A lawsuit alleges that canned LaCroix contains an ingredient found in cockroach insecticide. While the accusation is likely true, it does not follow that the bubbly liquid doubles as a bug killer or that it is in any way dangerous.
Of much greater concern is the scientific ignorance that would lead to such a suit being filed. Food and beverage production is a form of chemistry and, like many folks, those handling this attempted money-grab have a poor understanding of how that branch of science works.
The lawsuit contends that LaCroix includes linalool, which is used in pesticides. But what matters is the amount of an ingredient and what it’s combined with. Christie Aschwanden of 538 points out that the drink is mostly dihydrogen monoxide, which “is a major component of acid rain, corrodes and oxidize metals and can be fatal when inhaled.” And we are intentionally putting it in ourselves!
Aschwanden added that while linalool is used in some products that combat cockroaches, “calling it an insecticide is like saying that citric acid is a paint remover simply because some such products contain it.” She also quoted flavor chemist Gary Reineccius, who said linalool is found in many fruits and it gives blueberries their flavor.
With regard to the other disputed LaCroix ingredients, limonene and linalool propionate are common plant chemicals that are no cause for concern, according to Reineccius. He called limonene is a naturally occurring plant compound and noted linalool propionate is found in lavender and sage oils that some of the nature-loving litigants may be lathering themselves with.
A separate aspect of the suit alleges fraud by the company since the self-described all-natural LaCroix contains ingredients the FDA labels synthetic. While the three ingredients do appear on such an FDA list, that’s because they can be synthesized in a laboratory, but they also appear in nature.
In a press release, LaCroix officials said the ingredients it uses are derived naturally, so they should defend themselves from this charge. But from a science perspective, the more relevant point is that there’s no chemical difference between linalool that excretes from a plant and linalool that is assembled in a petri dish.
Aschwanden wrote that if one saw a coconut drink can promising “natural favor,” many persons envision the hard brown tropical fruit being cracked open and emptied. Yet in some cases, this natural flavor is actually a castor oil derivative that tastes like coconut. And all is well. Reineccius explained, “It makes a beautiful coconut flavor and it’s perfectly safe and wholesome. You can label it ‘all-natural,’ but it’s not from coconut.”
To food chemists like Reineccius, it’s science at work. To those who make and fall for appeals to nature, it makes for a mortifying truth.
But even when desirable, natural will only get you so far. Aschawnden noted one could make a drink at home with water, fruit, and sugar. But to be sold commercially, it would need to be uniform, have shelf life, conform to safety regulations, and follow often-byzantine rules.
To accomplish that, food chemists work to create durable, lasting, tasty products that sometimes end up at the center of a misguided lawsuit.