Flavor Additives

The majority of food additives are flavors. It’s due to the simple reason that processed food would otherwise be flavorless!

The Feingold Association estimates that about two thirds of food additives are flavors. From the 2013 report of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Food Additive Project, you can see there are at least 2702 flavors and extracts, ones controlled by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association. (The 1982 paper by Dr. Ben Feingold, M.D., reported 1610 synthetic flavorings and 502 natural flavorings back then.)

Food labels

On labels in the U.S., you’ll see “artificial flavor,” “artificial flavoring,” “natural flavor,” and “natural flavoring.”

Artificial flavor and pain

The Feingold Program, best known for removing artificial food color from children’s diets, also includes removing artificial flavors from the diet and fragrance from personal products.

The Feingold Association is quite certain that artificial flavor and fragrances have neurological effects.​

They believe that artificial flavors and fragrances are among “the worst offenders for the majority of children and adults with ADHD and related problems.”

My comment: If a chemical affects the nervous system, there is the likelihood that it will cause pain in some people.

Artificial flavors

Artificial flavors include two kinds of synthetic flavor chemicals:

  • Those distilled and chemically changed from crude oil, coal tar, or other (“naturally sourced”) chemicals
  • “Nature-identical” synthesized flavors that are chemically identical to naturally present flavors

FoodAdditivesWorld.com presents this list of “Chemicals associated with particular flavors”:

Chemical Flavor
Allylpyrazine Roasted nut
Methoxypyrazines Earthy vegetables
2-Isobutyl-3 Methoxypyrazine Green pepper
Acetyl-L-Pyrazines Popcorn
2-Acetoxy Pyrazine Toasted flavors
Aldehydes Fruity, green
Alcohols Bitter, medicinal
Esters Fruity
Ketones Butter, caramel
Pyrazines Brown, burnt, caramel
Phenolics Medicinal, smokey
Terpenoids Citrus, piney

Instead of simply making some popcorn: a snack is made in a factory and acetyl-l-pyrazine chemicals are added to make it taste like popcorn. Or, instead of toasting something, something is cooked in a factory and then 2-acetoxy pyrazine is added to make it seem toasted.

These same chemicals are used in fragrances. Many fragrance chemicals, when inhaled, have neurological effects.

Natural flavors

Natural flavors are made from substances derived from plant or animal sources, as long as they are not petrochemical or nature-identical synthetic flavors.

The FDA does allow synthetic chemicals in “natural flavor”–in the solvents, carriers, and preservatives.

The exception is in food labeled “100% organic”: in that case, “natural flavor” can’t legally have synthetic solvents, carriers, or preservatives. It will, of course, contain “natural” solvents, carriers, and preservatives.​

What’s in flavor besides flavor?

Flavors–both artificial and natural–are mixtures of up to several hundred chemicals.

Some of those chemicals are complicated mixtures of flavor chemicals.

Others are the chemicals and additives that make it possible to mix the flavor into the food and make the flavor long-lasting.

According to the Environmental Working Group, “Solvents, emulsifiers, flavor modifiers, and preservatives often make up 80 to 90 percent of the mixture.”

They conclude, “When you see the word ‘flavor’ on a food label, you have no clue what chemicals, carrier solvents, or preservatives have been added to the food.”​

Flavor enhancers

“Flavor enhancers” are included in both “artificial flavor” and “natural flavor.”

It appears that “natural flavor” can and does include flavor enhancers, such as MSG-containing substances. This is an area in which manufacturers are secretive.

Senomyx is a new, more powerful flavor enhancer intended to replace MSG. It’s never required to be named separately on the ingredient list but is only required to be identified as “artificial flavor.”​

My personal rule

I don’t buy anything that has the word “flavor” in the ingredient list, either “natural flavor” or “artificial flavor.”


Flavor Additives References

Synthetic Ingredients in Natural Flavors and Natural Flavors in Artificial Flavors
David Andrews
Environmental Working Group