Food Fallacies: Natural and Artificial Flavors

(As a forenote, I’ve neglected this blog for a bit due to a combination of perfectionism and a busy March. I’m still trying to figure out what sort of quality standards I have, but there is one thing I have decided: I’m a jack of all trades, and I’ll blog about any trade that interests me.)

One of the most heated discussions these days is what to eat and what not to eat–which product advertisements to believe and what chemicals are unfit for ingestion. Unfortunately, too many popular lines of thinking are myths, and ever since I started learning about food science in 2011, I’ve dreamed of spreading the truth. I bring you death to the misconceptions in “Food Fallacies”.

“No artificial flavors”, advertises the front of the box. “Naturally flavored,” claims the next. The word ‘natural’ just sounds so much better than ‘artificial’, doesn’t it? You hear ‘artificial’ and imagine scientists in a lab, creating strange reactions and performing horrifying mutilations on our to-be food. On the other hand, the word ‘natural’ triggers thoughts of wild nature–perhaps a flowing grassy field or a family-run farm. But when it comes to the terms ‘natural flavors’ and ‘artificial flavors’, the two have only one, small difference.

Firstly, everything is made of chemicals. Everything! Everything you can see right now, and especially every food you’ve ever put into your mouth. It’s just a question of which are the ‘bad’ ones. So there’s the first point–both natural and artificial flavors are chemicals.

So what’s the definition when it comes to these terms, according to the FDA?

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means 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 […].

The term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring means any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof […].

So in the end, the main difference is the source, the derivation of the ingredients in the flavorings. Natural flavorings come from ‘natural’ sources, and artificial flavors are often made from scratch.

The main lie in the belief that natural flavorings are better than artificial ones is that natural flavorings are no less processed and man-made than artificial flavorings. Sometimes they even contain more chemicals! The only difference in the labeling is the source, and who knows how much ‘mutilation’ they do to that source after they collect it.

Death to misconception: Natural flavors aren’t any better than artificial flavors, and sometimes can be worse.

Footnote: I’m just being relative; I haven’t judged upon the absolute ‘good’-ness or ‘bad’-ness of flavorings for you in general.

More reading/citations:

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Food Fallacies: Natural and Artificial Flavors