What’s in Natural and Artificial Flavors?
Haider Z. Khattak, MS Food Science
There are thousands of flavors used in different types of food industries such as beverage, dairy and bakery industries. Flavors are available in dry, liquid or emulsion forms. According to the FDA (2002), flavors and flavorings are some of the most complex ingredients used in the food industry, but individual components of a flavor need not be declared to customers. A flavor can contain any number of ingredients—from a single one as in salt or pepper, to many, for example, reaction flavors or complex mixtures.
There may be hidden alcohol or ingredients of Haram animal origin, such as civet oil, in the formulations. Civet oil is oil extracted from the glands of a cat-like animal called a civet. Civet oil is not accepted as Halal (Riaz and Chaudry, 2004). There might be single and compound ingredients used in each flavor.
According to Professor Gary Reineccius at the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota, natural and artificial flavors are defined for the consumer in the Code of Federal Regulations. A key line from this definition is the following: “…a natural flavor is 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.” Artificial flavors are those that are made from components that do not meet this definition. Flavor chemists use “natural” chemicals to make natural flavorings and “synthetic” chemicals to make artificial flavorings. Flavor chemists creating an artificial flavoring must use similar chemicals in their formulation as would be used to make a natural flavoring; otherwise, the flavoring will not have the desired characteristics.
The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require companies to disclose the ingredients of their flavor additives as long as all the chemicals in them are considered GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”). This enables companies to maintain the secrecy of their formulas, such as Cola’s secret formula or Colonel Sander’s secret recipe. It also enables hiding numerous ingredients in order to keep the label simple. For the past twenty years, food processors have tried hard to use only “natural flavors” in their products. According to the FDA, these must be derived entirely from natural sources—from herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, yeast, bark, roots, and so forth. Consumers prefer to see natural flavors on a label, believing that they are more healthful. Distinctions between artificial and natural flavors can be arbitrary and confusing, based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains. Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods. Amyl Acetate, for example, provides the dominant note of banana flavor. When it is distilled from bananas with a solvent, Amyl Acetate is a natural flavor. When it is produced by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol and adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, Amyl Acetate is an artificial flavor. Either way it smells and tastes the same. A natural flavor is not necessarily more healthful or purer than an artificial one. When almond flavor—benzaldehyde—is derived from natural sources, such as peach and apricot pits, it contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison. Benzaldehyde derived by mixing oil of clove and amyl acetate does not contain any cyanide. Nevertheless, it is legally considered an artificial flavor and sells at a much lower price. Natural and artificial flavors may be manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature. Predicting future trends in food flavors is becoming ever more crucial as consumers become more experimental in their tastes. That the U.S. is more experimental in trying new flavors than other regions of the world is reflected in the fact that, in 2004, the highest proportion of ethnic flavor claims made by manufacturers in savory food new product development was among U.S. launches-12.6% of newly launched savory food SKUs, compared to an average of 10.7% for the rest of the world (Nosalik, 2005).
Natural and artificial flavors in bakery products are the most important ingredients for Muslim consumers. The makeup of flavoring material must be plant-based (no meat). Petroleum-based propylene glycol is considered a Halal solvent for flavoring (Ahmed, 2003).
In the Halal industry, it means either ethanol or ethyl alcohol. It is permissible to use alcohol for extracting flavors or dissolving them. However, the amount of alcohol should be reduced to less than 0.5% in the final flavoring product. Certain countries or customers require lower allowances or even absence of alcohol for products brought into their countries. Some countries do not permit fuse! oil derivatives. Note that vinegar, although a by-product or derivative of alcohol, is permitted in Islam. However, it is prudent to avoid the words “wine vinegar” in the label statements in order not to create confusion. IFANCA has consulted various Islamic scholars to check this critical issue about vanilla flavorings as it may contain alcohol. The word Khamr is traditionally used for fermented beverages which are intoxicants. Alcohol used in the manufacture of vanilla flavor is ethanol from grain or synthetic sources and never from alcoholic drinks or Khamr sources (Khattak, 2004).
Dairy ingredients are derived from processes that use either microbial enzymes or Halal-certified animal enzymes. Ingredients such as whey powder, lactose, whey protein isolates, and concentrates produced with the use of enzymes are questionable if the source of the enzymes is unknown.
Meat and poultry ingredients should be from animals slaughtered according to Halal requirements. The flavor manufacturers use certain quantity of meat or poultry products in order to produce the specific meaty flavors. Flavor manufacturers keep records of animal by-products used in flavors. These flavors can be certified Halal if the flavor manufacturer is able to provide detailed information to the Halal certifier. When a flavor company applies for Halal certification for a particular flavor they must also provide an Islamic Slaughter Certificate.
Smoke flavor has been used for thousands of years to enhance and modify the flavor of foods as well as to preserve meats. Halal concerns include the use of animal fats as a base for smoke and grill flavors or the use of emulsifiers from animal sources. The smoke flavor of bacon is commonly used in the flavor industry.
IFANCA is currently certifying major flavor manufacturing companies such as Firmenich Inc., International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), Danisco, Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Symrise, Givaudan Flavors, David Michael & Co., Quest International, Sensient Flavors, T. Hasegawa, Wild Flavors, Otten Flavors, Red Arrow Products, Silesia Flavors, and Virginia Dare Extract Company. This list keeps increasing as the awareness of Halal becomes important in the flavor industry.
IFANCA approves flavors on the basis of detailed descriptions provided by the client companies. The complete breakdown of the complex flavors is submitted in order to get the approval. IFANCA makes sure that there is no questionable ingredient in the flavor. The flavor industry continues to develop a variety of flavors that undergo a thorough review process by the food scientists at IFANCA.
Ahmed, S.R. 2003. Formulating Halal Foods. Prep. Foods. http://www.preparedfoods.com/CDA/Articlelnformationlfeatures/BNP__Features_Item/0,/231,113138,00.html
FDA. 2002 21 CFR 101.22.
Khattak, H. Z. 2004. Vanilla Flavoring in the Halal Industry. Halal Consumer (7) 6-7 Nosalik, D. 2005. Finding Fashionable Flavors. Prep. Foods (4) 13-19.
Riaz, M.N. and Chaudry, M.M. 2004. Halal Food Production. CRC Press LLC, Boca Raton, Florida, USA.
FLAVOR A product that gives taste or enhances flavor in an existing product. Other than flavor oils, essences, and botanicals, it may contain water, propylene glycol, alcohol, etc.
W.O.N.F. A natural flavor that has been enhanced with other natural flavors.
ARTIFICIAL Denotes a product whose components are derived from a synthetic process.
NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL A blend that combines both, synthetic and natural products.
NATURAL A product in which all components come from natural sources (also W.O.N.F.)