What is “Natural Flavor” made of? Ingredients Label – A Cautionary Tale

What is “Natural Flavor” made of? Ingredients Label – A Cautionary Tale

Navigating a nutrition label requires a few key rules:
One: Don’t eat anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Two: Saturated fats aren’t good either.
Three: Too much sugar or sodium is not good.
But what about that all-too-frequent presence of “natural flavors” (it’s actually the fourth most common ingredient) conveniently nestled at the very end of the list? What does “natural flavor” actually mean? Because, if we’re using basic logic here, wouldn’t said flavor be coming from some sort of natural source that would be listed in the ingredients anyway?

“‘Natural flavor’ is an umbrella term used to describe a chemical that was originally found in a naturally occurring source. Key word here is ‘originally. The Code of Federal Regulations describes (quite vaguely) as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents 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, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional,” which in layman’s terms pretty much means some sort of plant or animal byproduct which has been processed so much that it can no longer be listed on labels.

Just because it says “natural” doesn’t mean it’s any better than artificial. Comparing this to ‘artificial flavors,’ which are flavors almost or entirely created by humans, it would seem as though ‘natural flavors’ are the way to go. But they may not be so innocent… Natural flavors are largely unregulated, and their sources and processing can vary far and wide. At the end of it all, artificial and natural flavors serve the same purpose, to add and enhance the taste that was likely lost in processing—aka foods that you may not want to swear off entirely, but you should probably try to avoid.

While there are no distinct health risks that are associated with natural flavors, part and parcel to the fact that there isn’t much transparency into the processing and chemicals used in “natural flavors,” the topic does raise a few concerns. The FDA has no formal definition of the term ‘natural.’ Most likely, the chemical compounds added to your food have been processed enough to no longer be products of the earth. Hint: it’s not blueberry puree in your “natural” blueberry flavoring.

natural flavor on ingredients label



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