“Natural Flavors” are so Not Natural

Well, it says “natural flavor.” It MUST be good for me.214

And this is what led me to believe that natural flavors were harmless, and in fact, pure. And most anything that is labeled “natural” reminds us of clean air, lush rolling hills, violets and butterflies. Or maybe we picture a flowing waterfall within a forest of magnificent trees. Ah, so… natural. But truth is, marketing teams depend on our tendency to create vivid associations to sell products.

Natural flavor – after water, salt and sugar, it’s the fourth most common item listed on the ingredient list of many foods. But what the heck is it? Well, it’s an extract of the original product, let’s say oranges, and then a ton of chemicals are thrown in to enhance the flavor.

Here are a couple of reasons for doing this versus simply using oranges: Adding chemicals to recreate the taste of orange is more cost-effective and therefore profitable. Secondly, manufactured  flavor creates consistency so that you can have the same exact product every time.

I, like most people appreciate consistency. I’d hate to try something, love it and then buy it again just to find that it tastes different. But the reality is that foods might vary in taste because of natural changes in soil, climate, rain and a million other factors. It’s what’s supposed to happen. As expected, most fruit will not have the perfect balance of sweet and tart throughout the year. And ultimately, the variation in taste is often slight.

So question is, would we rather have consistency in taste or know we’re avoiding a modified chemical that can lead to physical and mental decline? There are many products that don’t require us to sell our souls. It’s a matter of reading labels to find out which are safe. In fact, it’s often easier to find natural flavors on packages because they are proudly written right on the front, as if they’re good for us.

Calling genetically modified foods “natural flavors” and placing them on the front of products is pretty low down. That’s okay though, now we know. And knowledge is the best way to combat the evils of deceptive marketing practices. For more on natural flavors, read this report by CNN.

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