CFR Definition of "Natural Flavors": 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. Natural flavors, include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in subpart A of part 582 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter.
Un-Official Definition: A natural flavor is a substance used to add flavor and aroma to a finished foodstuff, created using numerous flavoring raw materials that come from a natural source.
What Does "Natural Source" Mean?
"Natural source" means that the origin of the flavoring raw material - whether it be an extract, oil, essence, or organic chemical isolate - must come from nature and cannot be created in a lab. Flavoring raw materials manufactured in a lab are considered synthetic. Use of synthetic raw materials is not permitted in natural flavors.
Why Do Food Companies Use Natural Flavors?
In general, food companies use natural flavors for the following reasons:
- Replace flavor notes lost in processing;
- Use in place of items that are difficult to source;
- Intensify flavor notes of something that is either very mild or very expensive to use at high levels - ultimately increasing the final cost of the product;
- Standardize profile;
- Overcome crop variance.
What Are the Different Types of "Flavoring Raw Materials"?
Broadly speaking, flavoring raw materials can be grouped into three categories:
- To add a characteristic flavor;
- To improve and enhance with the creation of blended natural flavors;
- To add complexity, resulting in rounded authenticity, delivering a more dynamic flavor.
What Are the Different Types of Natural Flavors?
In the industrial food industry, flavors are split into three main groups:
1. Flavor "Types": Natural flavor "types" are made from natural flavoring raw materials, but none of the materials come from the flavor at hand. Often flavor "types" are created because:
a) An agricultural source does not exist, e.g. Natural Marshmallow Type Flavor, marshmallows are a man-made foodstuff, so a flavor chemist cannot use a "marshmallow extract" as a building block to create the flavor;
b) If a scientist is making an allergen-free "allergen flavor", e.g. an allergen-free Natural Egg-Type Flavor cannot use components from real egg, therefore it would be considered a "type".
2. FTNF (From The Named Fruit): All flavoring materials come from the characteristic flavor at hand i.e. a Strawberry Flavor FTNF only has extracts and chemical isolates from strawberries. An undisputed concern with many "FTNF" flavors, is they are often linear and lacking depth that could be delivered better with flavoring materials outside the "strawberry" world.
3. WONF (With Other Natural Flavors): Flavoring materials come from the characteristic flavor at hand, in addition to other flavor materials that come from a natural source, that help enhance, balance, round, and add complexity - resulting in a more realistic, authentic flavor. See below visual representation of how a flavor chemist builds a "Natural Lemon WONF Flavor":
Wright, John. Flavor Creation, 2nd Edition. Carol Stream: Allured Business Media, 2011. Print.