Please Explain: Natural and Artificial Flavors

Friday, March 22, 2013

If you look at many packaged food, you’re likely to find the words “natural flavors” and “artificial flavors” on the ingredients list. These terms seem ambiguous, but they explain why much of the foods Americans eat tastes the way it does. For today’s Please Explain, explain Dr. Gary Reineccius, professor and head of the Flavor Research and Education Center in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, and Barb Stuckey, professional food developer and author of Taste: Surprising Stories and Science about Why Food Tastes Good, explain what natural and artificial flavors are, how they’re made, and why they’re used in everything from cough syrup to candy to French fries to frozen yogurt.


Dr. Gary Reineccius and Barb Stuckey

Comments [13]

Eamon from Montclair

Whether or not these additives can be proven to be harmful, consumers have the right to know the ingredients of their food. The food industry has successfully lobbied to use phrases like "Natural Flavoring" in lieu of actual names, such as castoreum, to avoid controversy. The additives may not kill you, but some are pretty gross.

Mar. 22 2013 07:38 PM
Dianna M from Manhattan

I know for a fact that I am allergic to Tartrazine (Yellow Dye #10).
My doctor still does not believe it, but I have had too many episodes of breaking out in massive hives to know that it is true. (Emergency room twice).
A number of years ago I happened across an acticle about a study that was done in London, that stated that people who are allergic to aspirin can have a cross reaction to tartrazine! I am allergic to aspirin, so this information nearly jumped off the page at me! Tartrazine can also bring on asthma attacks in children. Parents of children with asthma, should be made aware of this, as Yellow Dye is in hundreds of products including candy, soft drinks and breakfast cereals.

Mar. 22 2013 03:31 PM
hc from Brooklyn, NY

and just on the idea that the FDA bases their decisions on science and not say the economic advantage of corporate food let's remember that the Michael R. Taylor is the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the United States Food and Drug Administration, and also the former vice president of public policy at Monsanto...why wouldn't you even attempt to challenge these 'shills of the industry'? thanks Leonard for giving us a show that seemed to taste objective but was as false as artificial cherry flavor...a pathetic example of journalism, this is no service to the community, just the opposite. next time you have a fund drive make sure you get some $$ from big food, they owe you.

Mar. 22 2013 03:17 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Ana Maria Tobon - A lot of cheaper extracts are concentrated artificial/analog flavors. Why not try to make fruit concentrates (concentrated via cooking process) first. You may not be able to claim "raw" if you were going for that, but I imagine your product will taste better to those with an educated enough palate and desire for real fruit in their yogurt drink. Good luck!

And add me to the appalled in the audience that shills for industry would be invited for a chat. But maybe that's by design, in some twisted way.

Mar. 22 2013 02:25 PM
hc from Brooklyn, New York

There are many questions about the toxicity of artificial flavors, but what about the fact that artificial flavors fool the body into thinking it is consuming something which would have the nutrition that taste associates with that flavor? The function of taste and craving is to indicate things the body needs. So people are eating mass amounts of artificial fruit flavor (for example super sugary grape drinks) and precisely not getting the nutrition that those fruits would provide. Seems to me the bigger question is how artificial flavors allow our grocery store aisles to be lined with junk that satisfies taste but leads to horrendous diseases while enriching the big players of the industrialized food industry. Profit which depends on fooling our bodies into essentially consuming poison. Both of your guests Leonard are in the pocket of this industry (yes the professor too). It is disappointing that you would have such a biased show giving big food just another media outlet (free!) to spew it's toxic propaganda. I hope you do a followup show with better guests to counter this.

Mar. 22 2013 02:08 PM
Alice B Toklas from Williamsburg

I can't believe what BS this conversation is. I thought this was Public Radio. How come there is no discussion of how unhealthy these chemicals are...yeah, I trust the week they'll say, oh yeah, you shouldn't have eaten that.

Mar. 22 2013 01:57 PM
Adam Bedell from Glen Cove, NY

I am pretty sure the caller asking about raspberry flavor was talking about Castoreum, which comes from the castor glands (near anal glands) of beavers. It isn't used too often anymore -- you'd have to kill a lot of beavers.

Mar. 22 2013 01:55 PM
mrmirror from NYC

Is there anything about the chemical structure, etc that makes the flavor of pineapple come out in, uh, bodily fluids?

Mar. 22 2013 01:48 PM
Chris from Brooklyn

Mysterious caller was referring to this:

Mar. 22 2013 01:48 PM
Ana Maria Tobon from stamford, CT

My husband and I are developing a drinkable yogurt for our small company and we want it to be as natural as possible so for now we only use real fruit in the mix; however, some of the fruits are very week on flavor, like strawberry.. So we are thinking to add natural extracts but we are afraid the product won't look as natural as we like it to be. what is your opinion about adding natural extracts to prodcts that claim to be "all natural"

Mar. 22 2013 01:47 PM
Joe from Port Washington

The Dr. explains that artificial flavors can be thousands of times cheaper to produce, and then the food developer claims that no one ever wants to make something artificial but is only pushed that way by needs of the process (heating candy, etc) or something like that. What a bunch of baloney. They use artifiical flavors because they are cheaper!

Mar. 22 2013 01:47 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

That's a real CYA--the industry wants to make products as cheaply as possible. "Natural" never enters the equation, because it doesn't "drive shareholder value!"

That said, please ask your guests to reveal the chemicals that go into (very popular with this audience) "truffle oil." That one's particularly synthetic in nature.

Mar. 22 2013 01:37 PM
Joel from Westchester

I can often taste the presence of benzoate of soda in some things I eat. What is the purpose of this chemical and what are its dangers?

Mar. 22 2013 01:31 PM

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