Human Journey

Beaver Butts Emit Goo Used for Vanilla Flavoring

Just in time for holiday cookie season, we’ve discovered that the vanilla flavoring in your baked goods and candy could come from the anal excretions of beavers.

Beavers are among the largest of the rodents. Photograph by Joel Sartore. The portrait is one of thousands made for the National Geograohic Photo Ark, an ambitious project committed to documenting every species in captivity—inspiring people not just to care, but also to help protect these animals for future generations. Click on the image for more information about the Photo Ark.

Beaver butts secrete a goo called castoreum, which the animals use to mark their territory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists castoreum as a “generally regarded as safe” additive, and manufacturers have been using it extensively in perfumes and foods for at least 80 years, according to a 2007 study in the International Journal of Toxicology.

“I lift up the animal’s tail,” said Joanne Crawford, a wildlife ecologist at Southern Illinois University, “and I’m like, ‘Get down there, and stick your nose near its bum.'”

“People think I’m nuts,” she added. “I tell them, ‘Oh, but it’s beavers; it smells really good.'”

Castoreum is a chemical compound that mostly comes from a beaver’s castor sacs, which are located between the pelvis and the base of the tail. Because of its close proximity to the anal glands, castoreum is often a combination of castor gland secretions, anal gland secretions, and urine.

The fragrant, brown slime is about the consistency of molasses, though not quite as thick, Crawford said.

While most anal secretions stink—due to odor-producing bacteria in the gut—this chemical compound is a product of the beaver’s unique diet of leaves and bark, Crawford added.

Instead of smelling icky, castoreum has a musky, vanilla scent, which is why food scientists like to incorporate it in recipes.

Save a Cow, Milk a Beaver

But getting a beaver to produce castoreum for purposes of food processing is tough. Foodies bent on acquiring some of the sticky stuff have to anesthetize the animal and then “milk” its nether regions. (Read about scientists who milk mice.)

“You can milk the anal glands so you can extract the fluid,” Crawford said. “You can squirt [castoreum] out. It’s pretty gross.”

Due to such unpleasantness for both parties, castoreum consumption is rather small—only about 292 pounds (132 kilograms) yearly. That statistic includes castoreum, castoreum extract, and castoreum liquid, according to Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients.

Still concerned you’re chowing down on beaver-bum goop? Because of its FDA label, in some cases, manufacturers don’t have to list castoreum on the ingredient list and may instead refer to it as “natural flavoring.” Yum.

Follow Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato on Twitter.


Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato is a science journalist who loves em dashes, ’80s music and parasites. She has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with concentrations in science journalism, photography, and radio reporting. Contact her at, and follow her on Twitter at @mbloudoff.
  • thecrud

    From now on I will look for the imitation.

  • Sydney

    Interesting. What type of foods is it in?

  • noh Lee

    I have never known this fact you post. thx for this to let me get the new information through that we can get the vanilla favor or scent from beaver~~^^

  • Toni

    I’m a vegetarian, and that is frickin gross, I’m making my stuff homemade from now on.

  • mohamed

    thes is good thenke

  • Raya Silvermist


  • Rylie

    WOW….. I don’t think I will be eating or putting vanilla in anything anymore thanks for this information it is very interesting! 🙁

  • Ellie Rich

    thats so gross

  • Calum F Blackshaw

    And in return, here ‘s a stroy for you

  • Ian

    Dear Molly,
    I’m interested in the use of castoreum in food. I can see that you are referring to several books, among them Fenaroli’s. However, I have not been able to find any “real” evidence that any food manufacturer, anywhere, uses castoreum. The only castoreum that I have found is in a Swedish snaps called bäverhojt and it costs like an exclusive single malt.
    I would be most thankful if you could provide me with any recipes, or actual real facts, that castoreum is used in any foodstuffs (and references supporting them).
    Best regards -ian

  • Ima Ryma

    I am a beaver with a butt
    With a musky, vanilla scent,
    Thanks to castor glands in my gut
    Producing some pleasing content.
    Those humans can be such a pest.
    When I’m asleep, they milk me dry.
    Tough for a beaver to get rest,
    Tickled by them while getting my
    Stuff, which I hear they stick in food,
    And in perfumes for humans to
    Be skin applied and to be chewed.
    Most humans know not what they do.

    Labels – “natural flavering.”
    Some of me could be in the thing.

  • Leslie Bloudoff

    Who knew? But I think I’ll stick with the vanilla bean extract. On the other hand, Mollie, if you’d like me to include this in your holiday cookies, let me know where I can purchase it. You won’t have to fight over any of those baked goods.

  • jriley

    I’ve often wondered what exactly “natural ingredients” means on the food labels. Mystery solved, lol… *gag*

  • Spencer

    I <3 Beaver Butt

  • Josh

    It’s no secret that some people like the scent and flavour of beaver.

  • Feo Amante

    Why would something so rare (only 132 kilograms annually?) and so difficult to obtain, cost so much less that food manufacturers would use it instead of actual vanilla bean: which is neither rare or difficult to obtain, particularly by comparison?

    I’m ready to call Shenanigans, here.

  • Lori

    I have heard of this before but have never heard of a beaver farm. How exactly is this harvested and what is it like for the Beaver? Please tell me there isn’t a warehouse somewhere where Beavers live in small crates watching videos of a lake and get their anal glands squeezed every 5 days.

  • Lucie Sparham

    Better the beaver bum goop than the refined sugar!

  • Victor

    About 30 years ago I worked in the flavors and fragrance industry. The company made (compounded) the oils for perfumes and produced food flavorings, both natural and artificial. One of the flavor chemists told me that he used a little bit of castoreum in a peach flavor that they made that was used in a peach ice cream of a large, well-known company. The castoreum “warmed up” the flavor, and if you smelled food-grade castoreum, you would see that it is pleasant.

    While this is kind of gross, it’s not unsafe or illegal, but ethically…. I think that everyone has a right to know what is in their food, and it’s not right especially to add an animal product to a dairy product that most people would assume was vegetarian. I’d guess that castoreum would also make this product non-kosher (mixing meat and dairy.

    There are hundreds of ingredients on the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list that do not have to be specifically listed on a label. I don’t like it, but you can’t do anything about it, there are much bigger problems in the world so I don’t think about it.

  • John

    Wouldn’t it be better to describe castoreum as an ‘anal secretion’ rather than ‘excretion’ ?

  • cheryl somers

    Well looks like I will be making homemade Vannilla extact from here on out……I know ppj stands for peanut butter jam…….bbj…beaver butt jam… thankyou.

  • Marissa Richards

    Seems like the method of “harvesting” castoreum is potentially harmful to beavers: “Foodies bent on acquiring some of the sticky stuff have to anesthetize the animal and then “milk” its nether regions.” It is detrimental to the beavers given how the castoreum is obtained and because there are side effects to being anesthetized. Such exploitation of beavers is unnecessary – there are kinder ways of creating foods that are enjoyable.

  • angel withers

    that is just plain disgusting looks like i will also be making my own vanilla extract

  • angel withers

    this is totally freaky and yucky

  • Libni Winsett

    I love it the Vanilla Ice cream with Apple pie, but for now on I will not eat vanilla ice cream did gross me out.

  • Choong Jin Ng

    I don’t think learning this would put me off my favourite flavour.

  • alan

    Vanilla Flavors and Imitation Extacts are not the same as Vanilla Extract. Vanilla Extract has a standard of identity in the Code of Federal Regulations. The standard of identity lists what is permissbale to be used in a Vanilla Extract formula – which is a very limited list. One of the MANY ingredients not permitted in vanilla extract is ‘natural flavor’.

  • umm

    umm ok a little disturbing the fact that i was eating a cookie while reading

  • Dick Lorette

    When you use the castoreum as a lure in the trapping trade , and during the season you spend day after day in the presence of the odor, it does become ( can I say ) good smelling, I like to call it a sweet stink. I know an old trapper that kept a bit of castor in a shirt pocket so he could smell it at all times. I don’t know how his friends, and family handled it, but it was clear he did not care..

  • kiana davis

    that is really nasty wht the world is people thinking when they say that is good

  • Else Poulsen

    The chipper and cutesy nature of the writing concerns me. The majority of Castoreum likely comes from the beaver fur trade i.e. dead beavers. If the author had done her homework she would have mentioned that the death of thousands of beavers across Canada is helping to ruin the water resources that we are known for. Kill a beaver – cause a drought. The article is definitely lacking in content – I’m very disappointed in Nat Geo!!

  • Adrianna

    After reading this I guess that is why I make my own vanilla extract and it is not that hard to make, it just takes time.

  • boo

    I really believe consumers should be able to make informed decisions. isn’t that what capitalism is supposed to be about? Let these beaver butt-using companies and products be listed somewhere so people can choose NOT to buy them. Same with carmine (crushed beetles for red coloring).

  • Levi

    I am still going to eat ice cream I don’t really care about that it still tastes good 😀

  • Beaver goo

    That’s discussing but I will still eat dairy

  • Achowalogen

    Only a small number will understand why I say this…

    “I used to be a beaver…”

  • DeeN

    I’m with Lori and Feo Amante – where do they get the beavers? Are they kept in a lab? On a farm? In a corporate Beaver Pond? And, likewise, why use that instead of REAL vanilla?

  • Bobbie

    Castoreum is not a kosher substance, so if in doubt look for the kosher icon on the label.

  • O.O

    Please say this is a joke…

  • rpearl

    This story missed this fact: castoreum is not used today in any form of vanilla sold for human food use.

  • Really?

    What a disappointing article. The castorum comes most likely from dead beaver and is collected at the rate of about $50/ lb. (wholesale) or about 8-15 dead beaver. Beaver have been shown to increase the value of ecosystem services to the tune of about $35,000 per animal. There’s too much mis-information and it is too cutesie.

    Also, due to new FDA rules as a result of the Patriot Act, it is impossible to find out what companies are using the castorum, let alone where they obtain it. Suggesting that castorum comes from live beavers insults the intellegence of your readers.

  • lee

    amazing. So we have coffee from cat poop, lightened with beaver butt puddin, call it Vanilla Buttandgo.

  • Nathan Rhoads

    The fact is that there’s no shortage of beavers in the world. Even though this is gross, beavers were created for the use of there pelts so ethically, in my opinion, harvesting the castoreum is not a bad thing if it’s in demand. My research shows that castoreum has been used for various applications for over 80 years and considering that makeup companies and other companies use aborted babies in their products this should not surprise nor offend anyone. If you animal rights tree huggers took as much interest in what really matters, maybe you’d be spending more time feeding hungry children instead of campaigning for the rights of organisms that were designed to be used for human needs in the beginning. Having worked in a cheese production plant for two years taught me that if we really knew what the FDA considers “acceptible” by way of contaminates and chemicals in foods we probably wouldn’t eat half of what’s sold in grocery stores. And if you want to get really technical, we eat feces every day in that foods are grown in the earths surface which contains the same chemical compounds as feces and some fertilizers are even made from some form of feces so is it really that bad or just the thought of it thats bad?

  • Steven

    Castoreum is way more expensive than real vanilla. So what is the benefit to using it? Who sells it in large (1000 gallons or so) quantity? Why haven’t I seen Mike Rowe milking beavers on Dirty Jobs?

  • Douglas

    The natural vanilla flavor we are really eating comes from leptotes bicolor a type of orchid that contains vanillin. Fenoroli’s handbook of flavor ingredients list the consumption of castoreum at less than 300 pounds annually (global figure). Vanillin is listed at 2.6 million pounds. Considering how niche and expensive castoreum is the few consumers are probobly seeking it out.

  • w.h

    I don’t believe a stinking, single word of this, I don’t care how many scientific names and research used.
    Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true, just believable to those who would believe.

  • Blanket Jackson

    As long as the beaver doesn’t smell like fish, I’m ok with it.

  • Sheila

    The snopes report only states that five companies deny using this.
    And we believe them? The FDA approves this.
    It is listed as natural flavoring.
    Yeah, you are probably eating it. In some form.
    You can buy vanilla harvested from the plant.
    But it’s in many other things, as well.

  • Jeffery Parks

    I don’t think they’d allow any animal or animal part to enter the food industry after having been anesthetized. Having stated that…I do find the majority of this article to be factual.

  • Michelle

    I’m a vegan too and I think I’m sticking to hummus.

  • donny baker

    Andrew Zimmern knows it’s true

  • Chuck U. Farley

    I would just like to know who the person was that discovered that beaver butt excretions taste like raspberries.



  • Nina Heller

    Honestly, i find this very interesting. I think that some of it is true and some of it is just simply leg pulling. I have to do this for a research paper for my chem class. i found so much of interesting things, if the reader is interested go to google or bing the word ‘castor sac’ but if i were you i wouldnt look at the images.

  • O.O

    This is a joke, right?! if not, I’m never eatinganything with vanilla in it again =.= ……………………………

  • JonGrant

    For an institution as respectable as National Geographic to publish this seems a bit strange. Now people are afraid that every time they buy vanilla extract they are eating beaver secretions. I worked for a company that produced flavors for the dairy and snack food industries, and I’ve never heard of castoreum being used in vanilla extract. It’s most likely a legal thing to do, but would be too expensive for one thing. Supply would be unsure and limited. Also,it would not be kosher which would keep many companies from considering it as an ingredient. There IS synthetic castoreum, but as far as I know, the fragrance industry is the target for this product. I am very, very skeptical that castoreum (real or synthetic) has ever been used in a commercial vanilla extract. If someone from IFF, Givaudan, or other big flavor house ever reads this, perhaps they can confirm whether they’ve used castoreum in any of their vanilla flavors/extracts. NatGeo, shame on you for propagating another urban myth.

  • Bill

    Eating beaver? Sounds fishy to me.

  • Kevin

    Would never have expected this after I did all of this research on vanilla!

  • Jacquie Henry

    READ THE TITLE AND THE FIRST SENTENCE. Vanilla extract is FINE. No beaver butt juice there. Always BEWARE when you see the term “natural vanilla flavor” or any “natural flavor” on labels. It ONLY means that it tastes like the real stuff. It can be made of most anything a chem lab dreams up. America’s Test Kitchen tested a large variety of vanilla ice creams. They found that MANY of the cheaper brands in the store have “natural vanilla flavoring” which can be made from nutmeg or other spices and WOOD PULP. Not as bad as beaver butt secretions – but not good either.

  • Julian

    Castorium used to be used in the flavour industry in small amounts generally in berry flavours. There are better alternatives now so it’s use is restricted to fragrances. I have never heard of its use in vanilla flavoursflavours. Natural extract from vanilla beans is better and cheaper

  • KathyW

    You’ve GOT to be freaking kidding…

  • Tom


    “Just in time for holiday cookie season, we’ve discovered that the vanilla flavoring in your baked goods and candy could come from the anal excretions of beavers.”


    “Due to such unpleasantness for both parties, castoreum consumption is rather small—only about 292 pounds (132 kilograms) yearly. That statistic includes castoreum, castoreum extract, and castoreum liquid, according to Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients.”

    *You won’t find it in any common grocery store product.

  • Pauline M Baxter

    Got me reading my yoghurt pot. It says natural bourbon vanilla flavouring, ground vanilla pods. It is live yoghurt marked suitable for vegetarians. Think it’s made in uk and there are no beavers here. Spose it is ok. our food laws probably different and bourbon vanilla is one of the vanilla plants.

  • Brennan

    But i will always love ice cream

  • david canatella

    What ever the scent of a live beaver’s butt may be i have noticed in drinks like tea which i thought were just tea but didn’t taste anything like it contained “natural flavor” upon closer inspection. The taste of tea which i like was murdered and replaced by a vague and unappealing sludge. It made me wonder why go thru the extra effort and expence of acquiring this substance that just ruined the product needlessly.



  • Mike

    If people really knew what the FDA considers “acceptable”, you’d really freak out. Most people have no clue how many bugs, liquefied rodents, droppings etc. That you could sure on a daily basis. I also read a comment where someone said “If you really want to be sure what you are eating is safe and clean, eat Kosher”.. Clearly they don’t know about Kosher foods. Sure, it’s blessed by a Rabbi but the conditions that Kosher animas go through are completely disgusting. I woukd LOVE to see one of those PETA undercover investigations Into the Kosher food Industry.. I’ve worked in the Industry and all I can say is, as a meat eater, I am glad I’m not Jewish and that I don’t have to eat Kosher.. Fact is, companies put a LOT of stuff in foods that would gross anyone out.. Ignorance is bliss people!!

  • Caleb

    I’m getting a pet beaver.

  • Frances Runnels

    My weakness was sweets. Knowing this will definitely help me lose the weight I’ve been trying to lose,so I should give thanks to the beaver butt.

  • John Eppstein

    There is no such thing as “vegetarian” ice cream. Milk is not a vegetable product, cows are not plants.

  • Steadfast
  • Mike

    Does Justin know about this?

  • Smh

    They did not say anything about vanilla extract! They said artificial vanilla flavoring! If you can’t read why be online? Smh

  • Anna Daugherty

    “The snopes report only states that five companies deny using this.
    And we believe them? The FDA approves this.
    It is listed as natural flavoring.
    Yeah, you are probably eating it. In some form.
    You can buy vanilla harvested from the plant.
    But it’s in many other things, as well.”
    I agree with you, Sheila. The easiest solution to the problem is to stop eating processed foods altogether and eat healthier by buying and consuming non-GMO fruits and veggies (grown locally from non-GMO seeds), then these “junk peddlers” would have to stop adding garbage to their products.

  • Vandal

    Maybe it is only used in Organic products since it would be hard to extract………….just saying 😉

  • Tbird

    probably what’s in all those flavored coffee syrups ya’ll suck down.

  • Dorothy Flanders

    I can’t help thinking back to the first person that discovered this castoreum in the first place & thought it was a good idea to put it in their food… Like, did they look at the beaver bodies they’d just killed for pelts back in the early 90s and think, “look at those glands! I think I’ll squeeze them to see what comes out…mmmm, that cheesy brown slime smells pretty good! I think I’ll put it into my wife’s cookie mix next time she bakes a batch!”

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