There’s no doubt that LaCroix — the comeback kid that transformed from the seltzer your mom drank to a ubiquitous libation treasured anew by the millennial gang — has amassed a dedicated following recently in the U.S. But that devotion doesn’t mean its fans know what the “essence” is in the carbonated drinks — and no one really seems to care.
On every can of zero-calorie fizzy water, “natural flavor” is listed under ingredients, whether it’s tangerine or graprefuit. According to LaCroix’s website, those “natural flavors” are “derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit” used in each flavor.
The Wall Street Journal embarked on a quest to find out what, exactly, “essence” is — and found it wasn’t easy to nail down.
First of all, “essence” is not a term defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, although the agency allows companies to plaster it on products when describing “flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof.”
LaCroix wasn’t particularly helpful when the WSJ inquired after the true nature of “essence.”
“Essence is our picture word,” a LaCroix spokesman told the WSJ, adding, ““Essence is—FEELINGS and Sensory Effects!”
Food industry executives and scientists, however, say that essence is a clear, concentrated natural chemical, and has been used in everything from gravy to shampoo over the years.
It’s created by heating parts of fruits or vegetables — skins, rinds, what-have-you — at a high temperature. The resulting vapors are then captured, condensed, and sold in 55-gallon barrels, reports the WSJ.
No one cares
Despite this mystery, it seems like most people aren’t up in arms about the nature of “essence.”
“I know what flavors I like but I have no idea what kinds of chemicals are in there and I don’t care,” one fan told the WSJ. “I know it tastes good.”
“Essence is fairies in a warehouse somewhere dancing with fruits, and suddenly you have this amazing drink,” another said.