You have probably seen natural flavors on tea packages before, and if you haven’t, you probably will notice after reading this. You also may have seen this little rant before. I still do not understand the term natural flavors or what they even mean. What if someone has allergies and the term natural flavors covers up an ingredient that they would normally easily avoid? That is why today I want to talk about the term natural flavors and the different ways companies use them in their ingredient list.
According to the FDA:
The term natural flavor or natural flavoring 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.CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21
Why do we need this blanket statement, “Natural Flavorings”? I, personally, would love transparency in tea. I want to know what I am drinking. Even if the natural flavoring to tea ratio is about 1 teaspoon to 1 pound of tea, it can be concerning that the identity of those ingredients is completely hidden.
Tea lovers can be calmed because a majority of the natural flavors come from friendly sources and not something more sinister. Product extracts could be categorized under the natural flavorings category because they simply flavor the tea without providing any nutritional benefit. But the use of the word “natural” varies from continent to continent. The flavoring can be considered natural but entirely made up of something else other than the wanted end flavor. If the goal of a tea company is to make a beautiful peach tea, they can use ingredients which are not peach, to get a peach flavor. It all has to do with the chemical composition of a peach, and it might be other fruits or substances which have the same chemicals. That way the company can have the peach taste without the actual peach (less expensive supposedly)
I found a great example from the Whistling Kettle when researching, showing the different processes where you can get the chemical vanillin, which is a chemical in the vanilla bean. The next paragraph is a word for word copy from this website, so 100% credit to them! It also shows the difference in EU and FDA regulations:
“When vanillin is extracted directly from vanilla beans, both the US and EU regulatory authorities allow a natural claim. When vanilla extract is subjected to fractional distillation to isolate the vanillin component, the labeling on the consumer product may be indicated as ‘natural vanilla flavor’ in the US and Europe. Vanillin can also be made through different fermentation processes. Fermentation from a starting material such as ferulic acid allows for the extraction of the vanillin from a variety of natural sources including coffee beans, apple, orange pips, and wheat bran. If vanillin is made using the ferulic acid fermentation process, a ‘natural flavor’ claim can still be made in both the US and Europe. If the vanillin is produced through fermentation from another source, for example, guaiacol, the labeling of the products begin to differ. In the US, if the process is not approved the material is labeled as both ‘artificial’ or ‘synthetic,’ whereas in the EU the material may still be labeled as ‘natural’.”
It is interesting how the same taste or chemical component can be achieved in various ways. Companies sometimes use these alternative methods to achieve a cheaper method of getting the same taste, but still having the ability to label their flavors as natural! While tea does mostly have botanical driven natural flavors, the ingredients can be different than the flavor that they are trying to achieve. Another example could be in a Pina-Colada tea, the pineapple flavor could be achieved by using other fruits and vegetables that the blender believes could make the same taste.
There are over 2,500 ingredient combos that qualify as “natural flavors”. How do we know what is in each combo? How can people with allergies be sure of what is in tea that carries the term natural flavors in their ingredient list? Lets talk allergy numbers for a few seconds.
- 1 in 10 adults have a food allergy
- About 1 in 13 children have a food allergy
- Somewhere around 40% of those children have multiple food allergies
So if there was a group of 1,000 adults in a large room, it would be safe to say that at least 100 of them have some sort of food allergy. I feel like when I was in grade school, my school slowly got more and more strict about what you could bring in your lunches because of allergies. I understand that a lot of food allergies are milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, and fish. Not really the things you would think to be in tea. And you could be right. But I still think transparency is needed in regards to this natural flavors category which could blanket a multitude of different ingredients.
Alright, mini rant over. I hope I didn’t lose anyone in there. But this is something that I have mentioned many times previously on my blog. I love transparency in my tea. I try to be as transparent as possible with you guys as well. Let me know your thoughts! Did I miss a large point? Do you support or disagree with adding natural flavors in tea? Let me know in the comments and until next time, Happy Brewing!
Clopton, Jennifer. “Adult-Onset Food Allergies Increasing, Confusing.” WebMD, WebMD, 14 Jan. 2019, www.webmd.com/allergies/news/20190111/adult-onset-food-allergies-increasing-confusing.
“Facts and Statistics.” Food Allergy Research & Education, www.foodallergy.org/life-with-food-allergies/food-allergy-101/facts-and-statistics.
“What Does ‘Natural Flavors’ Mean in Teas.” The Whistling Kettle, www.thewhistlingkettle.com/a/info/blog/what-are-the-natural-flavors-in-tea.