What Am I Tasting? Artificial vs. Natural Flavors

Photo: Deposit Photos. Monkey Business

Photo: Deposit Photos. Monkey Business

By Rachel Cavotta

When we pick up an item off the grocery store shelf and see the phrase “artificial flavoring,” we tend to feel uneasy about the quality of that particular item.

With long lists of ingredients or phrases like “artificially maple-flavored” or “artificial sweeteners” it is hard to figure out what is natural and what is not.

However, understanding the difference between artificial and natural flavors and sweeteners can help you make your choices while cruising through the grocery store aisles.

Artificial Flavor vs Natural Flavor

You might be wondering what artificial flavoring actually means, and how it is different from natural flavoring. According to the FDA “artificial flavor” or “artificial flavoring” consist of any substance not derived from a particular spices, fruits or fruit juices, vegetables or vegetable juices, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf, or animal and dairy products.

The FDA explains that “natural flavoring” is the essential oil, essence, extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product that results from roasting or heating a product which contains the flavoring constituents from different spices, produce, leaves, roots, animal, and dairy products. However, “natural flavors” are only used for enhancing the flavor of a product and contains no nutritional value.

Where do Artificial Flavors Come From?

Artificial flavors can come from surprising sources. For example, due to the high demand for vanilla flavoring, and the difficulty to acquire pure vanilla extract, many companies use substitutes made from chemicals found in wood pulp.

Maple flavor can also be deceiving. According to the FDA, this flavor can be created through sources other than the syrup, including sap or bark from a maple tree, or the herb fenugreek which can produce a maple flavor.

According to the FDA, when products use imitation maple or vanilla, the labels are required to indicate that the product is made with artificial flavors. Phrases such as “maple,” “maple-flavored,” or “artificially maple-flavored” can be used to describe a product that does not contain actual maple syrup. The name of the ingredient must reflect the lack of natural ingredients found in the product.

How to Find Natural Ingredients

Though it may seem a bit confusing to figure out which products contain natural ingredients, there are a few things you can look for when selecting your products.

1. For a product containing an ingredient like maple syrup, make sure the label says “maple syrup” or “made with 100% maple syrup.”
2. If you are looking for products made from real fruit look for the entire fruit name or name of the fruit juice. For example, if a product contains fresh apples the label will include either “apple” or “apple juice.”
3. Certain products may contain both natural and artificial flavoring. If this is the case, the label must indicate that the food is artificially flavored. For example, if a product contains both butter and shortening, it must say “butter-flavored” even though the product contains real butter.
4. If you are in search of chocolate make sure the product includes “chocolate” on the ingredient list.

Next time you go to the grocery store you will know exactly what you are looking for in a flavored product.

Artificial Sweeteners

We all love our sweets, and over the years products have been including different artificial sweeteners to make food less unhealthy. However, artificial sweeteners have been considered controversial because they are not made of sucrose, or table sugar. Though they receive a bad reputation, there is no evidence that indicates these sweeteners are hazardous for your health.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) concerns about the negative effects of artificial sweeteners arose in the early 1970s when a study conducted showed that saccharin, a popular artificial sweetener, caused bladder cancer in rats. However, studies conducted by the FDA showed that saccharin does not cause cancer in humans.

In addition, aspartame, was also considered a health hazard after a report released in 1996 associated the increase of people developing brain tumors with this popular artificial sweetener. However, data collected by the NCI showed that there was no clear correlation between aspartame and the development of tumors.

Aspartame’s safety was questioned again in 2005 after a study showed that rats fed high amounts of aspartame were developing lymphomas and leukemia. However, inconsistences found in the study showed there was no sound evidence to prove aspartame caused lymphomas and leukemia in humans.

Following the study conducted in 2005, a diet and health study conducted by the NIH-AARP revealed that increased intake of aspartame does not cause brain tumors, lymphoma, or leukemia.

Overall, artificial sweeteners used in the products sold in the Unites States are a safe and low calorie option.
For more information, you can view the FDA’s official list of approved artificial sweeteners.

Time to Go Grocery Shopping

Deciphering the terms and understanding what “artificial flavor” means may seem a bit intimidating. However, reading product labels and conducting research about the types of chemicals used to create certain flavors will allow you to make the food choices right for you. When strolling up and down the aisles of a grocery store you can feel confident about what you are purchasing for both yourself and your family.

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