If you stop to take a good look at a LaCroix can before slurping it down, you'll notice the word "essence" above most flavors. What's actually in that "natural mango essenced" drink is not totally clear, and LaCroix is intent on keeping it that way.
After receiving vague answers from company spokespeople—actual quote: "Essence is FEELINGS and Sensory Effects!"—the Wall Street Journal did some digging to find out what that essence might be.
As LaCroix makes sure to state, it's not sugar, artificial ingredients, castoreum, or phosphoric acid. According to the company's website, the natural flavors "are derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit used in each of our LaCroix flavors," and none of the above are added to the extracted flavors.
That still leaves us with the question of what the heck "essence" actually is. It's not defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the WSJ reports, but as far as food labeling goes, it's allowed to be used when describing flavoring constituents derived from things like spices, fruits, vegetables, yeast, and herbs.
Essence is made by heating the rind or skin of fruit at a high temperature and capturing the vapors that are created. The resulting natural chemical is used in everything from coffee to ice pops to shampoo, industry executives told WSJ, and isn't unsafe.
For now, that definition will have to suffice, as LaCroix seems pretty intent on keeping its "picture word" a mystery. Given the obsession with seltzer, and specifically LaCroix's endless flavors, we doubt it'll keep anyone from drinking it anyway.