FoodFacts.com understands that these days, there are a growing number of consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of the effects certain products and foods have on their health, their children’s health and/or the environment. To assuage their ethical /moral/health/whatever beliefs, many people have started purchasing “natural” foods and products. This has been evidenced by a rise in “green” products and “natural” foods. The word “natural” seems to be synonymous with the term “healthy” or “good for you/the environment/etc.” However, is natural always good for us? Poison Ivy and mosquitoes are technically natural, but (most) people wouldn’t want them in or around their body. We certainly don’t. When it comes to food, what does “natural” mean? If you find yourself reading food ingredient lists, wondering “what does ‘natural flavors’ mean,” then read on.
Let’s start with the term “natural.” We may think of the term regarding a substance that occurs in nature and is unadulterated by man. This is what the FDA defines as natural: “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” Therefore, the FDA’s definition of the term natural is a food that does not contain synthetic additives. So while there is no technical definition of natural by the FDA, it refers to foods that have no synthetic additives. There is no mention of production methods. Furthermore, if a product is natural, it can contain “natural flavors.”
The FDA defines “natural flavors” as: “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. Natural flavors, include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in subpart A of part 582 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter” (that list is by no means exhaustive, see links of some below). Labeling laws also require manufacturers to list the top 8 allergens (milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans). However, could there be animal products in your natural flavorings? Possibly.
These flavors may also find their way into some organic products that may claim to be 70 – 95% organic, since it falls under the 5% or less category. Some non-organic substances are also allowed in processed organic foods, if they meet certain requirements, such as “Flavors, nonsynthetic sources only and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative” (http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2003/7CFR205.605.htm).
While food manufacturers have to comply with strict FDA standards for foods, and use ingredients that are shown to be safe for human consumption (as is the case with castoreum. It’s been around for years and has been shown to be GRAS). However, it is always helpful to know a little bit more about what is in your food. If you find yourself wanting to know what is exactly is the natural flavoring the company uses in a certain product, FoodFacts suggests you try contacting them.
Essential oils, oleoresins (solvent-free), and natural extractives (including distillates). http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div8&view=text&node=21:18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124&idno=21
Spices and other natural seasonings and flavorings.http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=3a74e78dd7fd741dd05ac0744bbed9f3&rgn=div8&view=text&node=21:126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52&idno=21
582.50 Certain other spices, seasonings, essential oils, oleoresins, and natural extracts.http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=582.50