Natural Flavors – What They Are and Why They Matter
When it comes to food and beverages, you might see the terms “natural flavors” and “organic flavors” used on packaging or in ingredient lists. But what do these terms actually mean? Natural flavors are derived from natural sources like plants or animals, and can be used in food products to enhance their taste or aroma. Organic flavors, on the other hand, are derived from organic sources that are grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals. Essentially, organic flavors are a type of natural flavor that comes from organic farming practices. Both natural and organic flavors are used to create a wide range of food and beverage products and are often preferred by consumers who want to avoid artificial substances in their diet.
Have you ever wondered how we taste and perceive flavors? Well, it all starts with our taste buds. These tiny receptors on our tongue and in our mouth are responsible for detecting different flavors. There are five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (which is often described as savory or brothy). When we eat or drink something, the taste receptors on our tongue send signals to our brain, which then interprets the signals as a specific flavor. However, our sense of taste isn’t the only factor in how we perceive flavors. Our sense of smell also plays a significant role. In fact, when we eat, aroma molecules from the food travel up through our nose and interact with receptors in our olfactory system, which can influence how we perceive the taste of the food. All of these factors come together to create our overall experience of taste and flavor.
What Makes a Flavor “Natural”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has specific regulations in place for natural flavors in food and beverages. According to the FDA, natural flavors must be derived from natural sources such as fruits, vegetables, or spices. On the other hand, artificial flavors are not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof. While both natural and artificial flavors can be used in food products, natural flavors are often preferred by consumers who want to avoid artificial substances in their diet.
What Makes a Flavor “Organic”
The USDA has specific regulations in place for organic flavors, just like the FDA does for natural flavors. Organic flavors must be derived from organic sources that are grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals. They must also be extracted using natural methods, without the use of synthetic solvents or chemical processes. Unlike natural flavors, organic flavors must meet the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) standards for organic certification. These standards ensure that the organic flavors are made using only ingredients approved under the Organic Regulations and meet certain environmental and social criteria. Just like with natural flavors, artificial flavors are not allowed in organic products. When it comes to choosing between natural and organic flavors, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and values. While both are considered safe by the FDA, organic flavors offer the added benefit of being made from ingredients that meet certain environmental and social standards.
What is the difference between natural, organic, and artificial flavors?
Flavors used in food and beverages can fall into three categories: natural, organic, and artificial. Natural flavors come from natural sources. Organic flavors are similar to natural flavors but are derived from organic sources grown under USDA certified conditions and must meet certain environmental and social standards. Artificial flavors, on the other hand, are created using chemical synthesis instead of being derived from a natural source. While all three types of flavors are considered safe for consumption and regulated by the FDA, natural and organic flavors are often preferred by consumers who want to avoid synthetic substances in their food.
How are flavors regulated by the FDA?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a specific labelling regulation and polices in place for flavors used in food and beverages. Before a flavor can be added to a food product, it must first be evaluated to ensure that it is safe for consumption. This process includes a review of any potential health risks associated with the flavor and an assessment of the amount that can be safely consumed. The assessment is completed by the Flavor ad Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States and explicitly recognized by the FDA.
The FDA also regulates the US Flavor Classification or “Name of the Flavor” and monitors labeling of flavors on food packaging. If the package is misleading or inaccurate the FDA can take action against the food company in the form of warning letters and product seizures.