What is a Natural Flavor?

By Jim F

3063-natural-flavor.jpgWhat is natural? What is artificial? Does it even matter?Paul Bass is suing supplement company Nature Made. He claims that he was tricked into believing their synthetic Vitamin E pills were made from natural sources.

What is Natural Flavoring?

This leads to an interesting question regarding the word natural. On many food labels, you will find an ingredient called “natural flavor”. What exactly is a natural flavor?

According to the US Code of Federal Regulations*, a natural flavor or flavoring is:

…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.

Eric Schlosser, in his book Fast Food Nation, makes this statement:

Consumers prefer to see natural flavors on a label, out of a belief that they are more healthful. Distinctions between artificial and natural flavors can be arbitrary and somewhat absurd, based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains. (via Truthseeker)

Schlosser claims that it is an issue of extraction process rather than substance.

A natural flavor is not necessarily more healthful or purer than an artificial one. When almond flavor — benzaldehyde — is derived from natural sources, such as peach and apricot pits, it contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison. Benzaldehyde derived by mixing oil of clove and amyl acetate does not contain any cyanide. Nevertheless, it is legally considered an artificial flavor and sells at a much lower price. Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature.

What is natural or artificial may not necessarily give us a clue as to the quality of the food. Eat Rhubarb leaves and you will get sick. If you have an allergic disposition then any number of natural foods may potentially be harmful allergens.

How Complicated Should It Be?

Many food labels require you to have a degree in chemistry in order to understand what is in the food. Most of us know Sodium chloride (salt) – but what about diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono-diglycerides?

Do we need to understand every component in a food? How on earth do we wade through the overwhelming amount of nutritional information and determine what is healthful and what is harmful?

Nature Made?

i-3aaa105a6427655d3d6b2243cd2bc6cc-naturemade.gifThe issue here is one of a deceptive brand. Having the words “Nature Made” across every product would lead you to believe that the product came from natural sources. The Nutrisuplaw blog goes onto explain the differences between natural and synthetic Vitamin E.

*In order to read the regulations for flavorings – you need to go to the US CFR site, and search for the term “natural flavor”. The first document returned will have the appropriate information.


  1. wilson

    Natural Flavorings are definitely bad for my health health. I am very passionately against natural flavorings. About 15 years ago (shortly after natural flavoring were introduced into fast food) I started having a variety of debilitating problems, of which the doctors could not find a medical cause. Through a long process I finally determined removing gluten helped but when eating certain gluten free processed food I would get bad again. These foods all had 1 thing in common “Natural Flavorings”. About 1 years ago I removed all natural flavoring from my diet along with gluten and I feel better than I have for years. I am currently 60 years old, I sleep better, pain level is probable normal for my age, and allergy symptom free except when I accidentally eat something with natural flavorings. I have my life back. I actually feel better and I am much more active at 60 than at 45 years of age. I can get really mad that I lost all those years because of natural flavorings, but what bothers me more is the question; how many other people are having the same problems I had and are being misdiagnosed as I often was? From what I read about natural flavorings they are really a drug use to make us think or make us addicted to a food product, it really has nothing to do flavoring.

  2. Mike

    Eat whole foods, then you will know what’s in your food.

  3. stephanie derry

    Finding your blog was quite amazing, as a matter of fact. I was looking this kind of topic for a long time. I am so grateful to find it at last. Natural flavor is really good that added flavoring.

  4. Andrew

    On nature verses (hu)man made foods, there is a definite and obvious difference. Nature-made foods have been eaten by humans for many thousands of years, and our bodies have evolved with them over time. We have selected-out out those which are harmful to us. Foods made by humans in a laboratory have only been around for hundreds of years max, and most for only tens of years. Our bodies therefore will usually reject these products at best, and not know how to deal with them at worst, causing disease. Nature also cannot process these artificial products, and suffers as well, resulting in poisoned air, water, land, and other species suffering. Wake up and smell the coffee. Organic, shade grown, fair trade coffee, that is.

  5. Daniel

    Elliander, from what I’ve read is that the antioxidant properties work as a natural glutamate inhibitor.


    “Antioxidant therapy has been shown to be beneficial in neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease and cerebral ischemia. Glutamate-induced cytotoxicity in HT-4 neuronal cells has been previously demonstrated to be due to oxidative stress caused by depletion of cellular glutathione (GSH). The present study demonstrates that a wide variety of antioxidants inhibit glutamate-induced cytotoxicity in HT-4 neuronal cells. Low concentrations of alpha-tocopherol and its analogs were highly effective in protecting neuronal cells against cytotoxicity.”

  6. Daniel

    The information is made clear on the government websites:


    Are MSG and hydrolyzed protein related?
    Yes. MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein. It is found in virtually all food and, in abundance, in food that is high in protein, including meat, poultry, cheeses, and fish.

    Hydrolyzed proteins, used by the food industry to enhance flavor, are simply proteins that have been chemically broken apart into amino acids. The chemical breakdown of proteins may result in the formation of free glutamate that joins with free sodium to form MSG. In this case, the presence of MSG does not need to be disclosed on labeling. Labeling is required when MSG is added as a direct ingredient.”

    Namenda® (memantine)

    N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist prescribed to treat symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s

    Blocks the toxic effects associated with excess glutamate and regulates glutamate activation
    Dizziness, headache, constipation, confusion”

    Yet it’s highly available in our food supply.

  7. Onti

    You’re referring to the arrangement of the molecule in space right?
    In a mixture of L and R stereo-isomers (same molecule different arrangement) called Racemic both exists, but the effects in can have on the body vary by molecular species.
    For example R-glucose is used as fuel for out bodies while L-glucose is one our bodies cannot break down but has the same taste.
    Some stereo-isomers can have negative effect, like Thalidomide. The R isomer is safe and can prevent morning sickness
    The S Isomer is harmful and causes birth defects.
    So depending on the species the isomer can be harmful, or inert or have a completely different effect, so each must be studied effectively.
    As for the chemical process, there are mechanisms that generates only one isomer as a product, while there are other less favorable ones that generate both molecules in equal quantities.
    I assume in most cases if the isomer proved to be harmful, they will isolate the beneficial optical isomer from the harmful one to avoid a repeat of the Thalidomide case. But in cases where the isomer has no proven harmful effect the isomers are unlikely to be separated.
    So I’m just saying it depends on ‘proven harmful effects’ whether or not the company will include the isomer in the product.

    I assume most who want to be on the safe side wouldn’t, but some companies are cheap and will want to cut costs from additional processing.

    Er, so some background of what this means

  8. Elliander

    Not just prevent cancer. Cure cancer. It was found recently that a compound in broccoli specifically kills breast and prostate cancer cells and prevents new tumors from forming with a rate of efficiency higher than chemo at a cost of only maybe 10.00 a month. Meanwhile, in india, Doctors are using honey in place of antibiotics because it is shown more effective in some forms and substantially cheaper which makes care available to more people.

    But what happens if you were to Pasteurize the Broccoli? At low temperatures it’s a good thing. It eliminates the Sulfur-Grabbing Proteins that limit it’s effectiveness. At high temperatures it destroys the cancer benefits. And with “Cold Pasteurization” it’s value is not only destroyed but contains more carcinogens than anti-carcinogens.

    So ya, a Healthy Diet can and does prevent and cure cancer. There have always been periods of time of people eating stupid things, and people eating healthy things. The Romans went mad from Mercury poisoning. And so did the Ancient Chinese who thought it was an elixir of eternal life. Just because Cancer existed thousands of years ago doesn’t mean it’s the product of wellness.

    • BB

      Sorry, the romans had lead poisoning, not mercury

  9. Elliander

    I wish they would simplify the process. I have a mitochondrial condition that causes very bad reactions if I consume large amounts of Glutamates. Of course I know that there are Glutamates in everything. Even Yeast is a natural source of Glutamates. And these concentrations are OK for me. It’s when I get a thousand times more than are found in Nature – regardless of the source – that gets me sick. I don’t really care if it’s “all natural” or “synthetic”. What I care about is avoiding synthetic CONCENTRATIONS of Glutamates.

    So ya, I agree that this is used to hide things they know people won’t buy. They know if it said “Contains concentrated Glutamates” sales would go down. But really, for things like that we need a Dosage system.

    I remember reading somewhere a good comparison. Coca Leaf Tea is good for you. But concentrate it a thousand fold and you end up with cocaine. The two are substantially different and that is the kind of difference between natural concentrations of glutamates, and “natural” glutamates in unnatural concentrations.

  10. lynxx

    Yes, Claire, there is a difference between nature’s factory and the chemistry lab.

    An organic compound may be either dextro- or levo-rotatory. (That refers to how it relects polarized light.) Compounds found in nature are totally dextro- while lab products come out half and half dextro- and levo-rotatory.

    I don’t know what this means for our nutrition, but it must mean something.

  11. Gary

    I am man. I am a descendant of rock soup. I am nature. A rock in the ground is nature. I pick up the rock and SMASH in your brains. It is natural. This is the theory of evolution. I am God. I am natural. I did not create myself – nature did – just as nature created all things. Natural selection and survival of the most fit are the accepted truths of universal life. If you are unfit, I have the right to eliminate you. This is the law of evolution. After all, the stars exploded and made me. I am the descendant of star dust. I am descended from worms. I am mud. I am Man. I am Nature. Shut up and eat your sugar substitutes excreted from genetically mutated bacteria.

  12. cat

    you all need to google simian virus 40 or maybe Dr. Leonard Horowitz and get the truth on what we all ready have been vaccinated with.

  13. cody green

    IGHT ON!!!

  14. DaveB

    From the list of ingredients on a Progresso (General Mills) “Vegetable Classics” vegatable soup label:
    Monosodium Glutamate, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Spice, Dried Parsley…Natural Flavor. There are several points I want to make here. The label contains 3 types of excitoneurotoxins, MSG, HCP, AYE. These three chemicals, and there are many more MSG like chemicals in use in processed foods, cause brain lesions and obesity and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Then there are the “spices”. Spices are not spices but chemicals, and not just a few. Notice how when there is a real spice in the “recipe” it is labeled, ie Parsley, Garlic.
    The reason so many are getting cancer and a host of other immune diseases is because our bodies are full of toxins.
    Congress has sold us out to big business whose only reason for existing is to maximize profits. Corporations are given more rights than individuals and also, as advertisers, have our “Free Press” in their pockets. We only get the news they want us to hear. As if that were not enough, they then hire individuals to pose as good guys and discredit the good work some are doing to expose the oppression we are under, in our society, from the food and drug companies. Most of the debunking of natural means of eating and healing is actually done by corporate shills who have no interest in truth. We are so lazy and torpid from the poisoned food that we don’t even bother to educate ourselves as to what is really going on in the name of the almighty dollar.

  15. Paul Drowns

    I basically agree with you but would like some points for simplification… some paraphrased, and some my own.
    From a historical perspective, until the advent of modern food processing, access to food, rather than the safety of food was the greater issue.
    Remaining in an historical vein, recipes and ingredients used in traditional cookery, evolved over time and were selected on the basis of health benefit and flavor. How much more delightful to consume oregano in the context of the Sicilian sauce/marinade Sarsa Salimurigghiu (dialect), than it is to swill an extractive?
    Many organic foods are just as highly processed as are conventional products. Simplification #1 Don’t eat processed food!
    Many organic brands are owned by conventional producers, and there is huge consolidation in the food industry. The chocolate bar with the baby fur seal on the label, still contains soy lecithin (because the beneficial cacao butter was removed and sold to the pharmaceutical or cosmetic industry).
    Simplification #2 Don’t buy food from strangers!
    Avoid any foods that are “shelf stable.”
    Simplification #3 Don’t eat food that won’t rot! (If the food won’t support microbes, bacteria, and mold spores, it won’t support you).
    Simplification #4 (Your milk) Eat whole foods… I don’t drink milk, haven’t for years but I do make butter, cheese, and cook with milk. I pay $2 a gallon for raw Jersey milk straight from the farm, and get to pet some of the cows as well.
    Raw milk from grass fed cows is an excellent source of vitamin D and has a host of other beneficial qualities as well.
    The same applies to any grass fed proteins… all high in a correct balance of omega 6 and 3.
    Simplification #5 Don’t eat foods which require labels!
    Don’t depend on the FDA or USDA. Hell will freeze over before they work for us rather than industry.
    The EAFUS (FDA list of approved food additives is 179 pages long.
    They’ll change only when we change.
    Michael Pollan suggests not eating any foods our great-grandmothers wouldn’t recognize.

  16. Bruce F

    I have avoided MSG for years, whenever I can. I have discovered that when I consume MSG not only do I get nervous reactions and trouble sleeping, but also leg and foot cramps at night that are sometimes devastatingly painful. Also, foods that contain “natural flavors” give me the same reactions. As the years pass I have noticed that more and more processed foods contain these chemicals. They have recently added natural flavor to my non fat milk! It’s getting so that you can’t buy anything these days without reading the lable, and then, can you believe or understand the lable? The FDA is failing to do their job. We are paying their salaries, but they are not protecting us. Call or write your congressmen and senators and demand they make the FDA do their job!

  17. Hayley

    I just wanted to add that cancer takes many years to develop and once it is malignant it replicates more rapidly and dangerously.

    Whole foods in grocery stores don’t have labels full of rubbish, but maybe they should have labels stating how far the food has travelled and from where, when it was picked, is it from a genetically modified organism (GMO) patented by the bio-tech companies like monsanto and aventis, and what chemicals were used on it (like fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides..)

    Your best bet is nutrient dense food, GMO-free food, chemical free food, ideally locally produced food that is picked when ripe and not ripened by chemicals, and not made to look pretty by chemicals or taste and smell good by chemical enhancers, in other words, organic food. In this current world, even organics are a tad polluted, but it’s well worth the investment, and if you can’t afford all organics, make sure you go for anything with fat in it (dairy, oils and meats) because they hold the most chemicals in them.

    Many great points have been mentioned and it’s been great readings. When it comes to food, listen to your body, only you know what’s right for you.

    As for the glutamic acid, it’s found it all kinds of foods which is why MSG is from natural sources such as tomatoes, mushrooms, walnuts..etc. As mentioned glutamate isn’t bad for you, though those sensitive to MSG MAY also be sensitive to those foods, but it’s when its combined with sodium that it becomes dangerous breaking down the blood brain barrier to affect our central nervous system and appetite control, lowering serotonin level(depression). It can cause a whack of allergen-like reactions (headaches, sniffles, groggy head, fatigue..etc).

    The problem with umbrella terms like natural and artificial flavors is that we can never know what’s in them. They are like the secret recipe of KFC Chicken, industry patented secrets, it’s their competitive advantage in the market-place. As mentioned, not really health concerning practice, but more profit-protecting practice. We need to come together and demand to know what is in our food.

    Each food purchase we make is a vote (watch Food Inc.!!) towards our rights to know what’s in the food. I do what I can, but again, everything in moderation, even moderation in moderation! Live happy and enjoy the variety of amazing food the earth’s soils can offer us. The quality of the soil deems the quality of the food which deems the quality of our health.

  18. know your history

    y! Companies can’t be trusted. Their only agenda is to make a profit

    do u take someone elses version of reality or do u create ur own

    its all about self controll. either u controll what goes in ur body or somone else will

    when all people demand that labels are more specific (why cant they be , surley the manufacturers know whats in there foood > prooving there deseptiveness..)then we will be a better more in controll world … or… we could be in a not so nice cooperatin controlled world


  19. Randy

    Around biblical times, people lived substantially longer than 100 years. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why! Companies can’t be trusted. Their only agenda is to make a profit! GMO’s (with their poisonous pesticides, herbicides, injected bacteria, etc.),hydrogenated fats, High Fructose Corn Syrup (sugar glucose-fructose (in Canada)- different names in other countries and the leading cause of type 2 diabetes), mono and diglycerides (trans fats), flavor, color and all the other names that companies use to hide their poisons, artificial sweeteners, etc.! Ninety percent of “food” these days is nothing more than chemical soup! Corporations today are getting away with murder…and I mean that literally. It’s appalling, what these “corporations” are doing to our health. I’ve personally been researching this topic for a few years now and it’s actually quite horrifying!

  20. Gustav

    He’s lying. Commenters here really have to adjust their tinfoil hats. MSG has gotten a bad rap because of bad science and misinterpreted statistics.

    Is all “Natural Flavour” bad? No. Is some? Maybe. The real problem is not labeling everything as bad or cancer causing, but the secrecy. Labeling something as “Natural Flavours” means we can research and decide for ourselves.

  21. gab

    Trying to catch all excitoneurotoxins on the label is like trying to swim upstream. You might, but the odds are unfavorable. My solution is to cook almost all my food (cannot reaonably expect to cook 100%). I stick to veggies, meats, fruits, nuts (no peanut), Omega 3 oils, herbs, pure spices, purified water. Basically no grains, cooking oils, packaged foods, condiments, mixed spices, fast food, etc. Rule of thumb: If I can’t pornounce it, grow it or herd it, I won’t chew it.

  22. gab

    Good post. However, Dr. Blaylock does warn directly against glutemates.

  23. Gab

    Phoke, it terrifies you because you are rational. As far as what he eats. I apologize that I can’t be more specific. I’m currently trying to get his book on health tips. Until then i don’t want to mislead. However, what I do know is that he is big on Omega 3s (especially DHA), vegetables, complex carbs. I don’t know his position on protein. Hope this helps.

  24. Gaba

    You’re missing the point. The label “natural flavors” is misleading. MSG may be legally labelled “natural flavors” in order to hide it. Healthy natural flavors exist, but some are excitoneurotoxins. The classic example is “hydrolyzed soy protein.” This “natural flavor” is no more than a form glutemate. Glutemate is the neurotoxin that has been proven to break down the blood brain barrier, and therefore allow undigested proteins to enter the brain. This is a suspected cause of autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis.

    Also, MSG is suspected (and I only say “suspected” because manufacturers will sue those who make this claim) of causing compulsive eating. The list of hidden glutemates is very long. Obesity is unnatural, yet epidemic because our food supply is saturated with low cost, flavor additives. These excitoneurotoxins put the appetite in overdrive and make it hard to stop eating. Don’t take my word for this. Read up on it or watch Dr. Russell Blaylock videos on YouTube. It will blow you away.

  25. up and coming dietitian

    Woooowwww, now that i did not know!!!! Why would they spray msg on “fresh” vegetables??? That is ridiculous.

  26. up and coming dietitian

    I 100% agree 🙂

  27. up and coming dietitian

    Im sure Katz was being sarcastic!! lol

  28. up and coming dietitian

    That is a good definition of what cancer is, but you have listed potential man made triggers as well.

  29. up and coming dietitian

    If we all lived a natural “caveman” life, then maybe we would die of diseases before we had a chance to die of cancer. But if we lived a natural life, not as a caveman, then we would indeed live longer and healthier lives. Do your research and look at other countries that grow and cook their own foods, without all the processing. They are living to 108 and older, and are walking around without canes, or medicine!! So yea without pollutants, we would definitely have lower incidences of cancer.

  30. up and coming dietitian

    You ain’t never lied!! lol

  31. Ben

    Great post.

  32. yeah

    You have no real basis for saying things like that. All that “balance with nature” is but a wash. True, some factors that increase the prevalence of cancers are the side effect of the current civilization. But also, many people wouldn’t ever get cancer if they lived a completely “natural” cavemen life – because they would die sooner of something else!

  33. TryOreganoOilTincture

    Hi – I had some mouth sores recently due to a virus I was fighting. Among other natural remedies, two things that really helped were adding a few drops of tinctures of chlorophyll and oregano oil to a small glass of Artesian Wells water and swishing it around the mouth.
    I would also drink these some days too.
    Also when brushing teeth, finish by rinsing with a little water and a capful or two of H2O2.