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LaCroix and its Chemical Additives

LaCroix sparkling water has had something of a moment, but anything popular comes with detractors. The fruity, low-calorie beverage met its own in October 2018 in the form of a class-action lawsuit that claims, among other things, that the drink contains ingredients used in cockroach insecticide.

Chicago-based law firm Beaumont Costales also slammed LaCroix for false advertising by listing only “water” and “natural flavors” as its ingredients, saying in a statement:

Beaumont Costales announces that a class action lawsuit has been filed in Cook County against LaCroix’s parent company National Beverage Corporation, on behalf of Lenora Rice and all those injured by the popular sparkling water brand’s false claims to be “all natural” and “100% natural.”  In fact, as the filing states, testing reveals that LaCroix contains a number of artificial ingredients, including linalool, which is used in cockroach insecticide.


The plaintiff Rice, desiring a healthy, natural beverage, was led to purchase LaCroix sparkling water because of the claims made on its packaging, advertising and web site to be “innocent,” “naturally essenced,” “all natural,” and “always 100% natural.”  However, LaCroix in fact contains ingredients that have been identified by the Food and Drug Administration as synthetic.  These chemicals include limonene, which can cause kidney toxicity and tumors; linalool propionate, which is used to treat cancer; and linalool, which is used in cockroach insecticide.

National Beverage Corporation, which is LaCroix’s parent company, swiftly responded to the announcement with a statement of its own:

National Beverage Corp. FIZZ, -0.95% categorically denies all allegations in a lawsuit filed today without basis in fact or law regarding the natural composition of its LaCroix sparkling waters. Natural flavors in LaCroix are derived from the natural essence oils from the named fruit used in each of the flavors. There are no sugars or artificial ingredients contained in, nor added to, those extracted flavors.

All essences contained in LaCroix are certified by our suppliers to be 100% natural.

What this appears to boil down to is a disagreement over exactly when something stops being “natural.” As evocative as the phrase “cockroach insecticide” here is, each of the ingredients listed originates in edible plants and has uses other than killing large, resilient bugs (or even small ones.)

Limonene, for example, is a terpene or a fragrant oil derived from citrus rinds, as described in the National Institutes of Health’s PubChem database:

Limonene is a monoterpene with a clear colourless liquid at room temperature, a naturally occurring chemical which is the major component in oil of oranges. Limonene is widely used as a flavor and fragrance and is listed to be generally recognized as safe in food by the Food and Drug Administration (21 CFR 182. 60 in the Code of Federal Regulations, U. S. A. ). Limonene is a botanical (plant-derived) solvent of low toxicity.

PubChem gives linalool a similar description:

3, 7-Dimethyl-1, 6-octadien-3-ol is found in allspice. 3, 7-Dimethyl-1, 6-octadien-3-ol is a flavouring agent. 3, 7-Dimethyl-1, 6-octadien-3-ol is widespread natural occurrence as the optically active and racemic forms in over 200 essential oils. Also present in numerous fruits. Linalool is a naturally occurring terpene alcohol chemical found in many flowers and spice plants with many commercial applications, the majority of which are based on its pleasant scent (floral, with a touch of spiciness).

Linalool propionate’s definition is even more terse:

Linalyl propionate is found in ginger. Linalyl propionate is found in lavender and sage oils in an enantiomeric form. Linalyl propionate is used in perfumery and food flavourin[g.]

It is true that linalool and limonene are used in and as insecticides, as the citrus and lavender oils from which they are derived have proven repellent effects. As Popular Science points out, it is also true that the official definition of “natural” in this context is very forgiving:

According to the FDA, a “natural” ingredient that adds flavor to a food or drink must be from an animal or plant source. But those natural flavors could still contain ingredients that are artificial, such as preservatives. Even the agency’s definitions of “natural” and “synthetic” are far from clear. The three chemicals discussed here can be derived naturally, but even if they are not (and we likely won’t know until the case goes to court), they might simply be used as additives that are supposed to modify the natural flavor compound in some way.

Lastly, Clemens emphasizes, “the term ‘100 percent natural’ does not have a statutory status within the U.S.” It’s a nebulous phrase that can mean whatever you want it to mean. LaCroix has its own interpretation, and just because that doesn’t jive with what you initially thought doesn’t necessarily mean it was fraudulent to consumers. “All-natural” labels exist solely to tempt you into buying stuff. They’re all meaningless, so LaCroix is not unique in this regard.

In other words, it’s true that some of the ingredients in LaCroix are also used as insecticides or insect repellent. It’s also true that those same ingredients are used as flavorings that are regarded as safe to eat — provided you’re a human and not, in some monstrous Kafkaesque twist, a cockroach.