Category Archives: Products

What’s the Deal with Phthalates?

We have been ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing phthalates since 1920. Phthalates, aka phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic acid. There are over 50 different phthalates. They have a lengthy history of use as plasticizers. Phthalates are used in the plastics industry to increase durability, flexibility and transparency. Most people’s first introduction to their existence was when either a mommy-blogger or celebrity (I hear it both ways) got them excited about all fragrances being bad. Phthalates are used in fragrance. Compared to how long they have been in our other products their use in fragrances is pretty recent and their usefulness in the fragrance industry seems to have been somewhat incidental to the discovery that phthalates increase scent throw and longevity. Fragrance accounts for a very small amount of the phthalate an individual is exposed to even though fragrance does seem to get a great deal of attention.

Much of the decision to remove phthalates in manufacturing processes stemmed from research into endocrine disruption. Phthalates are something that everyone in civilized society has been exposed to. The CDC discovered in 2009 that the majority of Americans who were tested had metabolites of up to 13 different phthalates in their urine.

Phthalates in everyday consumer goods

Phthalates are found in the coatings of pharmaceutical pills and supplements, adhesives, caulk, paint, plastic packaging, printing ink, children’s toys, jelly rubber products (shoes, fishing lures, caulk, sex toys), IV drip bags & tubing, carpeting, non-natural fabrics, wire & cable coating, all of the plastic parts in our automobiles, food cling film, eye shadow, nail polish, liquid soap, laundry detergent, and hair spray…to shorten a list of thousands of items down to but a few highlights. They have been in our products for a very long time and basically they’re everywhere. Phthalates have been found in dairy products, fish, oils, meat, baked goods, infant formula, processed food, and fast food. They have an affinity for and are eventually put into long term storage within the fat cells of the body.

Phthalates in fragrance have been the subject of warning via social media for nearly a decade while nearly all of the other phthalate containing items slipped notice for the most part. Up until around 2010 the market was dominated by high-phthalate plasticizers. Social consciousness, growing environmental awareness, and a movement against the increasing use of synthetics in healthcare and medical devices, cosmetic products, and ingestibles began creating an environment demanding that we (meaning our government) do something to create a focused effort to remove phthalates from manufacturing. Just the other day I saw a post telling people to stay away from anything that had the ingredient “perfume” or “fragrance”. It’s worth noting that the fragrance industry has provided phthalate free fragrances since before 2010 (yes, since before social media outrage demanded it.) Not every maker uses phthalate-free options as they are more expensive, but they’ve been available for over a decade now. I actually haven’t seen a non-phthalate-free fragrance for sale from anyone in my supply chain for about 5 years, but that could be indicative of sourcing quality ingredients from ethical suppliers, too.

I promise not to bore you with the chemistry in this post (even though it’s fascinating to me), but I will say this: because phthalates are not chemically bonded to the host plastic they are readily released by very gentle means. Heating (microwaving counts) and organic solvents (acetic acid, acetone, benzene, etc) remove phthalates readily. What this means to you is that food heated in a plastic container that contains phthalate is tainted with the released phthalate. Using a plastic bowl to marinate meat with vinegar…same thing. Removing phthalate containing nail polish with acetone releases the phthalate for inhalation and possible absorption into the skin (if for example there was a break in the cuticle).

Scaring isn’t my intent. Education is. The government has been working for over a decade now to remove phthalates from those things that we are exposed to in an intimate manner. Many nail polish companies are 10-free, 8-free, etc (meaning they do not use the top 10 or top 8 known to be harmful ingredients.) Plastic manufacturers are sourcing alternatives to do what phthalates were doing. Unfortunately it also means there are a great deal of un-recyclable plastics that were created for about 50 years that are not eligible for recycling and those items are now in landfills and oceans. Because they are so easily dissociated from their host plastics phthalates in general do not persist on the item. This volatility does make the presence of phthalate more prevalent in the air in urban areas than in rural. Thus most of the residual exposure is now through inhalation rather than consumption. Plastic containing phthalates is being controlled in Canada, the U.S., and the European Union and makes up for 36% of the manufactured plastic in the world. The other 64% of plastic manufacturing takes place in countries with no restrictions. The U.S. has banned just 3 phthalates of those known and used.

But what does it all mean to the individual, and what does phthalate do in the body? Being a low molecular weight compound phthalates enter the bloodstream and disrupt hormone production in adults and jump start it in children. Phthalates mimic estrogen (female hormone), which in turn inhibits the production of testosterone (male hormone). This is how they’ve gotten to become classified as endocrine disruptors. Remember when I mentioned children’s toys, and cosmetics earlier? These were one of the first indicators of phthalate endocrine disruption. Researchers found that phthalate exposure by everyday personal care products and toys led to precocious puberty in children. In some parts of the world where phthalates are still uncontrolled this precociousness is counted in years. Males experience phthalate endocrine disruption with both precocious puberty, and then with a decrease in sperm count, motility and viability. Females experience precocious puberty and then in adulthood can experience premature ovarian failure and anovulation. Remember when puberty started in the teens? Puberty now starts before a child reaches double digits in some areas. Research has also found a link between PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) pathogenesis and environmental phthalate exposure.

Individual states are stepping up to ban phthalates (Washington, Vermont, Maine, California.) The FDA says phthalates are safe. They have a whole page on their website dedicated to convincing readers they’re not in danger. They list a very small selection of products from 2010 that they tested and didn’t find any in. They also say that their role as an agency is to subject color additives to scrutiny, and that if they have dependable scientific evidence showing an ingredient, that’s not a color, is unsafe then they’ll look into it. Ok, that’s all I’m going to say about that…

As far as being able to phase out phthalates goes it’s interesting to take a look at another plastics component, Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA was invented in 1891, was discovered to be toxic in the 1930’s and was recognized as an artificial estrogen. Still in use despite it’s toxic designation, BPA was discovered to be instrumental to developing hard plastic (polycarbonate) in the 1940’s, and was used in baby bottles and bicycle helmets (as well as many other items.) The government stated in 1982 that BPA toxicity held no regulatory weight. In other words, it’s really useful stuff so we’re going to ignore that it’s toxic…

In 1988 the EPA countered rising discontent with BPA being used in manufacturing with a safety standard for BPA that was 25 times higher than levels presented to be harmful to humans. The FDA assessed in 1996 that infant exposure was measurable at risks deemed safe while independent labs countered with conflicting studies. Studies went back and forth on both sides for nearly 10 more years before the U.S. Congress launched an investigation of governmental conflict of interest on BPA. People were fired, advisory panels created and disbanded, more people were fired, and in 2008 the government decided that BPA poses risks to humans deeming it a “dangerous substance.” I guess those studies from 80 years prior weren’t wrong all of a sudden?

BPA was banned in making baby bottles and manufacturers had to “promise” not to use it as of 2011. In 2012 the FDA decided not to ban BPA from food and beverage packaging. Some major corporations stepped up and chose independently to remove BPA from their packaging (thank you Campbells, Seneca Foods, and Libby’s). Other food companies are still using BPA in food packaging that is on shelves today. As of today the Facts about BPA website state “the USFDA recently reconfirmed the question “Is BPA Safe?” “Yes.”” BPA is still being used today. Manufacturers of food storage plastics began creating and marketing BPA-free items in 2011 and it became a major marketing push around 2016 for food storage items. There is an article on NCBI titled The Politics of Plastics: The Making and Unmaking of Bisphenol A “Safety” that is an interesting read for anyone so inclined.

My three-paragraph aside here is to example that we most likely will not have consensus on phthalates within our lifetimes. This is a battle that our children and perhaps theirs will continue to wage. Fortunately the phthalate industry hasn’t organized to the point of political lobbyists and a pretty website.

Glass & Metal Packaging at Cats Paw Farm Mercantile

While large corporations are being the most resistant to making the change to discontinue phthalate use and switch to albeit more expensive non-phthalate options, there are a lot of small, independent, reputable makers who only source non-phthalate and non-toxin containing fragrances, and who do not use plastic packaging. Cats Paw Farm is proud to be one of them. The list of things I won’t put in our products is far lengthier than those that I will. Our skincare, haircare, home, bath & body, soap, and culinary products are all free of phthalates, palm products, sulfates, petroleum products, and our packaging is 95% glass and metal. The plastic I use for pumps, sprayers and lip balm tubes are certified bpa and known phthalate free, btw. I’m still testing out paperboard and metal containers as alternatives to the lip balm tubes to cut down further on the plastic.

Some of our products come with a bit of seed paper that can grow a variety of wildflowers that are attractive to bees and butterflies. Not that they have anything to do with phthalates, but they’re in danger of disappearing and that’s a subject for a whole other post.

Shrub Syrup Concentrate

Shrubs? – What are they?
Shrub, often referred to as drinking vinegar or sipping vinegar is a cordial concoction that showcases both the flavor of the fruit and botanicals, and the vinegar. It is an acidic syrup which adds depth and complexity to a variety of drinks and culinary dishes.

If you’ve never had a shrub before, they are about the most refreshing thing you can drink, especially in the summertime! They are packed with electrolytes from the vinegar and vitamins from the fruits. This is why we often liken them to “Old-Timey (insert name brand electrolyte drink here)”

Nearly always, the first thing people wish to know about Shrubs is why are they called Shrubs. The word shrub is derived from the Arabic word sharab which means “to drink.” Shrubs were brought to Europe by traders from the exotic Middle East in the 15th century as medicinal elixirs.

Traces of vinegar have been found throughout civilization. Egyptian urns dated to 3000 B.C. contain traces of vinegar, and documentation in Babylonian scrolls record the use of date palm fruit to make vinegar dating to around 5000 B.C. It has been known as “poor man’s wine”, and we’ve all probably had that bottle of wine in the back of the fridge that we poured out because it became “vinegary.” Well, the French word vinaigre means “sour wine”. Vinegar is a sour liquid that is produced from the fermentation of diluted alcohol products, so that makes perfect sense. During the first step of a two step process, vinegar is derived from fermentation of a sugar containing source such as grapes or grains. Sugars break down in the absense of oxygen by yeast and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Come on, you knew there’d be chemistry in here somewhere, at least if you know me even a little. In the second step the addition of oxygen enables bacteria (good bacteria!) to produce amino acids, water, and some other compounds. Over time and around the world a wide variety of vinegars have been created. In all probability, the creation of vinegar was a complete and fortuitous failure to produce alcohol

We know back as far as 2000 B.C. Babylonians were using vinegar to heal wounds and this was a practice continued through World War I. Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine) prescribed apple cider vinegar mixed with honey for coughs, colds, and other ills. Ancient Greeks utilized vinegar for preservation and the Romans used it as a drink, and sometimes partially converted wines on purpose to use for preservation of foods for storage and travel. There is documentation of the flavored vinegar brines of fish being carried by Roman soldiers, and ketchup originated as an oriental fish vinegar brine that had sugar added to it to create the predecessor of the condiment we now know. Because there was a spectacular increase in the types of foods available because of expanding trade routes, Europeans of the time were creating a vast number of clever recipes using vinegar.

Thanks to research by historians such as Tim Oakley, Bill Toland, Jessica Gelt, and Katie Loeb (thanks guys!) we know some pretty interesting things about Shrubs: the most interesting to me being that early versions of the drink as we know it were being developed parallel with flavored alcoholic counterparts, but for very different reasons. During the late 17th century, smugglers used to sink barrels of spirits offshore to avoid paying import taxes. To mask the taste of sea water that inevitably fouled the alcohol, fruit was put into the barrels. This also helped weight the barrels so they sank faster. This fun fact alone makes me wonder if smugglers were somewhat responsible for some of the fruity vodka flavors we enjoy today. An early recipe in 1864’s The English and Australian Cookery Book (which is considered the first Austrlian Cookbook and was penned for the upper eschelon of society) specified nuts, spices, and oranges infused into rum. This indicates to me that not only did the smugglers do a good job with their flavoring (enough to encourage experimentation,) but that flavoring alcohol eventually became a standard practice across all social classes.

Ok, back to vinegar…What we now know as Shrub was derived from the “pour off” of preserved barrels of fruits and as our ancestors were a thrifty lot, this liquid became a commodity in its own right. It was prized for its restorative qualities. The practice of drinking vinegars carried over into colonial America. While not intentionally created as was the fruited alcohol, both mechanisms do bear a striking resemblance to each other in their ability to preserve and to be flavored.

Shrubs went in and out of fashion for nearly 400 years. They were sold in public houses alongside alcoholic beverages. All social classes partook of Shrubs, though due to basically being the world’s first energy drink they found favor with those who worked hard and required constant hydration. During the Temperance Movement of the 19th century Shrubs were considered acceptable alternatives to spirits. It became trendy during this time to find historical and biblical refereces to imbibing drinking vinegars which lent additional legitimacy to the beverage. The drink that started its American presence as a thirst quenching drink for field laborers is now enjoying a resurgence as a flavoring for water, cocktails, meat marinades, sauces, and salad vinaigrettes.

Shrub vs Switchel
You might hear the word Switchel in conjunction with Shrubs. Shrubs (aka Drinking Vinegar) and Switchels (aka Swizzle or Haymaker’s Punch) have both some similarities and differences. Both have history as a way to preserve fruits with vinegar. Shrubs rely on the fruit and sugar for their flavor while Switchels rely on the vinegar combined with ginger and molasses for their flavor. Shrubs are fruity while Switchels are closer in taste to flat ginger beer. Switchels are meant to be consummed as a stand alone drink while Shrubs are a syrup which can flavor a variety of liquids or be used in a culinary capacity.

Shrub Syrup Concentrate makes a very refreshing, thirst-quenching drink when combined with water, seltzer/sparkling water, and iced tea. It’s also useful and yummy used as the vinegar portion of BBQ sauce and meat marinade. Salad dressing really showcases the flavors of Shrup Syrup Concentrate in a simple oil and vinegar preparation. I especially love an oil/shrub dressing on fresh spring mix greens with a little feta.

Benefits of Drinking Shrub
The benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar are many! Studies show that daily consumption of acv leads to regulation of blood sugar levels and reduced cholesterol. By preventing your body from fully digesting starch, acv lowers the body’s glycemic resonse to the starch ingested thus keeping blood sugar levels in check. There is chat about its weight loss benefits and this is thought to be because of the satiety conferred between meals. Scientists are studying links between tumor size/growth rate and consumption of apple cider vinegar, as well as cancer risk and acv consumption. Research is also being done into the effects and potential benefits for diabetics. That’s research – not conclusions yet, so if you fall into one of those health scenarios then discuss with your physician and make your choices.

You may have heard about all the ways energy drinks are bad for those who consume them? If you are looking for a natural and healthy energy boost then Shrubs are a great answer. ACV contains enzymes and potassium that counter fatigue and also which have alkalizing effects in the body. ACV nutrients can help buffer acidity and restore an alkaline pH, protecting against oxidation and cellular damage. Ascetic acid as well as acv’s other acids (malic and ascorbic) have been shown to improve the body’s nonheme iron uptake and that’s even more important for vegetarians and vegans that do not get heme iron from consuming animal products. Ascorbic acid in acv also enhances copper absorption, and copper helps the body absorb iron. Iron is needed to transport oxygen between muscle cells, which helps produce energy. This is why many people who are iron deficient suffer from fatigue.

ACV helps lower high blood pressure because it helps reduce sodium levels. Potassium works with sodium to maintain blood pressure levels, but when there’s too much sodium in the body blood pressure goes up. Adding extra potassium via acv can help balance the sodium in the blood and reduces high blood pressure. Shrubs are a great alternative to those seeking to move away from the empty calories and sugar overload of soft drinks.

I had to throw some more science in here. It’s awesome info! I know, I’m a nerd. You’re welcome. lol

Shelf Life
One of the main reasons Shrubs fell out of style the last time was due to the advent of home refrigeration. I see this as precisely why they have become of interest again. Our society is becoming more in tune with our past, and we are looking for alternatives to food storage and preparation – just in case. Shrub Syrup Concentrates can wait patiently in the pantry for several years unopened, and for about a year in the refrigerator after opening.

Cats Paw Farm Shrub Syrup Concentrates
I seasonally create several flavors of Shrub Syrup Concentrate.
Currently in stock are:
Apple Sage
Apricot Cacao
Blackberry Lemonbalm
Cherry Thyme
Huckleberry Wild Rose
Peach Cinnamon
Pear Rosemary
Raspberry Mint
Strawberry Chamomile
Plum Basil will be back soon, the plums are nearly ripe for this year’s batch.
All flavors are available in 6oz bottles, and most are also available in 14oz bottles. 6oz bottles are available on our website. Currently the 14oz bottles are only available through our physical storefront. I’m working on finding a box appropriately sized for shipping them.

Here’s a Basic Shrub Salad Dressing
1/2 cup Shrub Syrup Concentrate of your choice (I like Blackberry Lemon)
1/2 cup olive or avocado oil
2-3 tbsp pure maple syrup or raw honey
1 clove minced garlic (optional)
salt of your choice (I like himalayan pink salt) and pepper
Whisk it all together and drizzle over your salad. Yummy!! This lasts well in the fridge for about a week

“French” Dressing
1/2 cup Shrub Syrup Concentrate of your choice (I like Strawberry Chamomile)
1/2 cup olive or coconut oil
1 tsp tomato paste (or 1/3 cup ketchup)
2-3 tbsp pure maple syrup or raw honey
1 tsp paprika
salt of your choice (I like himalayan pink salt) and pepper
Whisk it all together and drizzle over your salad. Yummy!! This lasts well in the fridge for about a week

Basic Marinade (chicken, pork, steak, salmon, veggies…)
ACV weakens the colagen and protein in meat so will soften a tough steak as well as flavor it. Limit veggie marination to 30 minutes; fish, pork, chicken, and any kabob meat to 2 hours max, and steak to 6-8 hours.

1 cup oil of your choice (olive is good, it helps seal in the juiciness)
1/2 cup Shrub Syrup Concentrate
1/3 cup tamari, soy sauce, or coconut aminos
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp mustard (Honey Dijon is good or Peach Mustard for pork)
optional as desired
1 small onion minced if not blending
2 cloves garlic if not blending
thyme leaves and/or rosemary leaves as desired (no stems)

You can either 1) whisk all of this together or 2) add it to a food processor and blend it
Add the meat to a bag or a bowl and add the marinade. Cover tightly if you use a bowl. Place in refrigerator for the desired time according to your meat or veggie type and turn the food a couple of times so it gets evenly exposed to the marinade.

Not-Really-Recipes, but More Ideas on how I use Shrubs in Cooking
I cook a lot without a recipe. Shrubbed Chicken is a favorite for me. I cook on the stovetop in a skillet. Pat the chicken down with olive oil and sprinkle a little salt, pepper, and basil over the meat. Brown the meat and then add a few tablespoons of Shrub Syrup Concentrate (Pear Rosemary is good) to the pan and let it steam to finish cooking. The flavor and texture is great! You can also do this with pork and salmon.

Shrub Seltzer
Simply choose your favorite flavor of Shrub Concentrate and pour a little into seltzer over crushed ice. The Shrub Syrup Concentrate lends a festive splash of color and a refreshing tangy twist. We all need to drink water, why not make it fun?

Sober Mule
Add Apple Sage Shrub Concentrate to ginger ale and garnish with a slice of lime.

Ginger Pear-fection
1 part Pear Rosemary Shrub Syrup
1 part Ginger Liqueur
2 parts whiskey
.5 part fresh lemon juice
splash of seltzer water
Stir the first 4 ingredients together with ice and strain into a lowball glass full of ice. Top it with seltzer water and garnish with lemon peel.

Berry Shrub Cocktail
1 part Raspberry Lemonbalm Shrub Syrup
1 part Vodka, Gin, or Tequila – your choice
splash of seltzer water
Add Shrub Syrup and alcohol to a glass of ice and garnish with raspberries (or other seasonal fruit)
This one can be made with any Shrub Syrup just switch out the garnish for something appropriate

Peach Out
1 part Peach Cinnamon Shrub Syrup
2 parts Vodka
.5 parts fresh lemon juice
drizzle of honey
just a dash of bitters
Shake all of this together and train into a glass over ice. Top it with seltzer water and garnish with a cinnamon stir stick.

I’m always cooking up something, and lately my thoughts have turned to a fruity Shrub Salsa. I’m thinking peaches, onion, maybe a little jalapeno and some Huckleberry Wild Rose Shrub Syrup.

Thanks to my beautiful sister Katie for suggesting that I write this blog article so she has all my info & trivia about Shrubs in one place!