Let’s get natural.

In 2003 I first decided to really inspect the ingredient label. I was surprised to find that most of it didn’t make any sense! Many of the words were impossible to pronounce. I imagine that even those who created the word have forgotten it’s pronunciation. There is one ingredient that stuck out to me. I found it in deli meat, ice cream, chocolate, tomato sauce, and more! With very little description of what it actually is, all these labels claimed to have the ingredient “Natural Flavors”.


So what are Natural Flavors?

According to the FDA, the term Natural Flavors mean “…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.”

Wow, right? Natural Flavors could mean a lot of different things!


Why is this a problem?

Next time you are in the store, pay more attention to the ingredient label. Notice how often you see “Natural Flavors” and how often you see “Artificial Flavors”. Over the years we have developed a desire to have more natural foods. It is a growing trend, and that’s a good thing! However the food industry, and the labs creating these flavors, make a lot of money off altering out food to make it taste more desirable. 

Any number of chemicals created in a lab can be called “Natural Flavors” as long as it is derived from something… natural. Now, look at the protein hydrolysate on the FDA list above. This naturally contains free glutamate, otherwise known as MSG (Learn more about MSG here). Many people claim to react to MSG in a negative way. You can even Google the side effects of MSG and get a list of commonly reported effects. 

There is also some concern over potential allergies. Dairy products and eggs are common food intolerances / allergies, and natural flavors can be derived from these. 

With no nutritional value in natural flavors, it seems the main use for them is to flavor our food. Why? To make more money, of course.