Natural & Artificial Flavors: Are They Safe?
When you read food labels or supplement facts, you may notice that sometimes “natural flavors” or “artificial flavors” are listed. What does that mean?
Food manufacturers and supplement companies often use these additives to enhance the taste of foods or supplements. Most of us aren’t likely to consume things that don’t taste good. Natural flavors may be found in chewable or liquid supplements since some vitamins or minerals can have strong flavors that may not be pleasant on their own.
Natural flavorings are now the fourth most common ingredient on product labels. (1) Food additives do not contribute to nutritional value, but you might wonder if they cause harm.
What exactly does “natural flavoring” or “artificial flavors” mean on a label? The answer depends on each specific manufacturer.
In this article, we’ll explore the FDA’s regulations surrounding these terms, what Seeking Health means when we use them, and how they may impact your overall wellness.
What Are Natural Flavors Made From?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that natural flavoring be made from ingredients that are edible. They may be derived from: (2)
- Fruit or fruit juice
- Vegetables or vegetable juice
- Edible yeast
- Herbs, bark, buds, root leaves, or plant materials
- Dairy products
- Fermented products
- Meat, poultry, or seafood
Natural flavors may be made from one ingredient or a combination of many. Manufacturing companies often create proprietary blends of natural flavorings and do not disclose the exact ingredients used to create their specific additive.
Natural flavors are not required to come from organic sources. Because of this, it is possible to have flavorings labeled as natural that are made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Organic food products are subject to more strict requirements, and that includes “natural flavors” that may be added to them. Organic foods cannot contain synthetic solvents, carriers, or emulsifiers. Organic foods must also be free from artificial preservatives and GMOs, including flavor extracts or additives that are derived from them.
Requirements for organic food labeling can be tricky though. If a product only says “made with organic ingredients,” this can mean that it also contains ingredients that are not organic.
What Are Artificial Flavors Made From?
“Artificial flavorings” are made from inedible sources. They are chemically processed to create the desired taste that mimics natural flavors.
Flavorists are experts who ensure that artificial flavors smell and taste exactly like natural flavorings even though they are not from nature at all.
Artificial flavors can be made from petroleum and other chemicals that you can’t eat. Manufacturers often do not disclose their artificial flavoring blends.
Some manufacturers may also use a blend of both natural and artificial flavorings in their products.
Similarities and Differences Between Natural Flavors and Artificial Flavors
When people see the word “natural” on food or supplement labels, they tend to assume that the product is healthier. (3) But ultimately, natural flavors and artificial flavors are not that different.
- Both are made in a lab.
- Both can contain preservatives, which may not come from natural sources, even for natural flavors.
- Both can contain stabilizers.
- Both can contain one or many different components. The Environmental Working Group found that some natural flavors contain more than 100 different chemicals, in addition to the original “natural” flavors. (4)
- Both can be listed simply as “natural flavors” or “artificial flavors” without having to disclose what exactly is in the final product.
- Both must be reviewed by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) Expert Panel to ensure that they meet safety standards. (5)
The main difference between natural flavorings and artificial flavorings is what the original raw materials are sourced from. (6) Beyond that, they are produced and contain similar ingredients and have the same function in the final products.
Are Natural Flavors and Artificial Flavors Safe to Consume?
Natural flavorings and artificial flavorings are used in a wide variety of dietary supplements and foods. They serve similar purposes and are not much different. There is no definitive answer as to whether they are safe to consume.
It is possible for people to have sensitivity or intolerance reactions to natural flavors or artificial flavors. Since it is impossible to get complete lists of what is included, those who are sensitive usually have to avoid all forms of additives to prevent reactions.
The best way to determine whether natural or artificial flavors are safe to consume for you and your family is to contact the manufacturer and ask them to tell you about the additives in their products.
Companies are not required to disclose this information, but their willingness to provide information or answer questions can help you determine whether you find them trustworthy as a brand.
Supplements and Flavor Additives
The Food and Drug Administration regulates what supplement companies must put on their labels. Products must identify if natural or artificial flavors were used. But the FDA does not require that supplement manufacturers reveal the details or ingredients in their flavoring formulas.
Because natural and artificial flavors are regulated for safety, companies cannot just use any unproven ingredients that might be dangerous. However, individual tolerance for ingredients, including natural or artificial flavors, can be different.
Most supplements contain natural flavors or artificial flavors to make liquid, chewable, or gummy supplements more palatable. If you have questions about any supplement ingredient, ask the manufacturer. The FDA requires that contact information for each company is included on the packaging.
At Seeking Health, some of our products do contain “natural flavors.” We frequently have customers ask us what this means. We believe in transparency and recognize your right to know what you are consuming. We provide a public database of frequently asked questions where we list all of our ingredient sources.
The natural flavors that we use were developed by our team of health-science experts. They make our liquid, chewable, and liposomal supplements tasty enough to consume, without the addition of unnecessary sugar or flavorings that would detract from the benefits.
The Bottom Line
Seeing “natural flavors” on your supplement label may raise more questions than it answers. But now you know the general process behind their creation, even if it’s not easy to get specific ingredient lists. When you want to know more, you can identify trusted brands by how willing they are to answer questions or put your mind at ease about their manufacturing practices.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.