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What Are Natural Flavors?

Updated on February 28, 2016
Cynthia Hoover profile image

Cynthia is a homesteader who grows, harvests, and stores many foods and prefers natural homemade medicinal remedies for her family.

Natural Flavors, How Natural Are They?

While these all look like natural ingredients, how natural are they?
While these all look like natural ingredients, how natural are they? | Source

Natural Flavors

Through my research for my article on GMO's, I noticed some statistics that bothered me. I found out that people buy items labeled "Natural" whether it be "natural flavors" or "natural ingredients" over organic. So I decided to research some more and share the information that I found. So many people take what they read at face value; not everything is that cut and dried. Just because it is labeled natural, does not mean you would really want to ingest it if you knew what it was.

Natural basically means occurring or exist in nature. I will be the first to admit that there are a lot of things that exist in nature that I would never want to stick in my mouth. Pretty sure most of you agree! Think about it, by definition animal urine and feces occur and exist in nature, but I don't intend to eat them! Brings a whole new meaning to "does a bear poop in the woods", if you ask me. Not to mention, skunk spray is natural, YUCK!

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) website will give you a migraine while trying to search and research! It is a vast and extensive site full of federal regulations and code. Still, I diligently searched and honestly found more information on "artificial flavors" and "artificial ingredients" than I did on "natural".

Here is the definition per the FDA code on natural flavors - "A natural flavor is 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."

I really like that part that states "or similar plant material". Pretty open ended and vague, don't you think?

So to put it simply, "natural flavor" means a bi-product of roasting, distillation, heating or enzymolysis of a wide range of "natural" items. These processes can create things like essential oils, essences, extracts, oleoresin, protein hydrolysate, and many others. These are then used in most prepacked foods.

That being said, it is common knowledge that fruits or vegetables for example, are best for you nutritionally when they are fresh. So even if these "flavors" are derived from a natural source, they are essentially emptiness, as they have been processed to the point that no nutrients remain. So why are we adding things to our food that offer no nutritional value?

As always, I try to give you the basics and empower you with information that you can research further, on your own. Everyone should draw their own conclusions about what is best for their bodies.


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Natural Flavors Created In Labs?

What you may not realize is, that these "natural flavors" are all too often created through chemistry, by scientists in a food lab environment. The flavor industry is a lucrative one, with dozens of companies employing chemists to "create" flavors. It is simply created to make our brains think that we are in fact eating an "apple" or "bacon", when we are just eating something fake.

Amino acids, carbohydrates and fatty acids and others are manipulated to create specific smells and taste to appeal to the consumer. The number one focus of the flavor industry is to aid food manufacturers in increasing profit margins. While these products are tested and scrutinized to ensure no toxicity and allergic reactions, there have been no long term studies as to the effects on humans.

Most people mistakenly think these natural flavors are indeed the real thing and contain nutrients. More often than not these natural flavors can be a biosynthetic compound created in a lab much like their "artificial" counterparts.

It is through legal loopholes and gaps in the definitions and regulations, that some not so "natural" flavorings are allowed to be label as such. These natural flavorings can often times cause illnesses that you may not be aware are linked.

Carrageenan, for example has been linked with gastric distress, stomach irritation and even cancer. Yet it is still found in many products available for purchase today! Carrageenan is used primarily to make low fat versions of food taste better. Ice creams, frozen dinners, soups, broths and many other food products contain it. This probably explains the severe pain I get every time I eat ice cream (but it taste so good ya'll)! Carrageenan adds absolutely no nutritional value to the foods it is used in!

For the vegans and vegetarians out there, it is almost impossible to find a non-dairy milk that does not contain carrageenan. There are very few, and those that do exist use Xanthum gum - another non-nutritive additive.

Once again, we have an additive blindly passed by the FDA, and consumed by the general population. This is just one ingredient used, don't even get me started on sucralose, that will take an entire hub to discuss!

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Natural Flavors A Cash Cow

I hope by now you are wondering why you are paying more for "natural flavorings", since we have found that they may not be all that natural to begin with.

The amount of money made in the flavor industry is insane! Millions and millions of dollars are made by multiple companies every year!

For example, Wild Flavors posted an annual revenue of $900 Million euros for 2013. Keep in mind that is just one company!

I realize that 2013 was a few years ago, however, I had a bit of difficulty getting the information on current profits. If you want more of a breakdown of the financial earnings of the flavor industry you can find it here.

Avoiding the "unknown" element in our foods is as simple as getting back to good down home cooking! That means making your own marinades, spice mixes and dishes

Bugs Are Natural Flavors

This is a microscopic image of bug bacteria.
This is a microscopic image of bug bacteria. | Source

Natural Flavors In Kids Foods

One of the things that bother me a lot when I am shopping, is that most of the products that I find say "made with all natural flavors", are products created for children.

There are 3,000 food additives listed with the FDA - these are the ones that have to be listed on labeling. Natural flavors do not demand labeling other than to say "made with natural ingredients". There are many natural things I would not give my children, as far as roots and herbs because I know the effects may just be adverse when ingested by a child!

One of the most common "natural" items found in children's foods are red dyes. The dye is used to make foods visually appealing.

While it is technically natural, it comes from crushed bugs. How many times have you run over to your child to grab some sort of creepy crawly from their fingers, right before they were about to eat it? I know I have done it a lot! My little guy tries to eat lady bugs all the time! Do I let him? NO!

A cochineal is an insect that belongs to the suborder Sternorrhyncha; these are also known as true bugs. The additive, cochineal, is extracted from these insects, mostly the females of the species, and then it is used to dye our foods.

Now if you ever watched a show about eating bugs and were disgusted, I imagine you find that your stomach is churning now. I would not blame you; it really does not seem appetizing at all!

These bugs get dried, crushed and then they go for a dip in an acidic alcohol bath; all to produce carminic acid. It is often referred to as cochineal extract or can be listed as carminic acid in the ingredients.

Since this dye can cause immediate severe allergic reactions, it is mandatory that it is listed on the label as an ingredient, which is a good thing. The package can still say "natural flavors", though, since it is in fact derived from a natural source. Who thinks twice about looking at the back to go through ingredients, when a product says natural? in the past I never did, yet I do now!

The thing I find most disconcerting, is that it does spark some major allergic reactions from many people. Yet, you would not know you were allergic until you ingested it! If you do not know to look for it, then you are potentially at risk.

Would you have known if you had not read this article? I know I did not until I started to question the quality of our foods, the integrity of the FDA and the USDA. If I had not started to wonder what was in these "approved" foods I would have never known.

Now this is not just in foods targeting kids, you are going to find it in a broad spectrum of foods. As well as lipsticks and cosmetics. How do you think they make that fantastic shade of red? They crushed a bunch of bugs up, that is how!

You will also find that it is used for pill capsules too. So, even though you are taking an "all-natural" vitamin supplement, you may very well be having a little bug with it too.

While this is creepy, worry about Red 2 and Red # 40 as well. These are synthetic dyes derived from petroleum and coal. Sounds pretty yummy right?

We really do not even need these prepackaged foods in our diets. You can absolutely avoid them, and make your own items at home. Save your health and avert an allergic reaction!

Do Natural Flavors Make You Fat?

As I mentioned before, the flavor industry is a lucrative one. Givaudan is the largest "flavor" and fragrance company in the world.

Now this is what they do not want you to know - these flavors could be why you are going up a pants size every now and then! Yep, blame it on the flavors y'all, they make you crave more!

Have you ever eaten something and simply ate too much? Did it have "natural flavors" in it? While I am not gonna blame all of my thickness or big booty on the industry, these flavors are designed to engage receptors in the brain making you crave them and want more!

This goes way back for me and make sense, now. When I was a cheerleader in junior high, we were forbidden to drink pop. Number one, it is dehydrating, number two it is dehydrating! It is designed to make you thirsty, so you want another and another and so on. Can you see where I am going with this? We are simply lining the pockets of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, all because the flavor additives are designed to make you want to drink more and more of their products.

We are being manipulated through our foods to fatten the pockets of the manufacturers who in turn fatten the pockets of the companies that create the flavorings for them, which in turn - fattens us! Personally, I would rather save my money and try to cut out these nasty (but tasty) flavors from my life.

It is almost an addiction, I find myself for no reason at all "wanting something" and nine times out of ten - it is junk! I do well and have the will power to try to eat fruits instead of ice cream these days. Yet, I understand now why it is so hard to ignore the cravings!

MSG, monosodium glutamate, is also another culprit linked to weight gain, it is considered a "flavor enhancer". I will spare you all the technical information here. But studies have been conducted to prove the theory, follow the above link for the information. MSG also kills brain cells, and yet, everyone is worried about the marijuana movement - (at least that is not in our food supply)!

We need to be more worried about what we are eating! Remember - MSG is considered to be recognized as "generally safe" by the FDA. Big thanks to those looking out for our health (yeah right!). Completely safe is what I prefer to eat!

Now, I am not saying that every overweight person is the victim of flavorings. Lord knows I could step up my workouts and that would help me lose more weight. What I am saying is, if we limit the things we eat to what we know to be natural and unaltered, we may see a significant decrease in our weight problems!

Buying wholesome completely natural ingredients is the best way to ensure what you are eating is good for you!

Natural Flavors Avoidance

Personally, I do not like the thought of some chemist mixing my food in flasks in some mysterious lab shrouded in secrecy. Who would?

I want legitimate, natural goodness to feed my family and I! So the next time you pass on artificial flavors - that juice made with all natural flavors should likely be avoided as well!

Juice, for example, can be made at home for much less than what you are paying for it in the store! Skip on purchasing broths, and make your own at home from organic veggies and grass fed meat trimmings!

If you really want a junk food-like snack, make your own! It is very easy to make chips at home and I must admit mine taste better than any bagged variety in the store!

Use only organic spices and mixes - if it has multiple ingredients and you can't pronounce half of them- pass on it! If you have the space, plant an herb garden. Once you harvest your herbs, use a dehydrator and make your own spice blends!

Avoid natural flavors period; they are usual labeled clearly making it easy to walk away and make a better choice.

When you are buying juices look for 100% apple or whatever flavor you are looking for. Not those labeled, made with "natural flavors". Always look at the ingredients as well, this will help you know if what you think is "natural" - actually is.

As always I can't tell you what to choose. I just want to provide you with the information to form your own opinions. That way, you can take your own appropriate actions for he betterment of your health and your family.

I have several other articles centered around the foods we eat, you can find them here.

I welcome any and all comments! I appreciate you taking the time and choosing to read something I have written.

If this has you running scared to get away from processed foods, but you do not know where to start, this book is excellent.

© 2015 Cynthia Hoover

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    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Oh, wow! My granddaughter is allergic to red food dye and you would believe how many things have red food dye in it. Even ice tea. Now that I know it's made from those bugs, I'm glad she is allergic to it, we have to read all the labels and not buy anything with red food dye. Question, how about the other food colors? This will make me look twice when I see the words "natural or naturally flavored." Thanks for the information and sharing it.

      Blessings to you.

    • Cynthia Hoover profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Hoover 2 years ago from Newton, West Virginia

      Good dyes in general are responsible for a wealth of health issues. The red are usually considered the worst. When I was little I was diagnosed with ADHD mom tried meds but they made me a zombie. So she eliminated red dye and synthetic sugars the results were a miracle! I stopped having ADHD symptoms! I was a normal kid again! Think of all the money she waisted on doctors only to "cure" the issue through food! I think I will work on a hub tailored around food dyes. Rachel thank you gor sharing about your granddaughter!

    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 2 years ago from USA

      I have been "preaching" the information in your Hub for years! Since I am a research-at-heart, I examine labels religiously. So many things that are really not healthy for us are hidden under the label "natural flavors"!

    • Cynthia Hoover profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Hoover 2 years ago from Newton, West Virginia

      Shades-of-truth as I have gotten older I am much more interested as to what I put in my body. When I was younger I just blindly ate whatever I could afford and sounded tasty!

    • Matt Easterbrook5 profile image

      Matthew A Easterbrook 2 years ago from Oregon

      Great hub Cynthia reminding us about these horrible natural flavorings. Your hub definitely was useful, interesting, and awesome.

    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 2 years ago from USA

      I had to come back and comment. So many times, I have found that our FDA allows quite a few things to be added to our foods, that we might not care to ingest, under the catch-all phrase "other spices".

      I would like to see that practice eliminated, not only for the sake of full disclosure, but because many people are simply allergic to some of the ingredients that are hidden under that phrase.

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