Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Nov 7, 2011 08:20 AM

Other Natural Flavors

This is often listed in the ingredients of packaged foods, and it makes me wonder...What exactly *are* these "other natural flavors"? And why won't they tell me what they are?

While the possibilities are endless, when I see this as an ingredient, I immediately think, "Mouse droppings."

Can anyone shed a less disgusting light on this subject?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. From what I understand, all it means is that the flavor was sourced from nature and may be herbal or animal or vegetable (and so on). It may be a concentrated flavor or a flavor component extracted from the original source (for example, extracted with a solvent). Sometimes the manufacturer doesn't want to disclose it for trade secret purposes, other times they'd rather not disclose it and there are also the catchall "natural and artificial flavors" designations where they use whatever is cheapest at the time so don't want to lock in one or the other.

    1. From what I've been able to determine, "natural" flavors aren't necessarily any better or even much different than artificial ones.

      1. When ATK was doing a taste testing (vanilla ice cream, I think it was), Jack Bishop explained to Chris that it was essential to look for "vanilla" in the ingredient list. Both "vanillin" and "natural flavors" mean, in this case wood pulp, which is what is used to make imitation vanilla flavoring.

        Once, when I was trying to suss out the ingredients in canned pet food, I contacted the companies to find out if "natural flavors" included any form of garlic or onion. The most I could get out of them was that it COULD. I think the answer is situational depending on the nature of the product you are dealing with. I have sometimes been surprised to taste hot peppers in things not including them on their labels, so I assume capsaicin is a natural flavorI too.

        1 Reply
        1. I sort of agree with ferret, except that I believe most "natural flavors" are entirely derived in a lab. It may taste just like, say, green pepper, but it comes in a dropper and one drop could flavor an entire swimming pool full of water, because it's all just chemical stuff. I read something about this in a book that explained how they derive these. It may have, at some point, had something to do with the real flavor of a real food, but mostly not.

          1 Reply
          1. re: rockandroller1

            If it's extracted from a natural source it's a "natural flavor." if the identical chemical compounds are generated from "chemical stuff" in a lab then they're designated as "artificial" flavors.

            Natural flavors can be things you use everyday in your own kitchen but are in small enough quantities where they don't need to be separately identified. A spice blend can be a "natural flavor" when the company doesn't want it to be identified for trade secret purposes.

          2. I second Ferret, my understanding is the 'natural' flavors have to be derived from nature. Critically, though, they don't necessarily have to come from the fruit/vegetable/spice they purport to be. So, like Gregarious points out, you can have natural vanilla flavor derived from wood pulp. Because wood is natural, right?

            Also wouldn't be surprised if, like Rockandroller1 implies, 'natural' could mean 'chemical equivalent of something from nature'. For ex:

            "Most truffle oils are not made from actual truffles, but are a synthetic product that combines a thioether (2,4-dithiapentane), one of numerous organic aromas or odorants found in real truffles, with an olive oil or grapeseed oil base." (from Wikipedia, sorry, but had just heard something about this recently and wanted to look it up somewhere).

            3 Replies
            1. re: Riska

              Here are the FDA guidelines:


              And, no, you can't game the system by saying a flavoring originating from wood pulp but then derived through chemical processes is a "natural" flavor. Although bark is listed as a natural origin that relates to cinnamon, saspararilla and quinine, not wood pulp.

              1. re: Riska

                The word "natural" is not regulated and everything on Earth is natural.