What Are Natural Flavors?

what are natural flavors

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When you pick up a food product and see "natural flavors" listed in the ingredients, you might wonder what exactly that means. Natural flavors are substances derived from natural sources like plants, fruits, vegetables, spices, and even animals. They are used to enhance the taste and aroma of food and beverages, providing a more authentic and appealing flavor profile. In this blog, we'll explore how natural flavors are created, what ingredients they contain, and their role in the food industry.

How Are Natural Flavors Created? 

Natural flavors are created through various processes that extract flavor compounds from natural sources (as opposed to artificial flavor or synthetic chemicals). Here are some common methods used to produce natural flavors:

  1. Extraction: This method involves extracting flavors from natural ingredients using solvents like water, alcohol, or oil. For example, essential oils from citrus fruits can be extracted and used as natural flavorings.
  2. Fermentation: Certain natural flavors, such as those found in cheese, soy sauce, and vinegar, are created through fermentation processes where microorganisms break down ingredients to produce flavor compounds.
  3. Distillation: In the case of alcoholic beverages like whiskey or rum, natural flavors are obtained through distillation, which concentrates and refines the flavor compounds present in ingredients like grains or fruits.
  4. Enzymatic Reactions: Enzymes can be used to catalyze reactions that release flavor compounds from raw materials. For instance, enzymes can convert starches into sugars, which then contribute to the flavor profile of foods like bread and beer.
  5. Extraction from Animal Sources: Some natural flavors, such as those derived from meat or seafood, are obtained by extracting flavor compounds from animal tissues or secretions.

Ingredients in Natural Flavors 

Citron Lemon Sparkling Water

The ingredients used in natural flavors vary depending on the source and the desired flavor profile. The Food and Drug Administration defines natural flavors as substances extracted from: spices, fruit, fruit juice, vegetables, vegetable juice, edible yeast, herbs, bark, buds, root leaves, plant material, dairy products (including fermented products), meat, poultry, seafoods, or eggs. Common ingredients found in natural flavors include:

  • Fruits: Extracts from fruits like berries, citrus fruits, apples, and tropical fruits are used to create fruity flavors in products such as beverages (like GOOD IDEA), candies, and desserts.
  • Vegetables: Extracts from vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic are used to add savory and umami notes to soups, sauces, and snacks.
  • Herbs and Spices: Ingredients like cinnamon, vanilla, mint, basil, and ginger are used to create aromatic and spicy flavors in a wide range of food and beverage products.
  • Extracts from Animal Sources: Some natural flavors, particularly those used in meat products or savory dishes, may include extracts from animal tissues or secretions like broth or seafood extracts.
  • Other Natural Sources: Ingredients like tea leaves, coffee beans, nuts, and seeds can also contribute to natural flavors, adding depth and complexity to various food and drink formulations.

Role of Natural Flavors in the Food and Beverage Industry 

GOOD IDEA natural flavors

Natural flavors play a crucial role in the food industry by enhancing the taste, aroma, and overall sensory experience of food and beverages. They allow manufacturers to create diverse flavor profiles that appeal to consumers' preferences while using natural ingredients that align with clean-label trends. Additionally, natural flavors can help improve product stability, and contribute to product differentiation in a competitive market.

Natural flavors are not, however, intended to contribute to the nutritional value of the food or beverage.  In fact, just because a label classifies something as a natural flavor does not necessarily mean that it has any less chemicals.

Take Away Snacks

In conclusion, natural flavors are derived from natural sources and created using various extraction, fermentation, distillation, and enzymatic processes. They contain ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and sometimes extracts from animal sources. Natural flavors play a key role in enhancing the flavor and appeal of food products while meeting consumer demand for natural and authentic ingredients.

Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick