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Here at A Green Leaf Home we strive to share information that can help families live a healthier life. We love to tackle tough questions like, what is the difference between artificial flavors and natural flavors.

We have investigated many topics such as ways to use less energy, improve our indoor air quality, and what organic means, but this topic of artificial and natural flavors has us stumped. Perhaps, it is because there is no clear cut answer.

It appears food manufacturers have found the perfect way to disguise ingredients by slapping the artificial flavor or natural flavor label on it. Just like scented products do not have to label what makes up their fragrances, food manufacturers do not need to disclose every “trade secret” ingredient. I don’t know about you, but I am suspicious of generic labels. If it wasn’t anything I would be concerned about why isn’t it just listed? By leaving it off, a red flag is raised in my brain to the nutritional value this product brings to my house and if I want to purchase it. It is the equivalent of the school’s cafeteria’s mystery meat, only we won’t be able to see what the mystery ingredient ever is.

Artificial Flavors vs Natural Flavors Defined.

Artificial flavors surround us in restaurants and grocery stores. You can find artificial flavors in any aisle in a supermarket. My biggest pet peeve is to find the bakery section in a grocery store with items listing artificial flavors in the ingredients. I mean is it that hard to walk over to the aisle with the real stuff?

Artificial Flavor Considerations:

The FDA defines artificial flavor as:

any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof.

Here are a few further thoughts and observations regarding artificial flavors:

  • Work by mimicking a flavor produced in nature.
  • May include chemicals to fool your sense of smell.
  • Chemical makeup of an artificial flavor may look very similar to the chemical makeup of what appears in nature; but not always.
  • May include up to 100 ingredients to create – some of those ingredients may or may not be derived from petroleum.
  • The FDA has declared the use of artificial flavors “generally safe” for consumption.
  • The FDA does not require manufacturers to disclose the chemical makeup of artificial flavors due to trade secret laws. One may argue this item is in conflict with the item above.

Natural Flavor Considerations:

Natural flavors are popping up more and more on ingredients and the 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.

Here are a few further thoughts and observations regarding natural flavors:

  • Products are derived from an natural source.
  • Natural sources may include animal byproducts, insects, and other plant material.
  • May include hidden animal sources not disclosed for Vegetarians or Vegans.
  • The FDA has declared the use of natural flavors “generally safe” for consumption.
  • Not derived from petroleum.

It is important to note that both of these products are only used to give flavor not to add any nutritional value. Both can be created in a chemist lab. The FDA has declared both are safe for consumption. Basically anything that is derived from nature can be a natural flavor and anything that is created to mimic nature is an artificial flavor.

What About Organic Foods?

And if you are thinking that organic foods don’t have artificial flavors or natural flavors added, you are wrong. Organic foods can be labeled organic as long as 95% of the product is organic, that leaves 5% that cannot be organic. Another organic product is “made from Organic” ingredients and this product only needs to be 70% organic. Plus, you will see “Natural Flavor” in a list of ingredients for some organic foods.

Quaker Oats Case Study.

As we mentioned there are many, many products with artificial flavors out there. There is one we want to highlight here to show how unnatural artificial flavors can be.

Quaker Oatmeal makes an Instant cereal variety pack. Included in the flavors available is Strawberries and cream. Here are some listed ingredients in that pack:

  • Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Sugar, Flavored and Colored Fruit Pieces (Dehydrated Apples {Treated with Sodium Sulfite to Promote Color Retention}, Artificial Strawberry Flavor, Citric Acid, Red 40)

So basically there are no natural strawberries found in the ingredients. There are dehydrated apples that are artificially colored red and then they added artificial strawberry flavor to fool us into thinking we are eating strawberries. Perhaps this isn’t really a problem except to the person that may be allergic to apples, but should we be tricked into thinking something is real when it is not?

Where Does That Leave Us?

This artificial flavor and natural flavor is a bit of a mystery indeed. One of the issues natural flavors can cause is concern for folks who have allergies to a food that may be used for a natural flavor. Or vegetarians and vegans should be suspicious that the natural flavor came from an animal, which makes eating this product a dietary problem.
We end this small journey without a clear answer as to what artificial flavors and natural flavors really are. I don’t think everything artificial is terrible. After all medicines can help a lot of people in their daily lives, but it is important to note that all medicines do have side effects that come with the added benefits. I also don’t think all natural flavors can be bad, but I would like to have the knowledge of what that natural flavor actually is.

If you are really concerned about what the artificial or natural flavor is you can always contact the manufacturer and ask them. Or you can decide not to buy this product anymore. It would be nice if this mystery surrounding the ingredients in our foods would go away, but I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon.

We would love to hear from you.  Do you have any additional thoughts or knowledge to add to this topic of artificial flavors and/or natural flavors?  Please share them in the comments below.

About Post Author

Susan

My name is Susan and I am a stay-at-home mom who loves to blog and share tips for managing home. I have been married for 8 years and have three kids. I know what it is like to try to keep a household running smoothly while also trying to take care of a family.
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Monday, Nov 28, 2022