Dar Veverka | Natural Flavors

Just What's in Those Natural Flavors Anyway...?

By Dar Veverka

The exact definition of natural flavorings & flavors from Title 21, Section 101, part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations is as follows:

"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."

In other words, natural flavors can be pretty much anything approved for use in food.

It's basically impossible to tell from a label what is in natural flavors unless the company has specified it on the label. A few of the vegetarian & vegan-oriented companies are doing this now, but the overwhelming majority of food manufacturers do not.

Why do companies hide ingredients under "natural flavors"? It's considered a way of preserving the product's identity & uniqueness. Sort of like a "secret recipe" - they worry that if people knew what the flavorings were, then someone would be able to duplicate their product.

So what's a veggie to do?

Call the company. Ask them what's in the flavorings. Chances are they will not be able to tell you, or they will be unwilling to tell you.* But the more they hear this question, the more likely they are to become concerned about putting a clarifying statement on their labels. It does work in some cases (remember what happened when enough people wrote to the USDA about the organic standards), although it tends to take awhile. We have already had several large food companies call us concerning their natural flavors & how to word it on their labels if they have vegetarian or vegan flavorings. They called because it had come to their attention that this was a concern for veggies.

* Many of the numbers listed on food labels are customer service call centers staffed by people who can only read from the information provided to them by the company. While it's tempting to get frustrated at them & yell, please don't. It's sort of like taking it out on the stock clerk because you don't like the grocery store's policies.

To listen to Dar discuss labeling issues in a recent radio appearance, click here. (requires Real Audio)

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