The Difference Between Natural And Artificial Flavors

“How can I describe it? Good food is like music you can taste, color you can smell. There is excellence all around you. You need only to be aware to stop and savor it.” —Chef Auguste Gusteau, Ratatouille (2007)

In A Nutshell

For a flavor to be considered natural it has to meet only two criteria: It needs to be in the food only for the purpose of flavor, and it must be derived from a natural source such as a plant or animal. An artificial flavor is basically anything that doesn’t meet those criteria. However, the chemicals are often the same ones found in nature and simply aren’t derived using a “natural” process. This can also allow a flavorist to choose only the chemicals needed for flavor and leave out anything toxic that might have been in the natural product.

The Whole Bushel

Natural flavors are believed by many to be better for you, but this is not necessarily always the case. The truth is that a natural flavor can be almost anything as long as the circumstances of how it was derived fit the right criteria. The FDA defines natural flavor as basically anything that can be derived from a plant or animal product or really through any natural method, solvent, etc. This sounds safe until you realize the implications. If the ingredient was derived in any way from nature and it has no nutritional value, they can simply hide it under the blanket of “natural flavors.” Of course, this means your food could have something nasty like beaver juice in it without you knowing about it. And worse yet, some naturally derived flavors really aren’t particularly good for you. “Natural” doesn’t always mean “safe.”

Artificial flavors, on the other hand, are basically anything that isn’t a natural flavor. That is admittedly not a very helpful definition, but the basic idea is that artificial flavors are made by combining various chemicals in a lab until the appropriate flavor combination is hit upon. There are people who actually do this stuff for a living and they are called “flavorists,” although we think “mad food scientist” might be a better title. However, what they do isn’t as evil as some people think.

Flavorists figure out what chemicals make up the flavor of certain delicious foods and then use those same chemicals to make their artificial flavor. In some cases this means the flavoring process can actually be better for you. You see, the natural foods they are trying to mimic often have many different chemicals, some of which aren’t necessarily good for you. When making an artificial flavor, they can use only the chemicals they need for the flavor itself and avoid the rest. And these chemicals are often no different from ones found in natural sources. The difference lies solely in the fact that they are created synthetically as opposed to being derived directly from a natural source.

Show Me The Proof

US Food and Drug Administration: Code of Federal Regulations Title 21
Scientific American: What is the difference between artificial and natural flavors?
Washington Post: What’s Natural?

  • Hillyard

    Everything that is ‘man-made’ comes from something in nature.

    • Lisa

      Are you retarded?

      • Hillyard

        WTF?? why are you making shitty comments today? Run out of batteries for your ‘boyfriend’ or something? Everything that is man-made is derived from something in nature, ie some of the older types of plastic were made from wood fibers.

        • Errkism

          Appears she has become a troll commenter. All her comments today are childish at best.

          • Lisa

            Just like most of the comments on this site including yours.

          • Lisa

            That’s not me errkism. She/he claims that her name is lisa but i still think troll that i pissed off this am. Don’t respond to anything negative, you guys know me by my humor and kindness, nothing mean.

        • Lisa

          Thats not me, i think someone snagged my name for trolling. I don’t treat anyone like that other than putting a troll in it’s place.

          • Hillyard

            My apologies, evidently you got name jacked. I should have known, as the comments were not what I’ve usually seen.

          • Lisa

            It’s ok, the boyfriend line cracked me up. I’m trying to change my name now, we’re good tho and i still want a beer when i visit you at the manor lol

          • Hillyard

            You’re on!

          • Lisa

            Good, i’ll let you know if i ever get to london, it is london right? Crap, my name change thingy broke lol

          • Lisa 39

            I’ve just spent the last 2 hrs on disqus & i think i’m good now. Thanks for being my ‘is my new post name working yet’ guinea pig!

          • Hillyard

            My pleasure.

      • Brp Goyo

        Hush Lisa!

    • GalalFahmy

      That is true.

  • Spartacross

    Eat only what you can recognize where it came from, if it is in season and only if it had to be transported less than 100 miles to reach you.

    Everything else is artificial. Either in the making or in the preservation.

    • Lisa

      I’ll eat whatever I want you hippy bitch

      • GalalFahmy

        Your opinion did not add value to this topic Lisa, no one cares.

        • Lisa

          Neither did the original comment or yours for that matter.

          • GalalFahmy

            How would you know?

          • Doge

            Wow. Such Argument. Very Internet. So Pointless.

          • Lisa 39

            Most debates are ok but sometimes trolls jump in to make everyone miserable. Just ignore them.

          • Lisa 39

            That lisa is a troll, just ignore anyone who makes nasty negative comments

          • GalalFahmy

            Much better, my apologies.

          • Lisa 39

            No worries.

    • Jobrag

      Best to check up on where your water supply originates, it could well be more than 100 miles away. So you don’t drink coffee, any foreign wine, whisky if you live in the south, no brandy naturally, can you get locally sourced strong flour to make your bread, and dirrum wheat for pasta, no spices as they all come from afar, garlic must be out, tea and sugar no chance there, while I admire your ethical stand you must admit that your diet is probably a little boring.

      • Spartacross

        You can eat whatever you want. Just do not fool yourself it can be natural.
        And I think you can discern food from coffee and spices, Jobrag ;)).

        Because the next time Northern European and American doctors visit Icaria and Crete and try to find out how is it possible for these chain-smoking and wine-guzzling islanders to reach to be a 100 years old, these are the rules they follow.

        Obviously no Mediterranean diet is going to work when you get olive oil saturated with preservatives, franken-tomatoes in the middle of winter, cheese made from reconstituted “milk”, gluten-rich bread and “Greek yogurt” that has more gelatin than actual proteins and probiotics.

  • Heredity

    I love eating crushed beetle wings and the like to get my natural colours and flavours. Mmmmm.

  • Pat Leck

    You cannot mess around with natural foods, and give people to eat it. Later on people will say the food effected them in a bad way. If you leave the natural stuff and give people it, then that would ultimately be beneficial for people in the end.

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  • LettyLiberatore

    There is many type of Difference between Natural and Artificial .

    http://beaudifynorway.com/