Oh, my. I have had a startling revelation during the course of the last two weeks. I am 56 years old, and gave up red meat in my late teens. In my early twenties, I stopped eating poultry, fish, and gelatin. Thus, I have called myself a vegetarian for all this time.
In the late 1980s, I heard that a lot of candies are polished with food shellac, and that comes from crushed beetle shells. I’m not even sure where I read that, I gave up eating M&Ms. Actually, I enjoyed having the excuse to not consume all of the varieties of that luscious candy.
Then, one day, my kind and tolerant family talked with me about it. My nephew, Matthew, told me it simply could not be true. I called the M&M Company to ask if it was true. The customer service woman had never heard of that, and I did hear a little bit of doubt in her voice. I’m sure she couldn’t wait to hang up the phone and say something like, “Wait till you hear about the call I just took.”
Unfortunately, I started eating M&Ms again. A few years later, I read that red food coloring is, in fact, made from some beetle shells. The FDA now makes food companies list that ingredient because so many people are allergic to shellfish and beetles. Yuck. I now have to watch out for an ingredient listing of carmine, cochineal, crimson lake, Natural Red #4, C.I. 75470, or E120. Surprisingly, some candies actually do have that ingredient listed, along with some health drinks.
I went on in my little life of feeling secure that I had eradicated all icky stuff from my diet.
But then, Yahoo! News published an interesting story about a number of horrible things we eat, not knowing that we are eating them. Carmine was listed, might I add. It was then I was introduced to the world of castoreum. That ingredient is used to enhance the vanilla flavors or raspberry flavors of candies, drinks, juices, puddings, yogurt, and ice cream. It is made from – are you ready for this? – the anal glands of beaver. Wow. The FDA considers it a “natural” ingredient, so food companies are allowed to list it as “natural flavoring.”
Do I need to tell you that I have called the companies that make foods I eat regularly, if the ingredient lists “natural flavoring?” It is a sad commentary that I am happy when only artificial flavorings are noted.
No customer service person has been familiar with the word “castoreum,” so I have had to tell them that the FDA allows it to not be listed as such. They then either put me on hold or get my phone number and tell me they will call me back. I hope they tell the truth.
My niece, Mary Susan, told me that I should just realize that I have eaten castoreum for years and it has never bothered me. It must be a safe ingredient, to be sure, but it certainly is one that most people would be repelled by. So, I will continue to put back all the food with “natural flavoring” until I confirm with all the companies that I am not consuming secretions from the anal glands of beaver. My goodness; I never imagined I would have to write a sentence like that.