You’ve probably come across the term “natural flavours” on some of your favourite processed foods, and congratulated yourself on being healthy (natural sounds better than artificial, right?). However, natural may not actually be as good for you as you may think.
According to the Environmental Working Group, “natural flavours” is actually the fourth most common ingredient used in processed food. The only ingredients that come before it? Salt, water, and sugar.
However, few know what “natural flavours” actually means.
Maybe that’s because companies don’t really need to explain what they mean by it.
According to Eater, “companies are not required to disclose the ingredients of flavour additives if all components are considered generally recognised as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” And to the FDA, flavours don’t even count as ingredients.
So when it says “natural flavours” on the label, that doesn’t just mean one natural flavour source; added flavour, both natural and artificial, can have anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients.
A natural flavour may have started out as coming from a natural source, but by the time it’s in your food there’s not much of a difference between natural and artificial flavoring.
Turns out that, after all of the processing and manufacturing, natural ingredients aren’t much different to artificial ones.
David Andrews, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, told the Daily Burn, that “the largest difference is that natural flavours are coming from natural sources — the original ingredient is found in nature and then purified and extracted and added back into the food.”
So while natural flavours derive from a source found in nature, however processed it becomes by the time it finds itself in your food, artificial flavours are entirely man-made.
Basically, the difference between natural and artificial flavours is tiny, though natural flavours haven’t been proven to have any negative effects on health.
Either way, make sure to look at the ingredients in your food, or buy food that doesn’t need ingredient labels at all.
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