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Why "Natural” Flavors Are Anything But Natural

What are natural flavors and why are they in everything from seltzer to snacks?

Are you a mama or dad who always checks ingredient labels, and wants to make sure that you are selecting foods for your babies that are truly natural?

We want to shed some light on the “natural flavors” that you see on the majority of labels that you are checking. 

What are “Natural” Flavors?

According to the Environmental Working Group,“natural flavors” are the 4th most common ingredient on food labels today, right after salt, water and sugar! So what are these ubiquitous ingredients anyway?

The FDA defines natural flavors as flavors that are derived from plant or animal sources, that are distilled, fermented or manipulated in a lab. The catch is that natural flavors can also 
contain many chemical additives, including solvents, preservatives, BHA, propylene glycol (found in antifreeze), and fillers comprised of things like corn, soy, and dairy.  

According to the Environmental Working Group, a single “natural flavor” can contain over 100 ingredients - some of which can include unnatural additions such as emulsifiers, preservatives and solvents. So, when you read “natural orange flavoring”, “natural flavors”, or “natural flavoring”, that natural flavor is not just a single flavor, but more like a complex combination of processed extracts that were formulated in a lab to taste like the flavor, and may not contain any ingredients from an actual orange.

Natural Flavors vs. Artificial Flavors

The main difference between natural flavors and artificial flavors is the origin. Artificial flavors are derived from man-made chemicals as opposed to plant or animal sources. However, because so many synthetic additives are often added to natural flavors (and are not required to be disclosed), critics say there is not much of a difference between natural and artificial flavors. In fact, artificial flavors sometimes actually contain fewer chemicals than natural flavors. 

What about “Organic Natural Flavors”?

The exception is “organic natural flavors” added to certified organic products, which are subject to stricter regulation. They must be mostly organic, and produced without artificial preservatives, synthetic solvents, ionizing radiation or genetic engineering. However, it’s still impossible to know what ingredients make up those organic natural flavors and food companies are not required to list them. 

Because it’s nearly impossible for a consumer to know what ingredients make up a given flavoring - whether it be natural, artificial or organic natural flavors - food safety advocates recommend that people with food allergies and sensitivities (or preferences, like vegans), be careful with foods containing flavoring, or avoid them altogether.

At the end of the day, it’s always a good idea to check your ingredient labels and do NOT be fooled. Look for options without “natural flavors.” They are out there!

At Mission MightyMe, we stand by our ingredient lists. Our Nutty Puffs don’t contain  any “natural flavors”. Our Organic Strawberry and Organic Banana Peanut Butter Nutty Puffs, for example, contain REAL 100% organic strawberries and  organic bananas that actually grew in nature, and did not come from a lab! Our puffs also have no added cane sugar, cane syrup, corn, palm oil, preservatives or anything artificial. Not to mention, all products are rigorously tested for heavy metals, and have been given the Clean Label Project Purity Award.

We have high standards for the food that we provide to your family and ours, and we want to empower you with information to make the best choices possible when choosing how to fill your pantry and nourish your family.