Advertise With Us

Fanfare for the Common Man: Beware ‘Natural Flavoring’

Let’s just get the gross part out of the way now.

DP Brown

I want each of you to go find your bottle of Imitation Vanilla from the spice rack.

Seriously, go do it.


You will thank me later.

I want you to read the ingredients.

Listed in the ingredients, somewhere near the bottom near Riboflavin or Red Dye #4, you’ll find the obscure listing, “Natural Flavoring.”

You’re thinking, I’m sure… I did. What is “Natural Flavoring doing in a bottle of Imitation Vanilla flavoring?

When I looked up the Federal Drug Administration’s definition, it says, “Anything come from something natural,” which means anything coming from a plant, animal or mineral, but let’s just say “rock.”

You are probably wondering right now, what the #$@&! this has to do with imitation vanilla flavoring? Why all of a sudden am I picking on imitation vanilla flavoring? Especially now, during the holidays, when we are doing so much cooking.

And I know, and I profusely apologize for not penning this piece back before Thanksgiving and Christmas and why am I waiting until January to even write this?

Okay – deep breath – here we go, and I promise you, not a single one of you will look at a bottle of imitation vanilla flavoring the same way, ever again.

Natural Flavoring is used in flavor of something called Castoreum.

If this were a Spelling Bee, I would be allowed to ask for the definition.
“Can I have the definition please?”

And the moderator would comply, hold up a note card and say…

“Castoreum is a yellowish exudate from the castor sacs of mature beavers. Beavers use castoreum in combination with urine to scent-mark their territory.”

In laymen’s term, that means beaver butt glands.

In your bottle of imitation vanilla.

I’ll wait so you can read that again…

What I want to know, and it’s been weighing on my mind ever since I found out about the whole “Natural Flavoring” thing earlier this year, somewhere, many a long year ago, somebody, obviously perhaps a beaver trapper from the Lewis and Clark early years of our nation, took a sampling of a beaver butt gland and remarked, “Dang, Chet, that tastes just like vanilla. Why don’t we put that in our banana pudding instead of that expensive regular vanilla.”

To where Chet replied, “I don’t know Ed, it came from a beaver’s backside.

Not until I taste it first. Give me a dip.”

And the rest, as they say, is really gross and disgusting, history.

My sister called it exactly that, gross and disgusting and demanded certifiable proof. That’s when I discovered the ruse of “Natural Flavoring.

A few years ago, I found out about Donkey Cheese…

I know… I’ll wait while you read that again.

Yes, I said, Donkey Cheese.

It comes from a donkey obviously, yet another “butt” product if you do the math. Donkey cheese is the most expensive cheese on the planet and yes, you can call donkey’s milk ass milk and donkey cheese ass cheese.

Donkey cheese, called pule, is very expensive because it is very rare. It takes a lot of donkey milk to make donkey cheese and not that many donkeys produce it, only about 20 out of every 100 donkeys, statistics say.

Plus, donkey milk is ridiculously healthy. It’s exceptionally high in protein, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids – all crucial for maintaining good cardiovascular health. Donkey’s milk is also packed with anti-allergen properties, has 60 times more vitamin C than cow’s milk and is low in fat.

And yes, it exists.

You can also make cheese from milk produced by reindeer, camel, horses, alpacas and moose. Eskimos make reindeer ice cream and in the Middle East get milk from camels.

Any female mammal that nurses its young can potentially make cheese.

Even beaver.

Which brings us back to imitation vanilla and natural flavoring.

I remember as a much younger and foolhardy man, I vowed never to pay ten bucks for a tiny bottle of pure vanilla extract. Call it my own personal strike against overpriced ingredients. So, I stocked up on the imitation vanilla. We used it for years in our baking.

When I told my daughter-in-law about castoreum and showed her the proper backup documentation, as, after all, she is a pharmacist, she said, “No wonder pure vanilla extract costs ten dollars a bottle.”

Good point.

I sure wish I knew her way back when. Of course, she’d only have been about eight, but she’d have known more about the truth of natural flavoring than I did.

Dan Brown writes as D.P. Brown because of the other Dan Brown. Dan has published 13 novels since 2013. His books can be found on For signed copies, questions and other comments, email Dan is also on Facebook and his books can be found under the D.P. Brown page.