Natural Flavor Definition

Question: What are natural flavors?

Ever look at the side panel of your packaged food or prepared food to see “natural flavors” listed as an ingredient? Did you ever wonder exactly what they’ve actually used for these “natural flavors”?

Answer: Well, turns out that your guess is as good as mine! As to exactly what natural flavors were used, there are a few things that we do know for sure – just not the exact name of the natural ingredient(s).

What is Natural Flavor?

Natural Flavor Definition

The only thing that we know for sure about “natural flavor” is that these natural flavors come from either a plant or an animal.

That is, as opposed to “artificial flavors” which come from man-made ingredients.

The facts about “natural flavor” ingredients:

  1. Actual spices and flavor enhancers, such as MSG, must be listed separately on a food label and thus would not be included as part of the “natural flavor” item.

  2. Actual plant or animal tissues, such as celery powder, must be listed separately on a food label and not grouped into this “natural flavor” item.

  3. Any man-made substance used as flavoring would be included under the “artificial flavor” ingredient item.

  4. The amount of these substances is small, even minuscule, referred to actually as “incidental”.

  5. When only one natural flavor is used, it will be named. When there are two or more, they may be referred to as “natural flavors”.

  6. The natural flavor category can include such a wide range of ingredients that producing a list of them all would be virtually impossible.

  7. The ingredients used as “natural flavors” can range from earthy to downright disgusting.

    For instance, essential lemon oil which is extracted from real lemons is a natural flavor… but so is castoreum, which comes from the anal gland secretions of beavers! Both understandably “natural”, but the “flavor” part is highly questionable! By the way, castoreum is most likely found in your imitation Vanilla product… does real vanilla extract suddenly seem worth the added investment?

  8. The official natural flavoring definition by the USFDA is: “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means 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. Natural flavors include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in 182.10, 182.20, 182.40, and 182.50 and part 184 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter.”[1].

What is Natural Flavor?

Additional Information

Additional information is needed on the topic of natural flavorings, even on the stand-alone word “natural”. Actually, the USFDA is attempting to define the word “natural” because this word is used to mean all sorts of things, basically depending on the manufacturer right now. The USFDA is having such a hard time with this definition that they have even enlisted the help of the general public. To give your input, please visit USFDA guidance regulations before the extended deadline May 10th, 2016 to add input.

To check out lots of other packaging label terms that may not mean exactly what you might imagine, see our food labeling post.

To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

SEARCH Eat By Date