The Upside of a Beaver’s Backside

1       While appearing as a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman, Jamie Oliver earned a chorus of boos1 after explaining with devilish delight that vanilla ice cream contains flavoring taken from a beaver’s behind.  “Beaver anal gland2—yes,” the celebrity chef exclaimed.  “Oh, come on!  You’re telling me you don’t like a little beaver?  It’s in cheap sorts of strawberry syrups and vanilla ice cream.”  Ever since, the previously little known flavor extract3 has elicited horror as a popular web meme1.
1       傑米.奧利佛上《賴特曼深夜秀》當來賓時,一臉淘氣地解釋香草冰淇淋裡含有從海狸屁股提煉出來的香料,結果引來一陣噓聲。「海狸的肛門腺,沒錯」,這位名人主廚大喊。「拜託!是說你不喜歡來點海狸嗎?便宜的草莓糖漿跟香草冰淇淋裡都吃得到。」自此這種過去鮮為人知的香料萃取物成了熱門的網路話題,引發網友一片驚恐。


2       Although mostly true, Oliver’s revelation4 becomes less gross when the details are known.  The biggest relief is that the extract, called castoreum, comes not from a beaver’s anal glands, but from adjacent structures called castor sacs.  Another relief is that only about 300 lbs. of the flavoring is used annually, a drop in the bucket2 for the global food industry.
2       雖然傑米揭露的事大部份是對的,但知道更多細節後就變得沒那麼噁心了。最讓人鬆一口氣的是,這種名為「海狸香」的萃取物並非取自海狸的肛門腺,而是來自相鄰的部位「海狸液囊」。另一件讓人安心的事是這種香料每年只會用到300磅左右,對全球食品業來說是九牛一毛。

3       “In the flavor industry, you need tons and tons of material to work with,” said American flavor chemist Gary Reineccius.  “It’s not like you can grow fields of beavers to harvest.  There aren’t very many of them, so it ends up being a very expensive product—and not very popular with food companies.”
3       「在香料產業中,你得使用一大堆原料」,美國的香料化學家蓋瑞.瑞尼西斯表示。「又不是你可以養一大群海狸等著收成。海狸的數量並不多,所以海狸香最終成了非常昂貴的產品,而且不太受食品公司歡迎。」

4       But still, the notion that something out of a beaver’s bum might be in your ice cream is unsettling5, and it raises the question of why scientists went digging around in a rodent’s butt in the first place.  Beavers scent-mark their territory, but unlike that of dogs, beaver secretions6 smell surprisingly good due to a diet consisting of many types of bark7 and leaves.
4       儘管如此,想到冰淇淋裡可能有出自海狸屁股的成分仍令人感到不安,而且讓人想問,科學家當初為何要去研究嚙齒類動物的屁股。海狸會用氣味劃分地盤,但和狗不一樣,海狸的分泌物意外地好聞,因為海狸以多種樹皮和樹葉為食。

5       There are actually hundreds of different chemical compounds3 in beaver scent, and through complicated processes scientists have learned to isolate ones that can be added to foods to mimic many flavors, including vanilla, strawberry, honey, anise, and raspberry.  There’s also a Scandinavian schnapps called baverhojt, and beyond food and beverages, the beaver extract also mimics the smell of leather in the “new-car sprays” that used car salesmen use to sway8 buyers.
5       實際上海狸的氣味含有上百種不同的化學化合物,透過複雜的流程,科學家學會分離出可添加到食物中的成分以模擬許多味道,包括香草、草莓、蜂蜜、茴香和覆盆子。還有一種斯堪的納維亞烈酒叫「baverhojt」。除了食物和飲料之外,這種海狸萃取物也可模擬「新車噴霧」中皮革的味道,二手車推銷員會用來影響買家。

6       People connected the industrious rodents to nice smells long ago, and castoreum has been an ingredient in perfume for centuries.  Castoreum is expensive and hard to come by4, but today’s perfume makers often prefer the natural ingredient over synthetic alternatives.  Like ambergris9 vomited by whales, however, there is a long refining10  process; the castor sacs, mostly taken from beavers trapped in Ontario, are typically aged for two years to mellow11 their aromas.  Just a few of the modern perfumes that contain castoreum are Chanel Antaeus, Givenchy III, and Shalimar.
6       人類早就把這種勤奮的嚙齒類動物和好聞的味道連結在一起,幾個世紀以來海狸香一直是香水的成分之一。雖然昂貴又難以取得,但現在的香水製造者通常喜歡天然成分勝過合成香料。但就像鯨魚嘔吐物「龍涎香」一樣,需要經過長時間的精煉。海狸液囊大多取自在加拿大安大略省誘捕到的海狸,通常會存放兩年,讓香氣變得更芳醇。現在幾款含有海狸香成分的香水包括香奈兒Antaeus男性淡香水、紀梵希三號香水和嬌蘭的一千零一夜香水。

7       Returning to food, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists castoreum as a “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” food additive.  The expensive beaver extract is used sparingly12, but still appears in some brands of ice cream, alcohol, candy, chewing gum, gelatin, pudding, and baked goods.  Most often, however, the presence of castoreum (and other substances) in foods is hidden behind the term “natural flavoring” on food labels.
7       再回到食物,美國食物藥物管理局(FDA)將海狸香列為「一般視為安全(GRAS)」的食品添加物。昂貴的海狸萃取物雖然用得不多,但仍會出現在某些品牌的冰淇淋、酒類、糖果、口香糖、明膠、布丁和烘焙食品中。然而食品中含有海狸香(和其他物質)的事,在食品標示上通常都會以「天然香料」一詞代過。

8       In the strange world of food science there are plenty of other stomach-churning13 additives.  Carmine, for example, is a common red food coloring (think of red Skittles) made from boiling cochineal bugs, a type of South American beetle.  Owing to a joke by Jamie Oliver, however, castoreum still gets more than its fair share of attention.  But given all of the uses for castoreum, the only conclusion to draw is that there’s plenty of upside14 to a beaver’s backside.
8       在食品科學的奇異世界中,還有其他許多會讓人覺得噁心的添加物。舉例來說,胭脂紅這種常見的紅色染色劑(回想一下紅色的彩虹糖)是靠烹煮南美洲一種甲蟲「胭脂蟲」而來。但由於傑米.奧利佛開的玩笑,海狸香仍受到超乎尋常的關注。但看在它各種用途的份上,唯一能作的結論就是海狸的屁股好處多多。