I had the epiphany again shortly after when I had bought an all organic tea with raspberry flavoring and as soon as I opened the bottle, the artificial smell struck me. Again, on the label it said, “natural raspberry flavor”. What is that and how is something that has such an artifical feel, taste, and smell creeping into my organic foods?
Let the research begin.
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."
Well, that sounds confusing but considering that mass food manufacturing and food flavor houses are so profitable and have so much control of our food supply, it would serve us well to understand exactly what “natural” may mean to them. According to Wikipedia:
"Natural foods" and "all natural foods" are widely used terms in food labeling and marketing with a variety of definitions, some of which are vague. The term is assumed to imply foods that are minimally processed and do not contain manufactured ingredients, but the lack of standards in some jurisdictions means that the term assures nothing. In some places, the term "natural" is defined and enforced. In others, such as the United States, it has no meaning.”
These flavors are sold by flavor houses or flavor manufactures and the exact formulas are created by flavor chemists. A flavor chemist is “someone who uses chemistry to engineer artifical and natural flavors”. I had the opportunity to sit down with a chemist who only creates natural flavors from one of the largest flavoring houses and ask him some questions.
He explained, “We are governed by the FDA and FEMA”. My question to that was, “FEMA as in the disaster relief agency?” He clarified that they were not the same. I did some research and found what he was referring to. In this case FEMA means Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association. According to their website:
“The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA) is comprised of flavor manufacturers, flavor users, flavor ingredient suppliers, and others with an interest in the U.S. flavor industry. Founded in 1909, it is the national association of the U.S. flavor industry. FEMA works with legislators and regulators to assure that the needs of members and consumers are continuously addressed. FEMA is committed to assuring a substantial supply of safe flavoring substances.”
Flavor companies get their approval through FEMA of which flavors are considered safe for consumption through their GRAS process, which means “generally recognized as safe”. According to the chemist, a single flavor creation uses under 100 ingredients and typically they use 10-30 ingredients.
Through FEMA and the FDA, flavor companies do not have to disclose to the consumers what specifically and exactly is the ingredients used to make flavors. I asked the chemist why and his response, “That’s confidential proprietary information. There’s no need to disclose it when everything is safe to consume and its at such a small amount…..Its so small compared to everything else you are consuming that its really insignificant.”
How do flavor companies get the right to not have to declare ingredients when no one else could put out a food product and say its all safe so I don’t need to tell you what’s in it? “It’s all governed through the FDA, it’s their laws.” He continued, “FEMA decides what materials we can and can’t use and typically the FDA goes along with those rulings and those decisions. Now if it’s a sweetener than obviously that falls under the FDA and we could still use it but its labeled. If it’s something that imparts something besides flavor than its typically labeled.”
If someone wants strawberry why can’t you just add strawberry flavor? Why the complexity to get a natural flavor? “The flavors are much more stable and much more economical to use than just strawberry juice. Strawberry juice has already been processed once and cooked and to get any impact your going to have to use a lot of it, its going brown, its going to be more cooked and with the flavor you can get a better variety of taste and you will get better stability also”, the chemist explained.
So, now that you know, will you continue to allow these flavorings into your diet?