I was drinking a seltzer water this afternoon, and noticed there were only two ingredients listed: carbonated water and “natural flavors.” Since this particular seltzer was lemon flavored, I assumed this meant the natural flavors were lemon juice, of course.
“Natural flavors,” it turns out, are anything but natural. The legal definition, according to the Code of Federal Regulations, is as follows:
The essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
Like artificial flavors, “natural flavors” (I can’t not use those quotation marks) are usually concocted in a laboratory. The only difference is, “natural flavors” are derived from natural sources, while artificial flavors are manmade. Which means my lemon flavored seltzer water was likely made with a chemical found in lemons, rather than actual lemons themselves. “Natural flavors” might actually contain as many as 100 individual ingredients, including solvents and preservatives. As much as it saves valuable packaging real estate, it seems like a cop out to lump everything together under such a deceptive label anyway – even if companies are perfectly within their rights to do so.
Worse, “natural flavors” may actually cause consumers to crave the food or beverage even more. Those pharmacists in the food labs are attempting to make short, intense bursts of flavor that dissipate quickly, tricking you into coming back for more. And more. Of course, this benefits the manufacturing companies who put out the product in the first place. While “natural flavors” have never been associated with health issues, they can definitely make your wallet thinner, and trick your palate into believing a real lemon pales in comparison to a “naturally flavored” lemon.
Buyer – or in this case, taster – beware.