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    Archive for the ‘artificial flavors’ Category

    Petroleum: It’s What’s For Breakfast

    Petroleum dependence has our food system in an increasingly suffocating vice grip.  Plastic packaging — a by-product of oil refining — is ubiquitous, livestock operations gobble up fossil fuels in mind-blowing amounts, and the concept of “food miles” (the total distance food travels from farm to table, often times including multiple stops at factories and processing plants) has entered public discourse, albeit with some controversy.

    As important as packaging and transportation are to environmental concerns, it turns out that ingredients also matter.  Processed foods are consumed at all hours of the day, but one of the most startling examples of foods high in petroleum-derived ingredients can be seen with popular breakfast products — especially cereals.  The ingredients listed below do a better job of feeding our food system’s reliance on petroleum than they do nourishing our bodies.

    Continue Reading »


    Quiz: Labels, Claims, and More!

    testA few months back, I posted ten questions testing my readers’ label-scouring skills. I was very happy to receive great feedback on it… and decided it was time for another pop quiz, class!

    The answers are provided at the bottom of this post.  So, grab a sheet of paper and your favorite pen, and get to it.  Good luck!

    Continue Reading »


    Simply Said: Natural Flavors

    gm_fiberoneRead the ingredient list on the back of most food products  and you are bound to see the words “natural flavors” towards the end.

    What are they, and just how “natural” are we talking?

    Flavorings are actually odorous gases that are released from food when we chew.

    Remember, taste isn’t simply relegated to the mouth (if that were the case, we would still be able to taste food when we had a cold and our nose was stuffed up).

    Let’s examine the legal definition of “natural flavorings”.  Make sure to take a deep breath, it’s a looooong sentence:

    “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.”

    Let’s dissect that.

    First of all, notice that natural flavors can be plant or animal-based.

    This is particularly important to vegetarians or vegans.  A bag of seemingly-vegan corn chips may contain natural flavoring derived from animals if the term “vegan” is nowhere to be found on the packaging.

    Individuals with allergies to particular foods must also pay attention, as natural flavorings can be made from “popular” allergens like wheat, shellfish, or soy.  Usually, though, products using such flavorings will contain a statement about the inclusion of these allergens.

    Believe it or not, there is very little difference between natural and artificial flavors.

    Both are made by chemists in laboratories (and involve the use of solvents and chemicals), and both often result in the same compound.  The only real difference is whether the original source is a plant/animal product or a chemical.

    These flavorings are used in extremely low amounts, so while I would never refer to them as nutritious or health-promoting, I also don’t think they are worth worrying about (“natural flavoring” on an ingredient list should not be perceived the same way as “partially hydrogenated oils”).

    That said, these flavorings are mainly found in highly processed foods, so they are a good barometer in that sense.

    Don’t expect food companies to ever reveal the details of natural flavorings; most of them are considered top secret.

    A few years ago I had the chance to visit the offices of a company that is hired by several well-known food conglomerates to conduct research and development of natural and artificial flavors.

    It was your typical suburban corporate office, albeit with massive laboratory space and several conference rooms with one-way mirrors (perfect for focus groups).


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