Natural flavours come from plant and animal sources. The flavours are obtained by heating or roasting the animal or plant material and may go through distilation, fermentation or catalyzing by an enzyme.

What is Natural Flavouring

Do you read food labels on the packaging of the foodstuff you’re buying? I normally don’t but in recent years I do, especially when buying health foods and those I’m not familiar with. One particular term, “natural flavour” (or “natural flavor” in the US spelling) has caught my attention. You may have assumed it is a good ingredient, I did, because after all, natural means naturally derived, doesn’t it? But, how true…, you’re about to find out exactly what natural flavouring is. 

Food labels of packaged foodstuffs

What Does Natural Flavours Mean

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, natural flavour or flavouring means “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”.

In Malaysia, from where I’m at, the Food Regulation 1985 states “natural flavouring substance means any flavouring substance obtained by physical processes that may result in unavoidable but unintentional changes in the chemical structure of the components of the flavouring, or by enzymatic or microbiological processes from the material of plant or animal origin, and is not synthetic flavouring substance or any flavouring substance formed by chemical synthesis”.

Both are such a mouthful of words. A simpler explanation…

Where Do Natural Flavours Come From

Natural flavours come from plant and animal sources. The flavours are obtained by heating or roasting the animal or plant material and may go through distillation, fermentation or catalyzing by an enzyme. Flavours can also be found in the form of essential oil, essence, or extract.

Malaysian local sweet and savoury desserts

Take “pandan” flavour as an example. The pandan (screwpine) leaves are boiled or/and blended to extract their flavour as well as the colour giving you the appealing and aromatic “kuih-muih” (local sweet or savoury desserts). While this may safely be called natural flavour, it may be a different story on food labels of packaged foodstuffs. 

In food flavour manufacturing, natural flavours are complex mixture created by specially trained food chemists known as flavourist. In order to create the desired flavour, it is heavily processed and may contain many chemical additives including preservatives, solvents and other substances.

You need to understand that to create a single identifiable natural flavour, there could be up to 100 different sources used in the creation.

Unfortunately, food manufacturers are not obligated to disclose whether these additives come from natural or synthetic sources. So long the original flavouring source comes from plant or animal material, it’s classified as a natural flavour.

So, How is Natural Flavour Different from Artificial Flavour

Artificial flavours are made from non-food sources, unlike natural flavours come from foods.

Natural flavourings in ice cream.

Do you like vanilla ice cream? You guess right – artificial flavouring. The vanilla flavour is commonly used in bakeries and confectioneries and there aren’t enough vanilla beans in the world to meet the demand for its flavour. This is where artificial flavouring comes in.

Vanillin, a compound found naturally in vanilla beans that gives the distinctive flavour, can be synthetically extracted from other sources. It can come from wood pulp, pine bark or cow poop (secretions from a beaver’s castor glands).

Natural or artificial, both flavours are heavily processed and the end product about the same. They’re safe for consumption, really, but it’s up to you to decide.

In most cases, natural flavours are costlier than artificial but you’ll be surprised artificial flavourings may taste better and costlier too.

In a Nutshell

Natural flavor sounds good doesn’t it, when you compare it to artificial flavour.

Many people, including you and I, associate the term “natural” with health. It got to be healthier than lab-made artificial flavouring. We are so wrong. 

Even though natural flavours are not harmful to your health, they do not have any nutritional value.

In brief, natural flavors aren’t much different from artificial flavors in terms of chemical composition and health effects. Therefore, choose fresh whole food whenever possible.

In reality, how much can you avoid unless making your own ice cream from scratch? Even the healthy granola bars contain “natural flavour”.

Remember this – natural flavour listed as an ingredient on the food label does NOT mean you’re getting a healthy natural dose of flavour. It certainly does not make it’s healthier than food products made with artificial flavourings.

Buying food and beverages containing NO natural/artificial flavourings and permitted colourings, and without preservatives is more sensible.

Nutrition facts on food label

Although hard to avoid natural flavoured foodstuff, it is best to read the Nutrition Facts label to ascertain the nutritional value of the products to reap the health benefits.

All this while, what is your understanding of “natural flavour” on food labels. Good or bad? I hope this article explains well exactly what natural flavouring is. Tell us how you feel about “naturally” flavoured food in the comments section below. We love to know.

For me, I can’t avoid them all but there is certain food I make my own weekly such as bread, muesli and granola, and occasionally cakes and pastries. Natural flavourings are widely used in bakeries and confectioneries hence I try to avoid them if possible.

That said, there are various brands of foodstuffs that contain NO natural flavourings. You just need to find hard and read all the food labels. If you’re interested in granola or healthy snack bars without natural flavourings, look what I found for you below ↓

Please share this article with anyone you think may find this information useful. Click the share button!

Learn more: Me Nuttylog is where you’ll find informational articles

Here are a few you may be interested in

Let’s Get Started:

For US Shoppers, shop on Amazon. There are many choices you can choose from but read the food labels carefully.

Here’s what I found for you ↓ Healthy snacking is possible.

Mineral-rich pumpkin seeds as the 1st ingredient and without “natural” flavourings. Take a closer look on Amazon.

Other flavours range of this brand may have natural flavourings, so read each of the food labels carefully.

Made with 100% real ingredients – dates, pecans, and almonds. Check this out on Amazon.

With only 2 ingredients! And free from the top 12 allergens. Try these Fruit Bars. Buy on Amazon.

Happy shopping and thanks for reading.

Me YourHealthy Corner – Stay in Good Health, Healthy Living Habits

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4 thoughts on “What is Natural Flavouring”

  1. Wow, this was very informative and helpful. I would have never imagined that natural flavors and artificial flavors are just almost the same with no nutritional value. I always do my best to go for all things natural without questioning what makes the natural, natural. You have just opened my mind to question what I read on the labels. Thank you .

    1. You’re most welcome, Bogadi. Reading food labels when shopping for foodstuffs is a good habit to have.

      Stay healthy! 

  2. I found your blog and found it very interesting and helpful, especially about the difference between artificial and natural foods, which is not so huge. People tend to think that natural is better and also healthier because they link to the word “natural” something good and beneficial, but they really don’t know what it means. And also, there are a lot of businesses that wants to sell some products and they attach to them the word “natural” in order that people buy them, when in reality nothing changes. 
    Artificial is not necessarily bad, natural is not necessarily healthy. At least it doesn’t make you healthier or thinner. We should just have more knowledge about what we are eating and buying so that we don’t fall into traps of these businesses interested in selling and making revenue. 


    1. Well, from the marketing perspective, the choice of words used is important to capture customers’ attention and satisfy their needs. “Natural” is one such example and it is misleading. We, as customers and users, must be cautious and mindful of our buying decision. 

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