Thinly sliced: Debunking the myth of “beaver butt juice” flavoring in food

This is the web version of a list we publish twice-weekly in our newsletter. It comprises the most noteworthy food stories of the moment, selected by our editors. Get it first here.

Trump signs farm bill. At around 4:00 on Thursday afternoon, President Trump signed the farm bill with Vice President Mike Pence and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue by his side. During his remarks, the president gave about as much air time to the ongoing Congressional spat over funding for his border wall as he did to the farming legislation, which largely preserves the status quo. As he signed the farm bill, Trump called it a “very very special, important piece of legislation.”

Incubator goes cold. A couple months back, we reported that Brooklyn-based food incubator, Pilotworks, had closed abruptly, leaving hundreds of makers in the lurch just before for the holiday season. Soon after, we received a triumphant press release from a place called Nursery, backed by another place called Chew (we know, we know…) announcing they were stepping in to re-open the space and save the holidays for all the newly-kitchenless Pilotworks members. A Christmas miracle! Alas, now the Nursery-Chew-whatever press team is likely wishing they could hit “undo send” on that announcement. Earlier this week, the deal fell through. Edible Brooklyn has more.

Gotta eat the booty like groceries. The world is dizzy with misinformation about food additives—what they actually are and the dangers, if any, they pose. At the top of the totem pole of misunderstood ingredients is a little something called castoreum. Often mistaken as “beaver butt juice,” castoreum is actually a luxury ingredient derived from beaver glands that happen to be located near the animal’s back side, sometimes-NFE contributor Nadia Berenstein writes, in a myth-debunking story for Vice’s Munchies. Castoreum has a long history of uses, from epilepsy treatment to flavoring agent. Only in the 1980s did castoreum use began to lag: Food companies nixed it in hopes of keeping their products Kosher. But don’t let that stop you from having a castoreum flavor adventure, Berenstein suggests. Go and get yourself some fresh glands today—available on Etsy for as little as $15.

Four score. The famed Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan was displaced from the Seagrams Building a couple of years ago. The new version of the restaurant, also on Park Avenue, has just opened its doors, and the world needs to know: How many stars for this one? But its public face, Julian Niccolini, had been accused of sexual harassment (which he has denied) and misdemeanor assault (to which he has pleaded guilty). This news bit would be not all that surprising in the age of #metoo and celebrity chefs, but the circumstances in this case have forced another look at the tricky question of how food establishments can continue under such dark suspicions. It is Pete Wells of The New York Times who has been the one willing to wrestle—out in the open—with how, on the one hand, to do one’s reportorial duty, show up and give the restaurant and its talented staff its due, while on the other recognizing that the ethical cloud over its management is an unavoidable part of any alert customer’s dining experience. “Restaurants, even grand ones like the Four Seasons, are intimate places; eating is an act that requires trust and a sense of safety,” Wells writes. “We want to get up from the table feeling restored on all fronts except the financial one. Mr. Niccolini’s actions have done serious damage to his power to provide that feeling.” Last Monday, Niccolini was forced to resign.

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