Whale vomit and other natural ingredients

Did you ever get an email with such an eye catching title that you just had to open it to find out more?  Yesterday I got one that pleaded for my help in ending the use of whale vomit in perfumes.  I just had to read it…I mean, who in the world would think of adding whale vomit to their next batch of perfume?  Well, apparently Ambergris (AKA whale vomit) is a common ingredient in many brands of perfume!  According to the definition in Wikipedia, it is ” a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated or secreted by sperm whales.”  Yeah, like that sounds like something you would want to put into perfume, right?  Well, even more concerning is that ambergris is also occasionally used in several types of food and is listed as one of many allowable natural ingredients.

What are natural ingredients
This subject got me to thinking because, technically, ambergris is a NATURAL substance.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a natural ingredient as “ingredients extracted directly from plants or animal products as opposed to being produced synthetically.”  Well, ambergris is derived from nature but I still don’t think I want it in my food!

Think About This: The FDA has a list of over 3000 ingredients in its data base that are allowed to be added to our foods! In this list of thousands of ingredients, what else is given a seemingly harmless name but would gross us out if we knew it’s true origins?

  • Check out your next purchase of vanilla ice cream…you may just find that it contains the ingredient castoreum which is made from beaver anal glands.  And if it is in your icecream in small enough amounts, the company isn’t even required to list in on the ingredient label!
  • L-cysteine (also known as cysteine) is made from human hair, duck feathers, pig bristles and hooves, etc. It is a common ingredient in nutritional supplements and is also used as a dough enhancer. I was disturbed to discover that King’s Hawaiian Bread uses it as an ingredient…I love their rolls but I’m just not sure I can eat them knowing that there are duck feathers in it!
  •  Methylparaben is used as a food preservative and is extracted from female dogs in heat.  Yep, a totally natural ingredient that I do NOT want in my food!
  • Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring mineral that is added to skim milk to make it look ‘whiter’…apparently skim milk is really a light blue color that no one would really want to drink so they whiten it for you.  And, no, it is not there in large enough quantities to have to be on the ingredient label.


  • Shellac is derived from the female Lac beetle and is used to make your Skittles shiny to to coat your icecream sprinkles.  Like you didn’t have enough questionable ingredients in your icecream from the anal glands?
  • Carmine (cochineal) is a natural red food color derived from crushing thousands of  beetles and boiling them.  Yummy sounding, right?  This one is even allowed in organic foods!  As long as the smooshed beetles are organic, we can eat them….right?

This is just a very short list of some of the natural ingredients that are allowed in our foods because the FDA has said that they are safe.  But just because it is SAFE to eat, do we WANT to? And who the heck found a pile of whale vomit on the beach and decided that they could do something useful with it?

Do you look for natural ingredients when you grocery shop?

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About Diane

Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can't quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke!


  1. I remember learning those when I was a kid. I was horrified. There are a lot of names for things that people do not know are things that are approved to be in things.It’s scary.

  2. So, if I bottle my own vomit, think I can sell it to whales as a perfume? 😉

  3. Okay, I am officially grossed out now. Is it any wonder people are growing their own food. If I am going to eat it, I want to know what’s in it.

    Oh, and now I am very happy I am allergic to perfume.

  4. Daisy TrendyMomReviews says:

    I can’t wait to share this article at dinner tonight. hehe.

  5. I knew about the beetles – They are also used in any of the Red Dye #…. in your food. The others are new though. Yikes!

  6. Wow. I did not know those facts. Now, I will be watching ingredients in my food more closely.

  7. Samantha says:

    that is gross about the sprinkles

  8. LOL, Beeb! Yeah, sometimes ignorance is bliss. 😉

  9. Ahh, thanks for this eye opening info. I may now never eat or smell artificially enhanced again. LOL

  10. Heather Smith says:

    It always amazes me what is considered ‘all natural’ – thanks for the new list…

  11. And the saga continues. This list is crazy though.

  12. Tracey @ www.dontmesswithmama.com says:

    Ugh, so gross. It’s so depressing to me what companies put in food. Why can’t they just keep it clean.

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