What’s the deal with “natural flavors” anyway? There’s something that seems inherently unnatural about them. Aren’t “natural flavors” a bit redundant? Shouldn’t the flavor of something already be present without the addition of more flavors? That’s what I’ve been asking myself and I know many of you wonder the same thing. What is in those “natural flavors” anyway and why don’t manufacturers have to list their ingredients?
Natural Flavors as defined by the USDA are, “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolystate, 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 of similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” That just clears it up, doesn’t it?
From the above paragraph, I think I understand that a natural flavor can be derived from almost anything, but has not been chemically manufactured. These ingredients are used to enhance the flavor of the food to which they are added. Most often, you find these have been added to processed foods- chips, crackers, boxed meals, canned soups, etc. The FDA does not require companies to list what those natural flavors are derived from and is content with simply stating “Natural Flavor.” I suppose this is to protect a company’s ingredient- the one that makes the food taste like none other, the secret ingredient, if you will.
I don’t know how an ingredient list that states INGREDIENTS: Apple Slices, Water, Cane Syrup, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Spices, Salt, Natural Flavor and Artificial Flavor helps anyone. What is the natural flavor that is used here? Am I to infer that the natural flavor is natural apple flavor? It could be anything. I can’t seem to find a single reference to what those natural flavors are made up of to give you any real examples. It could be any combination of ingredients that fall under the USDA definition.
This is why so many people with food allergens and other restricted diets are up in arms and calling for a rewording of the Code of Federal Regulations to require companies to list what makes up these natural flavors.
At Bob’s Red Mill, we refrain from the term “natural flavors” and when we use flavorings, we list the ingredients. For instance, if you see Natural Vanilla Flavor on our label, you will also see “Sugar, Cornstarch, Vanilla Extract.” We think you have a right to know. Now if only the USDA and FDA felt the same way.