"Natural" Flavorings Are Bullshit

Illustration for article titled "Natural" Flavorings Are Bullshit

In one of those naked PR moves, Nestlé announced today it would only use natural flavorings and colors in its candy. Which means it's a good time to remember that is "natural" does not mean better. The natural stuff is just as processed, and comes from places like beaver butts and insects.


There's nothing inherently wrong with natural flavorings, and dyes that come from less-than-savory animal parts—unless you're a strict vegetarian. But castoreum (the vanilla flavor from beaver butts) and Natural Red 4 (red dye from squashed scale insects) are good checks on our visceral reactions to words like "natural" and "artificial."

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has strict definitions for natural and artificial flavors. The short explanation is that natural flavors are derived from plant or animal material, while artificial flavors are synthesized by chemists in a lab.

"Natural" may evoke those idyllic images of leisurely roasted coffee beans or hand-chopped strawberries, but nope, full stop. It's all chemists in a lab. Extracting pure flavor molecules from food requires solvents and preservatives. Natural and artificial flavorings alike can contain dozens of ingredients that aren't listed in final packaging. Those ingredients do have to come from the FDA's Generally Recognized As Safe list, which is exactly as the name implies.

And a natural flavoring doesn't have to correspond with its natural ingredient. There's an entire category called WONF, or With Other Natural Flavors. Raspberry flavor, for example, can be enhanced with strawberry, jasmine, and orris root. What you taste is not what you get.

None of this is a big secret. Natural flavorings are an issue that manage to unite the crunchiest of the crunchy with the people who like to shake their heads at crunchy hippies. Here's even Food Babe, the woman perhaps most (in)famous for getting the "yoga mat chemical" out of Subway bread, going on a tear about natural flavors.

We can all do with less processed food. But let's not pretend that swapping in natural flavors in a chocolate bar makes it any better.


Top: Photo of a Lion bar via Nestlé



Can we not give that F*** B*** any attention, ever? (I even censored her name)

Here's why she's a dumbass. From the link you posted:

The whole place is "cloaked in secrecy" because they don't want you to know what they are selling you in their "natural" flavor (the words you will see on a back of food packaging) or who they are selling to.

Flavors are all "cloaked in secrecy" because it's proprietary information. If all chemical compounds & their amounts were listed... 1) it'll be easier to copy flavors 2) ingredient panels won't fit on any package anymore & finally 3) what the fuck will you do when you find out what you just ate had 0.004% of cis-3-hexanol? I'm all for transparency in labels, but can someone tell me what good will having that knowledge do for you?

...they want you to only experience the best 1 millionth part of the taste – so you get "addicted" and keep having to go back for more and more, searching continuously for gratification...

It's fairly common knowledge that wine crops vary because of geographic region, altitude, rain, sunshine, etc. That's why wine on one year can taste vastly different from a prior year. What you may not know is that everything grown in the world is the same way. Teas, citrus fruits, etc. When you're isolating certain natural flavor compounds or synthesizing certain artificial flavor compounds, you're eliminating that variability in crops.

Shit, I can barely read passed that video on her site.