Let me ask you this: have you looked at the ingredients on a food label lately? How about a “processed” food label like famous brands of cookies, cereals or junky snack foods?
Do you have those ingredients in your house? Do you even know what all of those ingredients are?
There are a ton of artificial, chemical, “junky” ingredients in foods these days. If you see an ingredient called “artificial flavor,” what exactly is it?
For the most part, it’s a secret! Seriously! Big food companies don’t want their proprietary flavors to be known, so they’re allowed to say “artificial flavor” and leave the details out.
That alone gets me upset.
But what makes me more upset is what artificial flavors represent when they’re in your food.
So here are some things to ponder:
Why use “artificial flavors” in a product?
When you make an apple muffin at home, what gives it the apple flavor?
Apples, of course! (Like real, whole, chopped or shredded apples or applesauce.)
But, let’s say you’re a big food company and you’re making thousands of apple muffins every day. In a factory. On an assembly line.
How would you process the huge amount of apples that are to be chopped, grated or made into applesauce? Would you have a separate “Apple Room” where all the apple processing happens? What if one batch is slightly riper or tastes slightly different from the rest? Will your customers notice a different taste?
Apples are perishable — they go bad. So how would you guarantee the apples won’t go bad? Remember the saying, “it only takes one bad apple to ruin the whole bunch?”
Now what if you could have an apple flavor that tastes better than using real apples? Something that makes people want to keep buying them every week. It’s true – some of the artificial flavors are engineered to taste better than the real food itself.
Companies will often opt for the easier and more profitable option like artificial flavors.
Artificial flavors last longer and will be virtually identical batch after batch. In our apple muffin example, artificial flavors used to make an apple muffin are ready to go, so you don’t need to peel, cut, or worry about apples going brown or that they’re not tasting “apple-y” enough.
Don’t forget that using artificial flavors is way cheaper than using real, whole apples.
If a package says “flavored” in the description, the flavor is artificial. For example, an “apple muffin” contains at least some apple. But, an “apple-flavored muffin” contains artificial flavor and no apple.
What about the safety of artificial flavors?
While there are some flavors banned for use in many countries, other countries allow them.
There is an approved list of flavors that are accepted to be safe and are used by the food industry. They are considered GRAS or “generally recognized as safe.”
Even if they are 100% safe to ingest, the mere fact that an artificial flavor is in food makes it an artificial food. It’s not a real, whole food. Having an artificial flavor as an ingredient almost defines that food to be a processed, “food-like product.” Sometimes referred to as “junk.”
Artificial flavors in food indicate that the food, regardless of the marketing or health claims, is not a healthy choice.
Big food companies use artificial flavors to reduce costs, make the manufacturing process simpler, reduce waste and even enhance flavor way beyond what the natural ingredient would taste like.
They are not added to improve the “healthfulness” or nutrition of the food.
Artificial flavors in the ingredient list indicate that the food is not going to optimize your health. These processed foods are most certainly “junk.”
Don’t buy them.
So what can be determined as true flavor?
To explore that question, you may wish to read the book by Peter Klosse: The Essence of Gastronomy: Understanding the flavor of foods and beverages.
Here are some quotes from the book:
Nevertheless, we seem so preoccupied with the content of our food that we tend to neglect the other important aspects of feeding ourselves: the pleasure of eating, its social function, even its taste. Our focus on food has turned from holistic and cultural to instrumental and technical. Pleasure and social interaction are concepts that do not fit in the instrumental approach. And yet, they do play a major part in our daily lives.
The cultural, social, emotional and hedonistic elements are indisputably valuable but never mentioned on the label and in the product descriptions.
He also says:
Tasting rather than taste, is the process that registers flavor. Tasting is a sensorial activity just as hearing, smelling, touching, and seeing.
Although there is a strong biological drive to eat and drink, in order to keep the human biological system going, it is the flavor of these “intakes” that provides the extra dimension. Flavor gives meaning and pleasure to them. The rate of pleasure may differ from person to person, situation to situation and from culture to culture, but the function of flavor in relation to food is the same: it is the discriminating factor, the basis of food choice, preference and intake.
Do you eat foods containing artificial flavoring? Do you read the labels on food packages? What might be your definition of true flavor? Please comment below and share your thoughts with our community. We’d love to hear from you.
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