“Made with natural flavor” and “No artificial flavoring” is slapped on endless food bars, cereal boxes, protein powders, even bottled beverages.
So what really is “natural flavor”?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines natural flavor 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.
Confused? This leaves a lot of loopholes in my opinion.
If the ingredient was really just a simple and healthy flavoring (such as, fruit juice or honey), wouldn’t the label just name the actual food instead? Think about it.
The Food and Drug Administration requires that all ingredients listed under “natural flavors” on an ingredient label must be derived from “real food.” However, “real food” is an umbrella term in itself.
A single “natural flavor” can comprise over 50 ingredients
…some of which can include preservatives, emulsifiers, and other additions. So when you read “natural orange flavoring” or “natural flavors”, that natural flavor is not just a single flavor, but most more so, a complex combination of extracts to taste like one flavor. Make sense?
To quote ExploreBiotech:
To make a natural grapefruit flavor, the researchers first isolated a chemical known as valencene from oranges. They also use a kind of enzyme that living creatures use to spur chemical reactions inside their bodies that are found in bacteria, plants, and animals.
The team has made a few tweaks to its complex structure and engineered E. coli to make the improved version. When mixed with valencene, the enzymes prompt a chemical reaction that adds oxygen to the orange flavor to turn it into nootkatone.
I personally noticed a huge difference when I eliminated flavorings out of my diet (among other things) and if I do consume a food item with natural flavor, my palate can now tell! I noticed a “film” on my tongue and in my mouth and it doesn’t even taste natural to me anymore. Once you strip your body and taste buds from chemically processed items, you begin to notice things and pay more attention to subtle things (that’s a good thing) and appreciate the pure, simple taste of natural foods as they are. In fact, a strawberry that was once not so sweet becomes SUPER sweet and flavorful as your body adjusts!
All this to say, the term “natural” may seem like the healthier option, but question everything! Who knew a single ingredient listed on a package was made up of several “sub ingredients”?!
Not saying all food companies are using this, in fact, there are some great ones out there! So do your do diligence and reach out to the brands you love and ask them upfront (and hopefully they have an answer for you!) Transparency in our food needs to be a priority these days.