Food Additives

What’s The Difference Between Natural And Artificial Flavors?

January 11, 2023

You see it all the time on the front of food products - NO ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS. Just by plastering that on the front, you may already be thinking that this brand truly cares about making their products healthier and better for the consumer. 

You take a look at the ingredients and see that natural flavors is listed instead. Well, “natural” sounds a lot better than artificial, right? The word artificial implies that it’s fake, and natural implies that it comes from nature.

Before you immediately assume that the product is healthier or better because it contains Natural Flavors instead of Artificial flavors, it’s important to know that there really aren’t that many differences between the two.

What Are Natural and Artificial Flavors?

The food we eat tastes a certain way, but oftentimes additional flavors are added to enhance or alter the taste of the food. Flavors can be sourced in different ways, and how they’re sourced usually determines what they’re called on an ingredient list.

Artificial Flavors

The FDA defines artificial flavors as “any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof.” 

Artificial flavors are typically chemicals that are synthetically made. A lot of flavor manufacturers prefer artificial flavors over natural flavors because they cost less to produce.

Natural Flavors

The FDA defines natural flavors as “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.”

Interestingly enough, natural flavors can also contain many different chemicals. This can confuse people and really complicate the idea that natural is better than artificial.

Natural Flavors Are Not Better Than Artificial Flavors

Natural flavors and artificial flavors are both still typically made in a lab, but the source of the ingredients is what really sets them apart. Artificial flavors are derived from things that aren’t edible, and natural flavors are derived from ingredients that can be found occurring naturally, but the end product is oftentimes highly processed and can still contain many different chemicals. 

In fact, some researchers believe that artificial flavors may even be better than natural flavors because there’s more regulation around them.

Food manufacturers are not required to list out the chemical mixtures or original sources of the flavors, therefore they can get by without disclosing every single ingredient used in the process. The EWG states that these mixtures can include more than 100 different added chemicals, but the food manufacturers don’t have to list whether the chemicals came from natural or synthetic sources.

So while you may initially think that all natural flavors are coming from natural sources derived from plants and animals, just know that they can contain a lot of chemicals, too.

Natural Flavors and Artificial Flavors Can Lead to Health Issues

Since you can’t trust what is actually included in natural flavors and artificial flavors, Wake Up and Read the Labels believes that it’s best to avoid them. There is too much information that is left unknown in the ingredients list to know for sure that it can’t have a negative impact on your body.

For people with food allergies, it’s extremely important to be aware of natural flavors and artificial flavors on ingredient lists because so much is left out of what’s actually included. Studies have attributed negatives side effects to these added flavorings such as:

If you feel like it’s impossible to find foods that don’t include natural or artificial flavors, Wake Up and Read the Labels is here to tell you that there’s always a way.

We’ve spent years scouting the grocery store aisles looking for foods that are made with REAL ingredients. Natural flavors and artificial flavors are ingredients we typically avoid, so we have all the clean swaps ready to share.

Interested in learning more? Book a call with one of our food coaches so that you can learn how you, too, can EAT SIMPLE and FEEL GOOD.


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Here at Wake Up and Read The Labels, we help people learn how to read ingredient labels on the food they eat. We are not licensed, medical professionals. We are here to educate. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.

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