Healthy Living on June 15, 2012 by

Natural Flavors *Partially* Demystified

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.


Tippy says:

This is why I don’t eat anything with “natural flavors” listed as an ingredient. The USDA supports hiding from me what I am consuming – and that is like saying it is ok to poison some folks who have allergies or intolerances with ingredients as long as we are protecting the companies “secret” ingredients from other companies who may try to replicate them. Well, ok then, I opt out. No company who plays that game gets my business and I happily spend a dollar or two more for a product from a company that chooses to opt out of that game as well.

Cindy B. says:

Thank you for bringing up this VERY important issue! The most recent “natural flavor” I have discovered is the use of beaver (animal) anal secretions in fruit-flavored hard candies – it’s what makes them so “tangy”! Shocking!

Cindy B. says:
Correction – it comes from the sex glands.

I hesitated to publish this because it is a little gross, but it’s good info. Thanks!

Ben says:

sure, but what am I eating when I eat a whole mussel? or shrimp? my immediate reaction to learning that my gummies may have beaver fluids in them IS definitely to be grossed out, but thinking about it more carefully, we eat all kinds of things; eating animals is just kind of gross. like, dude, EGGS. ooh, or milk: NIPPLE SECRETION! eeewwww 😛 haha.

that being said, it does bother me how much power companies have, and not listing ingredients is just another example of that. the requirements for alcohol labeling – or rather, the lack thereof – seems COMPLETELY crazy to me.

Rachael says:

THANK YOU for this information and THANK YOU for spelling out what ingredients you are using in your products. I am a newbie to the gluten and dairy-free world. We just found out that my daughter cannot tolerate them and I suspect at least one more item. All this label reading has opened my eyes and frustrated me at the same time. Hard to do what’s best for your kids among all the misleading labels. So far, I’ve resorted to making almost everything myself. It’s exhausting, but at least these companies aren’t getting my money.

Charline says:

Thank you for your honesty. It is very refreshing!!! Recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, I’m beginning to see clear on several aspects of our food chain and the things companies are hiding in very misleading terms. I suspect as this awakening continues a lot more people will pull their head out of the sand.

rachel says:

Check out Food Babe for more information on natural flavors. She has some video posts and a great article on her website. I am happy to support a company that isn’t afraid to disclose each ingredient on their food labels! With many other manufacturers hiding excitotoxins that cause problems in the central nervous system and labeling them as “natural flavors” (and genetically modifying our food plants) it’s no wonder food allergies are increasing in our society. Speaking of which, Bob, are your grains genetically modified?

Thank you, Rachel. No, our grains are non genetically modified. You can read our full policy on GMOs here:

rachel says:

Check out for a more in depth description of natural verses artificial flavors.

Linda Foor says:

Glad to find this article. I have only recently stopped buying any product that lists Natural Flavors. What I find interesting is when I contact my favorite food companies to ask them what the natural flavors are, they all tilt and don’t offer the information. I think minimally, if the FDA won’t require a food maker to list the ingredients in natural flavors on the package, they should be required to list all natural flavor ingredients on their websites – time to pony up with some transparency. Thanks..

JenP says:

Thank you for this report!! I don’t like being taken for a fool, and I think when food manufacturers label things as “natural flavors,” they are treating me like I am stupid. And, in fact, I used to fall for it. I naively assumed that “natural vanilla flavor” or “natural fruit flavor” actually were derived from the foods they were supposed to taste like, not from wood pulp or rice bran or anything else. Now I know better, and I am angry about having been deceived. Thank you for using ACTUAL extracts, concentrates, or spices to flavor your foods!

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