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When a fruit (flavored) beverage says it contains all natural flavors but no juice, where is the flavor coming from? Is it possible there are man-made additives being thrown in that can be technically considered "natural"?

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Ok... I'm going to ruin your day with this. In orange juice for instance, the process of homaginization and storage kills the flavor of orange juice, so the industry has enlisted the help of the perfume industry to help them. Each orange juice company has basically a perfume of orange flavors that it uses from the peels and rinds and biproducts that it uses to try to recreate the taste of real orange juice... It's why every orange juice brand tastes slightly different even though they are all "fresh squeezed" (btw, they are technically fresh squeezed, they're just then stored :))

If you google "orange juice flavor packs" you can see what this is talking about. The flavor packs are incidentally made out of parts of the orange, so the fda has no problem with them (sadly).

http://consumerist.com/2011/07/oj-flavor-packs.html

So to directly answer your question, you can flavor something with fruit derived perfume and call it "natural flavors"

Here's a quote from the site:

Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren't listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor.

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To be fair, many of us essentially use oils derived from oranges when we use orange zest, and orange extract and essential oil are reasonably common things in kitchens too. Those are pretty much the same kinds of things that are (hopefully) meant by "natural flavors". Sure, they select for the particular components of the fragrance they really care about, but... it's not that big a leap. –  Jefromi Sep 2 '11 at 14:57
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Agreed... I haven't stopped drinking oj because of this :) –  Rikon Sep 2 '11 at 15:40
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Both natural and artificial flavors are "man-made", or manufactured. The difference is, essentially, in which chemicals are used in the process. For "natural" flavors, alcohol or oil extracted flavors are generally permitted, and heat or enzymes can be used to extract the flavors. For "artificial" flavors, solvents with a shorter history, created since the industrial age, and petroleum products may be involved. But either way, "flavors" are just chemicals, or mixes of chemicals. The rules that define the differences are fairly arbitrary. The same companies that make artificial flavors and fragrances make "natural" ones.

Once flavor compounds are discovered and isolated by flavor manufacturers, they can produce them using techniques considered natural or artificial. Some "natural" flavors may actually come from sources that don't match their namesakes; cherry, almond, peach, and apricot flavors are essentially made from the same source, as I recall, and different concentrations and contrasting items (including citric acid) affect your perception of the flavor. There's no guarantee that "natural" means "safer" or "healthier"; "natural" peach flavor may contain trace amounts of cyanide, for example, but "artificial" versions won't.

If something tastes juice-like but isn't "juice", chances are it has added citric acid (which is "natural", even though as an isolate, it, too is an industrial product), in addition to small quantities of flavor compounds, and sweeteners of some sort.

In home cooking, I've used citric acid to make some items taste brighter or more intense than they would otherwise, especially if I had some sort of fruit syrup that I considered too sweet for my purpose.

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Incredibly helpful answer, thank you for taking the time to elaborate! –  fbrereto Sep 2 '11 at 16:36
    
FDA seems to think otherwise. "Artificial flavor includes the substances listed in 172.515(b) and 182.60 of this chapter except where these are derived from natural sources.". I.e. a manufactured substance is artificial, because it is not derived from natural sources. –  MSalters Sep 5 '11 at 14:58
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I think you're misunderstanding. "Derived" means "manufactured." A "natural flavor" is extracted, generally using heat, bacteria, enzymes, or alcohol; someone actively turns those "natural" products into concentrated isolates that can be used by food product companies. Just because it's a "natural flavor" doesn't mean it has very much to do with the fruit, animal product, spice that it was extracted from. The same New Jersey plants make it, regardless of whether the source is "natural" or "artificial." –  JasonTrue Sep 5 '11 at 15:21
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