We've all heard the horror stories about how fish scales and beetle parts are ground up and put in our lipstick and other cosmetics, but when food ingredients list "natural" flavor, what does that mean exactly? You'd be surprised... and possibly disgusted to know.
According to the Code of Federal Regulations:
“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.”
Sounds harmless, right? So, as long as the flavor comes from a natural source and is derived from natural means, it's all good. The problem is, they don't have to tell you what constitutes the "natural" flavor in your food. The term "natural flavor" is enough for ingredient labels. Now, they are supposed to list if the ingredients contain any of the major allergens, but it pretty much stops there. Plant based flavorings don't freak me out as much as the thought that the flavor I'm tasting in my food might come from some random animal part or bug. It just seems wrong. Don't think it happens? Guess again. Let me introduce you to castoreum. So, what is it? Well, it is considered a natural flavoring and is used for vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry flavor, but the dirty truth is that Castoreum is a secretion from the sex glands of beavers! Can you see the look of horror on my face? It's basically what these animals use to mark their territory. Sounds delicious doesn't it? I mean, it comes from beavers... and they're natural... so therefore, the flavoring is natural. Really? Technically it fits the definition, but let's not forget the fact that it is completely UNnatural for anyone in their right mind to actually want to eat beaver butt juice! Seriously... who was the first person to slay a vicious beaver, dip their finger in their sex glad secretion, and think, "Mmmm tastes like raspberry!" [Insert inappropriate sexual joke here.] I'm guessing he was probably related to the guy that said, "I'm going to eat the first thing that comes out of that chicken's butt."
What I don't understand is if you want vanilla, strawberry, or raspberry flavor why not just use... um I don't know... vanilla, strawberry or raspberry? How about we stick to the real thing? In the meantime, if you're unsure of what's in your food either avoid it, or contact the company and ask them what's actually in it. I would recommend the latter, because in my opinion, it's better to be informed.