Flavored drinks include many ingredients that affect the contents, health effects, and quality of a beverage. You can find the type of flavors written under the logo on any drink or soda can, for example, “made with natural and(/or) artificial ingredients.” Even though this phrasing can be found on products we consume every day, most consumers are unaware of what it means and how it affects the products we consume. So, what exactly does this phrasing mean and why is it so important to the quality and contents of a beverage?

Artificial Flavors: Artificial flavors are additives designed to mimic the taste of natural ingredients. They are a cost-efficient way for manufacturers to make something taste like strawberry, without actually using any real strawberries. The FDA defines artificial flavoring as “any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is 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.” The compounds used to produce artificial flavors are almost identical to those that occur naturally.

Flavors are usually a result of a combination of natural flavors, which set up the basic taste profile of a product, while artificial flavors modify taste to accent it.

Natural Flavors: The FDA defines a natural flavor as a substance extracted, distilled or similarly derived from plant or animal matter, either as is or after it has been roasted, heated or fermented, and whose function is for flavor, not nutrition. They can either be used in their natural state or processed for human consumption, but cannot contain ant nature-identical or artificial flavoring substances. Essentially, these flavors have to come from a natural source and use a natural process to extract flavor.

Even though this definition is simple, there is a point where things become more complicated.  A single natural flavor can consist of 50 to 100 different components. Often, these include solvents, emulsifiers, and preservatives—substances that preserve the natural ingredients being used or help them mix with each other. Sometimes, these additives are synthetic. Even though they are less than likely to hurt you, they do present some gray area in terms of differentiating natural from artificial flavors.


Can I find flavor ingredients on my beverage?

Unfortunately, regardless of natural or artificial flavors, the FDA does not require flavor companies to disclose individual ingredients as long as all of the ingredients have been deemed GRAS (generally recognized as safe). This protects the proprietary formulas but allows for many flavor chemicals to be included under the word ‘flavor’ on the ingredients list.

Do manufacturers opt to not publish ingredients?

Manufacturers choose not to list flavor ingredients on the products for one simple reason: competition. Flavors are proprietary and food manufacturers don’t want their formulas landing in competitors’ hands. Additionally, the list of flavor ingredients would simply be too long for the package to cover.

Is natural really better for us?

Natural and artificial flavors are composed of the same molecules. Nutritionally, there is no difference between natural and artificial flavors. Usually, a products source of nutrition has nothing to do with flavors additives that are included. Both natural and artificial flavors are responsible for making flavors that are used to make processed foods enticing.

Written on April 2, 2019.