Natural Flavors and Other Strange Ingredients

Somehow, I happened to have a Snapple juice drink, and noticed that it says that it is "All Natural".  The Snapple slogan is "Made from the Best Stuff on Earth."  This one is the "Naturally Flavored" Snapple Apple flavor.   But what does it really mean to be "naturally flavored"?

First, it really does taste--and smell--like a fresh apple, and not so much like apple cider or something.  Food manufacturers are well aware how much our sense of smell affects our taste of foods.

Second, let's look at the ingredients.   It contains Filtered Water, Sugar, Apple and Pear Juice Concentrate, Citric Acid, Vegetable and Fruit Juice (for color), and Natural Flavors.  The label says that it contains 10% Juice, which means that it's almost 90% water and sugar!  The Best Stuff on Earth, indeed.  While it doesn't specifically say cane sugar, that would be a good guess, because it doesn't specifically say fructose, dextrose, or High Fructose Corn Syrup, the latter being a common ingredient in soda pop and other cheaper juice drinks.  All Natural it may be, but that doesn't make it all that healthy as a drink.

And vegetable juice for color?  Which vegetable or vegetables?  It doesn't specify.  Yum--shades of V8!  Citric acid, on the other hand, is no big deal.  It's an acid, yes, but it's a weak acid, and commonly used as a preservative and to give a bit of a kick to the flavor of foods.  In my home cooking, I've discovered that vinegar, another weak acid, also provides a tangy taste to foods.

The real kicker on the ingredients list is "natural flavors".  Since it sounds okay, you probably don't even think twice about it.  But the list has already mentioned apple and pear juice concentrate, citric acid, and some unspecified vegetable and fruit juices for color.  What OTHER natural flavor could they possibly be adding to this juice drink?

Well, according to Wikipedia, the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations describes a "natural flavorant" 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 any other edible portions of a plant, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose primary function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

So Snapple could be adding just about anything derived from natural sources, including meats, eggs, or dairy products.  We simply don't know based on the term "natural flavors".  The only way to be sure would be to contact Snapple and ask them what specifically was added, as the FDA regulations don't require such specific information on the label.

And you thought that the FDA was here to protect the consumer?  Well, that may be their alleged purpose, but given a label like "natural flavors", one has to wonder how protective of consumers the FDA and the government really are.

Now admittedly, no food manufacturer is out to deliberately harm or kill their consumers--anybody who thinks so has got to be a real conspiracy nut.  Harming your customers is bad for business.  However, that doesn't rule out unintentional harm to consumers, or even just simple misleading information.  Suppose one of those natural flavors was from a meat or poultry source, and you're trying to be a good vegetarian, for example?  Or it might truly be something harmless, but which would seem terrible to your average consumer.  Castoreum, for example, is one natural flavoring that is extracted from the dried glands and secretions of a beaver’s rear end.  Sounds disgusting, doesn't it?  But it really is harmless, and adds certain flavors to foods and drinks.

Now I'm not trying to pick on Snapple--one of their products just happened to be on hand--most food manufacturers use natural flavors and a variety of other strange-sounding ingredients to improve the shelf-life, longevity, color, texture, and taste of their foods, because they know consumers won't drink an apple juice that doesn't smell or taste like apples, or eat a fruit pie that has an unappetizing-looking, strangely-colored amorphous blob for fruit.

Still, if you really want to know what you're consuming, you can't trust the FDA to protect you.  Check the label for the ingredients and if you find something you don't recognize, look it up on the internet.  If it really bothers you, contact the company, or else just don't buy that product!  If nobody buys it, the manufacturer will change it or stop selling it.   It's really that simple.

One other thing I've noticed on the Snapple bottle is a K in a circle, with the words Kosher Pareve next to it.  This is apparently a private certfication symbol of the Organized Kashrut Laboratories signifying that the product is neither meat nor dairy, nor prepared with either meat or dairy products.  That is, it's kosher, and meets certain Jewish dietary requirements.  Thus, I think we can assume that the natural flavorings in my Snapple Apple are not from any meat or dairy source.  Imagine that--private certfication.  What a concept!  Exactly why do we need the FDA? More importantly, how can we trust the FDA to do the job right?

an extraction of the dried glands and secretions from a beaver’s rear end - See more at: http://foodidentitytheft.com/%E2%80%9Cnatural%E2%80%9D-can-run-the-gamut-from-bugs-to-beaver-butts/#sthash.wJwfov6F.dpuf
an extraction of the dried glands and secretions from a beaver’s rear end - See more at: http://foodidentitytheft.com/%E2%80%9Cnatural%E2%80%9D-can-run-the-gamut-from-bugs-to-beaver-butts/#sthash.wJwfov6F.dpuf