When the phrase ‘natural flavors’ appears on a package, what do you think of? The FDA hasn’t officially defined this term, and can be used to describe almost any type of food. “Natural” is so overused and many think “healthy” if it’s “all natural”. Having worked in the natural food industry for years, I know better.
Ever heard of castoreum? It’s the discharge from the sex glands of beavers, found in two sacs between their anus and the external genitals and has been added to food as a flavor ingredient for at least 80 years!
Castoreum is FDA approved and is categorized under “natural flavoring” and is listed in ingredients as such (if it’s used in that food product of course) so you won’t know if you’re eating it. And yes, it is technically NATURAL, so reading a food package that says “all natural” means absolutely nothing in my opinion. So many things are natural in this world, that doesn’t mean they’re good.
The FDA lists castoreum as a safe (GRAS) food additive. Vanilla flavored products are usually what castoreum is added to and used for as it gives off that “vanilla flavor”. Again, only IF the product is using it. Please don’t assume that all vanilla flavored products contain this and be confused. There are many great foods (an non-food items such as perfumes) that don’t add it, but who’s to know for sure? The best move is to call the company and find out what the flavors are actually made from.
Personally, I prefer to make many things from scratch or at least avoid items that contain flavorings. Why flavor it? Why can’t we just enjoy how it’s supposed to taste?
NOTE: if it’s a vegan product then you know it can’t contain castoreum.