Natural Flavors is found listed as an ingredient on processed and packaged foods more often than any other ingredient besides water, salt and sugar. It sounds innocuous and even quite appealing. We all love natural things and we all love flavors. But what does it actually mean?
In reality, the term “natural flavors” is nothing more than a trojan horse for an endless number of chemicals to be freely and secretly added into any food item.
While the original component of a “natural flavor” must be derived from animal or plant material, manufacturers are then allowed to add in along with this original component as many chemicals as they want, including synthetic preservatives, solvents, emulsifiers, modifiers and other substances.
These are defined as “incidental additives”, but actually make up 80 to 90 percent of the “natural flavor” mixture. Only 10 to 20 percent of the “natural flavor” is actually derived from animal or plant and none of the added chemicals are required to be disclosed. This unknown chemical concoction is what then appears on ingredient lists as “natural flavors”.
Even the “natural” original component derived from animal or plant material is allowed to come from a genetically modified source, since the word “natural” is intentionally vague and undefined.
Ironically, the ingredient “artificial flavors” may actually be slightly safer than “natural flavors”, since it often contains fewer total chemicals than “natural flavors”. The only other difference between the two is that “artificial flavors” contain no animal or plant material, only synthetic components created in a lab.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, consuming foods with “natural flavors” may very well mean you’re unknowingly consuming products with animal-derived materials. What’s more, people with food allergies or those adhering to a specific diet have no way of knowing what components have been used to create the “natural flavor” in each product.
So why add all these chemicals into foods? It’s simple. To form addictions to the product. There are around 500 professional flavor scientists in the US alone whose jobs are specifically geared toward devising just the right mixture of chemicals to make the processed and packaged foods we eat biologically addictive. Industry flavor and fragrance houses leading this field include Givaudan, Firmenich, IFF and Symrise, with annual sales estimated at around $24 billion.
In a 2011 interview with 60 minutes, two flavorists from Givaudan reported one of their expressed goals was to make food addictive. Part of the approach, one flavor scientist said, is to create “a burst in the beginning. And maybe a finish that doesn't linger too much so that you want more of it.”
Sense of smell is 10,000 times more powerful than any other sense and makes up 80 to 90 percent of our experience of eating food. Smell is unique from all other senses in that it goes directly to the limbic system, an ancient and primitive part of our brain associated with emotion, memory and motivation. The limbic system deals with instinctive and automatic behaviors and has almost no association with conscious thought or will-power.
So by adding dozens of hidden chemicals under the umbrella of “natural flavors”, flavorists are able to biohack our emotions, directly accessing our deep subconscious to make us addicted to their foods and keep us wanting more.
These chemicals also have the potential to confuse our body by tricking our senses into believing the food we are eating contains valuable nutrients, making us want to consume more, when in fact they are foods high in empty calories devoid of any real nutrients.
Chemicals are also added to make packaged foods taste fresh, when of course a packaged food by definition is not fresh. This is especially true of anything that has undergone pasteurization, since that process kills off any life the food once had.
Here is a list of some of the more common chemicals used to create “natural flavors”:
Amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, ethyl butyrate, various aliphatic acid ester, ethyl acetate, ethyl valerate, ethyl isovalerate, ethyl pelargonate, aldehyde C10, ethyl heptanoate, acetaldehyde, aldehydes C14 and C16, styralyl acetate, dimethyl benzyl carbinyl acetate, benzyl formate, phenyl ethyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl isovalerate, esters of colophony and benzaldehyde, terpenyl isovalerate, isopropyl isovalerate, citronellyl isovalerate, geranyl isovalerate, benzyl isovalerate, cinnamyl formate, isopropyl valerate, butyl valerate, methyl allyl butyrate, cyclohexyl acetate, allyl butyrate, allyl cyclohexylvalerate, allyl isovalerate, cyclohexyl butyrate.
Until food additive regulations are massively overhauled, unsafe chemicals are removed from our food supply, misleading terms like “natural flavors” are banned and ALL ingredients are listed clearly, the healthiest and safest choice is to eat only whole, real, organic foods and avoid processed, packaged foods altogether.