Advancement in technology has allowed us to control our food supply in more ways than ever. It also allowed us to modify and create new food. There was a time when if you tried a food, and something had a cherry flavor, it most likely was a cherry. A time where salmon wasn’t covered in artificial dyes to make it more appealing to consumers. Those times are quickly being forgotten and quality food products are quickly being replaced with cheap imitations. But what exactly does it mean when your food product contains artificial flavors? What is the difference between natural and artificial flavors?
- “A natural flavor is 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.” Artificial flavors are those that are made from components that do not meet this definition.
Most of the natural and artificial flavors are exactly the same chemical compounds, differing only by their source. Both natural and artificial chemicals are processed in a lab to ensure purity.
The question is: Is natural better or safer than artificial? For example, diacetyl is the chemical in butter that makes it taste “buttery.” It’s added to some microwave popcorn to make it butter-flavored and is listed on the label as an artificial flavoring. Difference between Natural and Artificial Flavors. Whether the flavor comes from real butter or is made in a lab, when you heat Diacetyl in a microwave oven, the volatile chemical enters the air, where you can breathe it into your lungs. Regardless of the source, this can cause health problems.
In some cases, the natural flavor might be more dangerous than artificial flavoring.
For example, natural flavor extracted from almonds can contain toxic cyanide. The artificial flavor has the taste, without the risk of contamination by the undesirable chemical.
When a single chemical (an artificial flavoring) is used to mimic a whole food, the flavor is affected. For example, you can probably taste the difference between blueberry muffins made with real blueberries and muffins made with artificial blueberry flavor. A key molecule might be present, but the true flavor may be more complex. In other cases, the artificial flavor might not capture the essence of the flavor you expect. It’s worth noting a natural flavor must be labeled as an artificial flavor, even if it comes from natural sources if it is added to a product to impart a flavor that isn’t already present.
Both natural and artificial flavors are highly processed in a lab. Pure flavors are chemically indistinguishable, where you would not be able to tell them apart. Natural and artificial flavors differ when artificial flavors are used to try to simulate complex natural flavors rather than one single chemical compound. Natural or artificial flavors may be safe or dangerous, on a case by case basis.