beaver is translated as Casteur. So the misunderstanding with Castor oil is quick to be done.
Now you know.
Info sourced at Burdock, George A., Fenaroli’s handbook of flavor ingredients, wikipedia, Les Parfums histoire, anthologie et dictionnaire. Images: Castor oil plant, Castoreum, U.S. Food and Drugs Administration, IFRA. AuParfum.com, commodityonline.com. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available.