Are Natural Flavors Really Natural?
Have you ever made flavored water with chunks of fruit? It’s delicious, but the flavor isn’t quite as intense as it is in my favorite naturally flavored sparkling water. Since I prefer to eat and drink real foods and beverages, with ingredients that I can pronounce without sounding-it-out, I became curious about how natural flavors are made. Or, more importantly, from where they are derived.
The good news is that natural flavors are natural.
The bad news is that tree bark and animal parts are also natural. See where I’m going here?
The Code of Federal regulations for natural flavoring states:
“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” (21CFR101.22).
Since we know what some of these sources of flavor would taste like in their whole, natural form (ever tasted tree bark?) we know that processing must occur in order to isolate the flavor chemicals needed to flavor food. Most real foodies are wary of any food that is processed to the point that it becomes unrecognizable. I can taste the fruit flavor in my sparkling water, but I can’t see it. Where is the fruit that created the flavor? Did the fruit flavor even come from fruit?
Natural flavors are made in a lab just like artificial flavors. According to an article in Scientific American, “When making a flavor, the flavorist always begins by going to the scientific literature and researching what chemicals nature uses to make the desired flavor.” The flavorists do exactly what we whole food proponents dislike–they isolate parts of a natural whole. If you’re like me, you believe that nature has it all figured it. Nature knows just what chemicals to put together so that the parts of the universe work in synergy.
So, while natural flavors are derived from nature, they may not be in their natural form and therefore, at best, the body may not be able to use them, or at worst, they could be damaging to the body.
To find out more about how natural flavors are made, check out this video.