What is Castoreum from Beavers? Uses in perfumes and food

What is Castoreum?

castoreum sac

Castoreum is a yellowish substance secreted by beavers; it is also called “castor“. This substance is contained in a sac that is located under the tail of the beavers. It is an animal byproduct that is used in perfumes, creams, and soaps as a fixative and in food and drinks as a flavoring agent. Castor is considered safe for human consumption by the FDA. Below is the process of harvesting castoreum, its uses, and also the names of some brands that used castor in their products.

When harvested the raw substance is referred to as birch tar or Russian leather; it is usually yellowish in color but the wet substance is not what is needed, rather the flesh inside each pod when dried slowing over a minimum period of about 7 days is what is used as “castoreum” (the dried and macerated castor sac). It usually undergoes processing by diluting it in hot ethanol (a type of alcohol); when mixed with ethanol, it forms a tincture and makes the castoreum more pleasant, sweet, and soothing.

What are beavers?

Beavers are rodents that live partly in water and on land. They are found mostly in North America (especially in Canada) and Russia (especially in Siberia).

Uses of Castoreum

Castor is said to have a medicinal effect but is often used in perfumes and some expensive drinks. Most of the uses of castor are because of its calming and soothing effect. Below are the various uses.

Medicinal Uses

  • It is used for anxiety and sleeping difficulty. This is because of its calming effect.
  • Some women use it to treat painful periods.

Use in Food and Drinks

It is used in foods and beverages as a food flavoring. This was prior to the discovery of synthetic vanilla flavor. Castoreum has a scent similar to vanilla, raspberry, or strawberry and was used for flavoring cakes, ice creams,  puddings, etc. But with excessive demand, there was pressure to hunt for more beavers to meet the growing need for castoreum, this lead to the drastic reduction in the population of beavers with accompanying scarcity and therefore, an increase in the cost.

The scarcity and cost have now made the use of castoreum in food and drinks be limited to only expensive and exotic food and drinks. Most foods and baked products that use flavoring are more likely to go for synthetic vanilla than for castor of beavers as an additive.

Common brands of alcoholic beverages that still use castor are Eau De Musc and Bäverhojt.

Because castor is designated by the FDA as “safe for use”, companies are not obligated to name it as an ingredient and most companies simply use “food flavoring” (which makes it difficult to know what kind of food flavoring was used.)

Uses in Cosmetics

In the manufacturing industry, castoreum tincture is used as a fragrance or fixative in perfumes, cosmetics, and soaps. Common brands include Emeraude made by Coty; Magie Noire by Coty, and Antaeus by Chanel.

How is Castoreum Harvested?

how to harvest castor glands from beavers
How to harvest the castor sacs from beavers.

Many years ago, beavers were killed before harvesting their castoreum; but today, most (but not all) are anesthetized and then an incision is made about 2 inches above the vent hole between the pelvis and base of the tail before removing the castor sacs. The castor glands are two in number, one on each side; the glands can be found in both the male and female beavers. Prior to drying, the yellowish substance has a consistency similar to that of molasses.

Drying the harvested castor glands

After harvesting, the castor glands should be dried as they are high in high moisture content. When the castor glands are removed, you need to hang them to dry slowly at a temperature of about 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You will know if it is ready when the pod is dry-to-touch.

Grades of castor sacs

Castoreum is sold per ounce. There are different grades when selling or buying;

  • Grade 1 castoreum is usually big and full in appearance and has a generally brownish color.
  • Grade 2 castoreum pod is darker in color than grade 1  and not as full.
  • Grade 3 castoreum pod is virtually empty and very dry. This is preferred as it will just be macerated directly without further drying.

Is the use of castoreum illegal?

It is not illegal to use castor because it is designated by the Food and Drug Administration as being safe for use. In fact, it is being sold online and can be purchased on Etsy.com and eBay.com; 1 ounce of castor goes for about $20.

Side Effects

There hasn’t been any evidence of side effects, allergies, or reactions associated with the use of castoreum even as it has been used in food and perfumes for decades.

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