Natural flavors appear to be everywhere on ingredient labels, but what exactly are they?

The FDA defines natural flavors as:

“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.”

According to this definition, you could literally be consuming almost anything.

The FDA does not require companies to disclose of their ingredients as it is considered to be their “secret” formulas. This hides the fact that the natural flavor compounds may consist of more ingredients than the actual foods themselves.

For example, if you are a vegetarian and you are consuming a food with natural flavors, you could be consuming “flavors” from a pig, cow, fish, or chicken.

What are natural flavors?What Does Natural Flavors In Food Mean?

The McDonald’s french fry was once cooked in beef tallow, which is now absent from the ingredient list, but is most likely a part of the “natural flavors” found towards the bottom of the ingredient list.

One example, natural raspberry flavoring, is often derived from a secretion called castoreum.

Castoreum is released from the dried perineal glands of a beaver.

It is a yellowish secretion sprayed by the beaver in combination with the urine of the beaver used during the marking of territory.

So yes, when you consume “natural” raspberry flavoring, you may be consuming a yellowish secretion from a beaver!

Is the term “natural flavors” a regulated term?

In my experiences, when people hear the term “natural,” they instantly think that it means “healthy.”

For starters, natural is an unregulated term.

In 2010, one in four new products put on the market had a label claiming that it was “natural.”

When you see the term “natural,” ignore it because it simply means nothing.

The flavor used for almond flavor, benzaldehyde, is derived from “natural” sources such as apricot and peach pits, but often contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, which is a lethal poison.

Although peaches and apricots are natural, using the pits of these fruits for an almond flavor is not. Call me old fashioned, but if you ask me, natural almond flavoring should actually come from a almond.

Is MSG considered natural?

One substance, that has received much scrutiny in recent years for its possible adverse health effects, is MSG.

Companies have found loopholes in the system to avoid having to disclose this ingredient in their products. MSG is now labeled under different ingredients such as autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed soy protein, yeast extract, gelatin, and natural flavors (there are many more as well).

However, MSG is far from a natural flavor.

MSG is short for monosodium glutamate and is a neurotoxin, which means that it is a poison that acts on the nervous system.

There is a debate as to the exact effects of MSG, but many studies have shown that MSG may cause migraine headaches, anxiety, asthma, chills, dizziness, and many others. This review of MSG provides a good summary of the effects of MSG.

MSG has also been shown to cause obesity and since its introduction into the American Food Supply 50 years ago, according to Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation,” MSG has been added in large quantities to fast food, soups, chips, and other processed foods with no regulations set by the FDA as to how much of it can be added to our foods.

Is Aspartame a natural flavor?

I should probably add that aspartame, which is an artificial sweetener that has received tons of scrutiny for many of the alarming effects shown in different studies, is also considered a natural flavor.

If you are interested in the details of the effects of aspartame, this is a really good article to read.

In conclusion…

Next time you go to the supermarket and look at some of the labels of your favorite foods and see “natural flavors” in the ingredient list, realize that these flavors, in many situations, are far from natural.


  1.  “Fast Food Nation”

Daniel Maman

Daniel Maman's two biggest passions in life are health and fitness. He is a certified personal trainer, has a degree in exercise science, and spends his free time keeping up to date with the latest research. In his free time, you can find him playing basketball, bouldering, and spoiling his dog, Luna.

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