We have all learned to stay away from artificial flavors, but have you ever wondered what a “natural flavor” is? You can see it as an ingredient on almost 100% of all processed foods. In the Environmental Working Group's food database, "natural flavor" is the fourth most common ingredient only outranked by salt, water and sugar.
It sounds great, but why is it needed if a product already has so many great natural ingredients? Natural flavors are essentially additions to provide taste that would not exist without them. They are usually added to try to make food stand out more by zapping up the taste profile more than would naturally occur, or to replace a taste that's lost through processing or storage.
So what is the real difference between natural and artificial flavoring? Natural flavors come from natural sources; the original ingredient is found in nature and then purified and extracted in a laboratory. Artificial flavors, on the other hand, are entirely human made in a laboratory. So, the difference is focused on the origin of the molecules used, whether synthetically processed in a lab or purified in a lab but from a natural source.
But what is interesting is that the source of a natural flavor does not have to be the real item that the flavor is creating. One weird example is; beaver anal glands have been used in vanilla and raspberry flavorings. Sounds pretty icky but it's really just about the molecule. Often the difference between natural and artificial flavors comes down to minuscule distinctions.
It remains to be seen if natural flavors are any better for you than artificial flavors. But the main issue with both of these is the falsehood they create for your palate. Make no mistake, food scientists and flavorists are hard at work trying to create intense flavors not found anywhere else with a goal to addict you to the flavors they create. They train your taste buds to want food with intense flavors that would not exist in nature and thus steer your desire away from truly unadulterated unprocessed foods.
And that in a nutshell is the real issue. This is why we made the personal promise to ourselves at enFuso to never use artificial OR natural flavors of any kind. We do not use flavors; we use the real thing, real strawberries, real pears, real maple, real coffee … real everything.
It does make life a little harder for us compared to using natural flavors. Just check out the differences below:
- Can create any flavor imaginable – think jelly bellies
- Always taste the same so recipes never need to change
- Stored at room temperature
- One big producer will carry a very large stable of flavors
- Every flavor can be manufactured in an oil or water based carrier
- Uses less than a tiny drop per bottle, requires very little storage
- Costs almost nothing per bottle
- Limited to the flavors of real things that grow in nature – flavors like chocolate marshmallow or roasted onion do not grow in the ground, on bushes or on trees
- Minor variations in flavor may occur from season to season as the unique aspects of that seasons harvest will reflect in the flavor so recipes must be refined over time
- Real fruit must be kept frozen from the completion of processing to the day they are used, an entire frozen supply chain must be maintained
- A variety of vendors are needed to produce the very best of each particular flavor
- Only water based products can be used in vinegars and oil based products in olive oils
- Requires more quantity in every bottle, thus requires more total storage capacity
- Costs more per bottle
But it is worth every bit of extra effort to us to be able to bring you REAL product. We encourage eating from the earth and learning to love the flavors it brings to us. There is really nothing more that we need!