What are natural flavors, really?

The difference between artificial and natural flavors is pretty narrow.

Story highlights

  • Most packaged foods include artificial and natural flavors. The difference between these additives isn't that clear
  • Natural flavor is one of the most common items on an ingredient list
  • Added flavoring, both natural and artificial, could contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients.

(Life by Daily Burn)Look at the food label of almost any packaged good you consume and odds are you'll spot the term "natural flavors." But have you ever wondered what this mysterious additive actually contains? The answer isn't as clear as you might think.

Though natural flavors may sound better than their presumably chemical-laden alternative — artificial flavors — it turns out they are not actually all that different.
    Why natural flavors are everywhere in your food
    In the Environmental Working Group's Food Scores database of over 80,000 foods, "natural flavor" is the fourth most common ingredient listed on labels. The only ingredients that outrank it: salt, water and sugar. Yet, natural flavoring isn't nearly as simple as these three pantry staples.
    "Natural and artificial flavors play an interesting role in food. They're essentially providing the taste and often they're added to make the food more appealing, or to potentially replace something that's lost through processing, storage or in some cases even from pasteurizing," says David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group.
    One place you'll often spot natural or artificial flavor is in orange juice; manufacturers will add faux flavor to juice after it's packaged in the plant, to ensure uniformity.
    "It's to make sure that you have the exact same tasting food products across the country, any time of year," Andrews says. "It's become the signature of a lot of these products."