The Unsavory Side of Natural Flavorings

The 60 Minutes team was given access to Givaudan, one of the biggest flavoring companies, and aired a fascinating -- and startling -- segment on the company last night...They create flavors that don't linger too long -- that way, you'll want to go back for more. "There's a lot of secrecy." Natural flavors come from nature, but that doesn't mean they come from what the label says. In other words, a strawberry flavor doesn't have to come from a strawberry. Safer speaks with Dr. David Kessler, former FDA Commissioner. Kessler questions whether all these flavorings are really food. "We're living in a food carnival, these flavors are so stimulating they hijack our brain."


Opportuniteas doesn't use natural flavorings. Why? It turns out they aren’t so natural after all. Natural flavoring sounds like a pretty safe term, but in the wacky world of food labeling things are seldom as they appear. Know that natural flavors are listed on the label because they have been added to food. They are not natural to the food you’re eating at all. So what are natural flavorings? Here’s the exact FDA definition:

“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.” Source

In reality, it’s used a catchall term designed for any number of chemicals used to enhance the taste of food. A natural flavor could be the result of blending hundreds of different ingredients. Natural flavors are proprietary. This means you won’t be able to find out what ingredients were used to make them. Companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used to create the flavor, which is scary to say the least!

Vegetarian, vegan, and kosher diets beware! Natural flavors can include animal parts or dairy. You really have no way of knowing if the natural flavoring refers to a vegetable juice or the fermentation of a seafood or meat product. There is another reason manufacturers prefer not to mention what’s behind natural flavors. The primary source of the natural flavor may be the last thing you’d want to see listed on a food item. Here are a few unfortunate, unappetizing, yet common "natural" flavorings:

Castoreum: Some things are so crazy you’d wish they weren’t true. Castoreum is a pleasant sounding word for a compound extracted from the dried glands and secretions of a beaver’s rear end. It’s used extensively in perfumery and has been added to food as a flavor ingredient for at least 80 years. It’s surprisingly common in a variety of foods and beverages. Many products with vanilla or raspberry flavorings like ice creams, yogurts, teas, candies, or fruit flavored drinks contain castoreum as a key component. Still hungry?

natural flavoring beavers butt castoreum

Shellac: Basically, bug juice. Shellac is derived from the excretions of the kerria lacca insect. This bug uses a sticky excretion to hold onto tress. Candy makers use it to make their treats extra shiny and it’s also put on apples when they lose their natural shine.

natural flavoring bug juice shellac

Carmine: Also identified as natural red No 2 or 4, cochineal, crimson lake, or E120, this red food coloring is used to color applesauce, baked goods, meats and spices. Unfortunately, it is made from ground red bugs. Semi-troubling if you don’t like eating bugs. If you do, then I suppose you're all set. There are many more of these natural flavorings out there. Under FDA rules, companies are free to keep these ingredients a secret.

natural flavoring carmine bug

Don’t believe us? Watch this video on one of the biggest flavoring companies and decide for yourself. Don't worry, Opportuniteas doesn't use any natural flavorings in our products.   


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