“Natural Flavors” – What Does It Mean?

It is a typical day, and you are grocery shopping. Your goal is to feed your family healthy food. You’ve become an ingredient reader, and you care about what goes into the bodies of your family. You notice that most of the packages you pick up say “natural flavors” and this makes you feel good as you are trying to feed your family fewer chemicals and artificial foods.

Lesson #1: Whenever a label says “natural flavors” that is a clue that those flavors have been ADDED to the food. It is NOT a natural flavor of the food you are about to buy.

The definition of “natural flavor” under the Code of Federal Regulations 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. ?

That’s a pretty wordy and convoluted definition. I will sum it up for you with the example. Castoreum is used in vanilla and strawberry flavors. It comes from the castor sack of mature beavers, which is used in conjunction with the beaver’s urine to mark its territory. Sounds tasty, right? It’s use is quite small in the grand scheme of things, but this gives you an idea as to what classifies as a natural flavor. It’s quite broad as you can see!

Most processed foods have artificial and/or natural flavors added to them during the production process. Flavors are made in a laboratory by blending natural and/or synthetic chemicals together to enhance the taste. Combining chemicals derived from a natural source, such as a plant or animal product, results in a natural flavor. Combining synthetic chemicals creates an artificial flavor.

A natural flavor is not necessarily healthier than an artificial one nor does the source of a natural flavor need to match what the label says. Almond flavor doesn’t have to come from almonds. To illustrate both of these points, take a look at the following example. To create an almond flavor, scientists can take a peach pit and extract benzaldehyde, a natural source of the flavor, which also contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison. Whereas benzaldehyde derived by mixing oil of clove and any lactate does not contain any cyanide, but it is legally considered an artificial flavor. Which would you rather have? Natural and artificial flavors are also often manufactured at the same chemical plants.

Another problem is that a natural substance can be extracted from plant or animal “matter.” So when you buy something that’s organic, vegetarian, or vegan, and it has natural flavoring, it’s possible that you are eating a pig, cow, turkey, or chicken, etc., which could have received growth hormones and/or was fed GMO grain topped with pesticides.

Despite the natural origins of natural flavors, food companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used to create the flavor. In fact, a flavor could be the result of blending hundreds of unique chemicals. I recommend avoiding natural flavors or contacting the manufacturer to find out where their natural flavor comes from. Some will tell you; some won’t. To me, it’s very telling if they don’t disclose the ingredients.?

Did you know companies like McDonald’s need to hire flavor companies to create ingredients to inject into their hamburgers to make them taste like beef? That’s how poor their meat quality is. Most processed foods are stripped entirely of their flavor during processing. This is why the flavoring industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.?


  1. Linda on June 3, 2017 at 8:12 am

    Thank you so much for this info. I will keeping up with all that I’ve read.
    Thank you for your research. Keep it up.

  2. Sherrie on September 14, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    Thank you so much!! I’ve heard to beware of “natural flavor” and this makes it very clear!!! glad for sites like this!!!!

  3. alexis on November 8, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    im a student at bandon high this help bunch thank u =)

  4. Linda Robinson on November 24, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    So if this is all true, what should a person eat. For instance a tiny bottle of real vanilla cost $6.00 for a bottle of imitation vanilla two and a half times bigger is 98 cents. So are we supposed to live on air? ( Which I also hear is not all that pure).

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