Think Natural Flavours are Natural? Think Again.

One of my favourite tips for navigating the grocery store is to buy the unflavoured option as often as possible. Not only does this usually mean that the product has  a simple ingredient list, but it also means that it likely doesn’t have natural or artificial flavours.

Now, I’d always been wary of artificial flavours, but up until recently I thought natural flavours were just that – natural, in the form of fruit purees and the like. But I found out how wrong I was.

Natural flavours are actually pretty much the same as artifical flavours, as explained by University of Minnesota Professor Gary Reineccius in Scientific American:

There is little substantive difference in the chemical compositions of natural and artificial flavorings. They are both made in a laboratory by a trained professional, a “flavorist,” who blends appropriate chemicals together in the right proportions. The flavorist uses “natural” chemicals to make natural flavorings and “synthetic” chemicals to make artificial flavorings. The flavorist creating an artificial flavoring must use the same chemicals in his formulation as would be used to make a natural flavoring, however. Otherwise, the flavoring will not have the desired flavor. The distinction in flavorings–natural versus artificial–comes from the source of these identical chemicals and may be likened to saying that an apple sold in a gas station is artificial and one sold from a fruit stand is natural.

Wow. So the ‘natural flavour’ in that strawberry yogurt is not strawberry at all, but a chemical made to taste like strawberry that at some point was extracted from something natural.

At home, if you want your yogurt to taste more strawberry-ish, you just add more strawberries. For the food manufacturer, though, adding enough strawberries to make the yogurt actually taste like strawberry would be too expensive. So instead they add chemicals (natural or artificial) that taste like strawberry. So you end up eating a cheap imitation of the real thing.

Now, to be clear,  I’m not advising you to  stop eating flavourings completely (which would be hard to do, since nearly all processed foods have them.) But it is another reason to eat real food (or at least buy unflavoured options.)


photo credit: estherase via photopin cc


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