True Cellular Formulas Team - April 22, 2024

Debunking "Natural Flavors"

What You Need to Know


In recent years, there's been a significant surge in consumer interest towards healthier, more natural food choices. This shift has led many to scrutinize labels, seeking products that align with a non-toxic lifestyle. However, one commonly misunderstood term found on many of these labels is "natural flavors." Despite its wholesome implication, the reality behind this phrase can be less than natural. This blog dives into what "natural flavors" really mean, demystifying their composition and the implications for those striving to make healthier dietary choices.

Understanding "Natural Flavors"

"Natural flavors" may sound straightforward and harmless, but the legal definition extends beyond what one might expect from such a seemingly clear-cut term. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a natural flavor can stem from anything that provides flavor 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.[1] However, the term does not necessarily reflect the processing methods or the number of ingredients used to create these flavors. What might start as a natural source can undergo extensive processing, involving numerous additives to capture the desired essence and preserve stability.[2]

The Misleading Nature of "Natural"

The allure of the word "natural" on food packaging is undeniable. It conjures images of wholesome, pure ingredients, leading many consumers to equate "natural" with healthy or beneficial. However, this term is often a prime example of greenwashing—a tactic used by marketers to make products appear more environmentally friendly or healthier than they really are.[2] The broad definition of "natural flavors" provided by regulatory bodies gives manufacturers ample room to include a wide range of substances that may not align with consumer expectations of 'naturalness'.[1-2] This gap between perception and reality can mislead consumers, affecting their ability to make informed dietary choices.

The Process Behind Natural Flavors

The creation of a natural flavor is far more complex than one might imagine. To replicate a specific flavor found in nature, manufacturers might use up to 100 different ingredients, including solvents, preservatives, and other additives.[2] These components are often used to extract or enhance the flavor, ensuring it can withstand the rigors of processing, storage, and cooking. While these ingredients are derived from natural sources, the extensive processing they undergo can render the final product far from what any consumer might recognize as 'natural'. This revelation highlights the importance of transparency in food labeling, as many consumers are unaware of the intricate processes involved in manufacturing the flavors they enjoy every day.

Health Implications of Natural Flavors

Despite their seemingly benign origin, natural flavors can have uncertain health implications. The complex mixtures that constitute these flavors may include substances that some individuals are sensitive or allergic to, yet these compounds are rarely specified on ingredient labels due to proprietary concerns.[3] Furthermore, the solvents and preservatives used in the extraction process, while generally recognized as safe in small quantities, can contribute to dietary exposures that some experts suggest should be minimized. As such, consumers looking to avoid synthetic additives or certain allergens may unknowingly consume them through products labeled as containing natural flavors.

How to Make Informed Choices

Navigating the murky waters of food labeling can be challenging, but there are ways to make more informed choices. Firstly, consumers can look for brands that commit to full transparency by listing all components of their natural flavors, or better yet, those that avoid using complex flavor additives altogether. Reading labels diligently and understanding the potential loopholes in food labeling regulations is crucial. Additionally, consumers can reach out directly to companies to inquire about specific ingredients used in their products. Opting for whole and minimally processed foods (ideally organic) is another effective strategy for those looking to avoid hidden additives, ensuring a diet that is as close to nature as possible.


The term "natural flavors" often does not convey the full story of what consumers are ingesting. Through understanding the definition, processing, and potential health impacts of these additives, individuals can make better dietary decisions. Transparency in labeling is key, and as consumers, advocating for clearer and more informative labels is crucial in the movement toward truly healthy and natural diets. By educating ourselves and making mindful choices, we can avoid falling into the trap of misleading marketing and ensure our food aligns with our health and wellness goals.

  1. “CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.” Accessdata.Fda.Gov, Accessed 21 Apr. 2024. 
  2. Goodman, Matthew J. “The ‘Natural’ vs. ‘Natural Flavors’ Conflict in Food Labeling: A Regulatory Viewpoint.” Food and Drug Law Journal, vol. 72, no. 1, 2017, pp. 78–102. JSTOR, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.
  3. Singer, Sydney Ross. “Attention, Allergy Sufferers: Beware of Natural Flavors.” Food Safety News, 31 July 2018, Accessed 21 Apr. 2024.

Related Posts