When you crush a pamplemousse LaCroix, the company provides an extensive list of what’s not going into your body: There’s no sugar or calories of any kind, no sodium, no artificial ingredients, no GMOs, no phosphoric acid, nothing containing gluten, and no animal products. But you’re in the dark about actual ingredients beyond the two on the label (“Carbonated water, natural flavor”). And it seems LaCroix would like to keep it that way: For years, fans have been wondering aloud what comprises their beloved drink’s addictive fruit “essence,” but today’s Wall Street Journal goes straight to LaCroix’s executives with this burning question. It says they “declined to be interviewed.”
What the paper did get was a hilariously trollish response from LaCroix’s spokesperson Rod Liddle. “Essence is our picture word,” he explained. “Essence is — FEELINGS and Sensory Effects!” he added, before telling the Journal that he hoped “this answers your inquiry.”
“Essence” isn’t a technical term that the FDA defines, and the agency allows food companies to use “natural flavor” to describe things “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.” Basically anything, in other words, so long as it’s natural. It’s created by heating up the broken-down remnants of food products, then capturing and condensing the vapors that rise off. As the Journal points out, it’s been used for decades in everything from shampoo to orange juice to gravy. So in LaCroix’s case, it’s probably just a couple dashes of fruit oil — generally innocuous, although scientists have said that a ton of this flavoring can rot your teeth.
Not that it matters to LaCroix’s rabid fan base, which is largely unconcerned with the exact properties of “natural flavor.” Could be fruit oil, could be poison-ivy juice — they “don’t care,” the Journal concludes, after discussing it with several fans. One 31-year-old in L.A. says, “I have no idea what it is,” yet consumes ten per day. Another enthusiast admits he “didn’t feel as sharp as usual” after drinking only LaCroix for six months; he later realized that “natural flavor can really mean anything,” but also tells the paper: “I’ve had two this morning already.”