WTF is “Natural Flavor”?

Checking out the pantry, I discovered a jar of Planters Five Alarm Chili natural flavor with other natual flavor Dry Roasted Peanuts.  Such an interesting byline to put on the front label of your product.   Now I’m wondering, wtf is natural flavor anyway?… and why are they mixing it with “other natural flavor”?   Here are the labels: 

So, on the back of the label under ingredients:

They have things you would probably expect: peanuts, sea salt, brown sugar, dried onion, dried chili pepper, dried garlic and dried tomato.  But, you won’t find them in that order.

They sprinkle in things that sometimes seem silly, for example: cornstarch and modified cornstarch..  are they disguising their secret ingredient in corn starch?

There are those things I only vaguely understand their purpose: gelatin, dried corn syrup, and gum arabic.

Things I completely don’t get, such as: maltodextrin and autolyzed yeast.

Then, there are these two seemingly intentionally vague phrases to describe ingredients: spices and natural flavor.

Well, I don’t see the “other natural flavor”.  Why is it on the front, and what is natural flavor.    I wonder what other people think.  I”m going to find out and come back to this.

Update: 5/22:

Found this article over at MSNBC:   I love the “I can’t believe it’s not butter” ad on this page.

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” (21CFR101.22).

According to the National List, under section 7CFR205.605(a)(9), non-agricultural, non-organic substances are allowed as ingredients that can be labeled as “organic” or “made with organic,” including “flavors, non-synthetic sources only, and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative.” Other non-synthetic ingredients allowed in this section include: acids such as microbiologically-produced citric acid, dairy cultures, certain enzymes and non-synthetic yeast that is not grown on petrochemical substrates and sulfite waste liquor.

Honestly, I don’t know what any of that means… but I’m fairly certain there is enough ambiguity for a JD to find a loophole.   One of the interesting things about this, is that companies have to list off MSG if it is an ingredient, but they can umbrella things under “natural flavor” that may produce glutamic acid (MSG).   Hydrolyzed proteins, such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein (protein hydrolysate) is classified by the FDA as a natural flavoring, despite the fact that it may contain up to 20% MSG.

Found this article at Supermarket Guru:

According to the National List, under section 7CFR205.605(a)(9), non-agricultural, non-organic substances are allowed as ingredients that can be labeled as “organic” or “made with organic,” including “flavors, non-synthetic sources only, and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative.” Other non-synthetic ingredients allowed in this section include: acids such as microbially-produced citric acid, dairy cultures, certain enzymes and non-synthetic yeast that is not grown on petrochemical substrates and sulfite waste liquor.

So, it seems that “natural” might not be so natural and that even some organic foods might contain some of these “natural flavors.” There are still many grey areas for consumers and producers alike. Research is being done and attempts are being made to produce more organic flavorings, but the process is slow. We as consumers need to be more aware of what ingredients go into our foods and also take more initiative to encourage the government’s responsibility to regulate these ingredients and disclose the information to the public.

Author of Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser writes:

“A natural flavor,” says Terry Acree, a professor of food science at Cornell University, “is a flavor that’s been derived with an out-of-date technology.” Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods. Amyl acetate, for example, provides the dominant note of banana flavor. When it is distilled from bananas with a solvent, amyl acetate is a natural flavor. When it is produced by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol and adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, amyl acetate is an artificial flavor. Either way it smells and tastes the same. “Natural flavor” is now listed among the ingredients of everything from Health Valley Blueberry Granola Bars to Taco Bell Hot Taco Sauce.

A natural flavor is not necessarily more healthful or purer than an artificial one. When almond flavor — benzaldehyde — is derived from natural sources, such as peach and apricot pits, it contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison. Benzaldehyde derived by mixing oil of clove and amyl acetate does not contain any cyanide. Nevertheless, it is legally considered an artificial flavor and sells at a much lower price. Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature.

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2 thoughts on “WTF is “Natural Flavor”?”

  1. “Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature.”
    I’m amused by how the quoted martial in the update section keeps referencing things that mean nothing. Two quick examples…
    1. manufactured at the same plant = doesn’t matter, nothing to indicate this is bad
    2. people don’t associate the manufacturing facilities with mother nature = how closely people associate manufacturing facilities with “mother nature” has no bearing (whatsoever) on whether foods being manufactured at those facilities might be healthful or not.
    omg, I literally just checked who to credit for the quoted part I used, and I see it’s from “Fast Food Nation”. I’ve never seen/read that, but I’ve heard of it, and I’m quite confident it has an agenda. No wonder it was relying so heavily on “something other than facts” to persuade.

    For the record, I’ll gladly use actual banana distilled with a solvent, as my banana flavoring. The solvent is ethyl alcohol, which is the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. (banana daiquiri, anyone?) The only reason ethyl alcohol is very often dangerous/deadly to drink is that most times it has been “denatured”, i.e. purposely adulterated to make it undrinkable. Anywhere ethyl alcohol is found as an ingredient in a non-food product, expect it to be mixed with any/all deadly chemical under the sun! So ethyl alcohol is most definitely not automatically safe to drink! However, the type of ethyl alcohol used to make banana extract is the good old fashioned food-safe variety, of course. Yum! *hiccup*
    …whereas the article seems to suggest one should somehow prefer the entirely lab-concocted artificial banana flavor.

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