Natural Flavors vs Artificial Flavors in Drink Formulation – The Hype vs Real

Did you know that the average adult has around 2,000 to 4,000 taste buds? Our taste buds include sensory cells responsible for what things taste like to each person. The flavor of whatever we’re drinking or consuming varies depending upon the ingredients. 

Commercial drink and food products include a wide range of ingredients. Recently, the topic of “natural flavors vs. artificial flavors” has increased in popularity. Artificial and natural flavors are essential components in beverage creation. 

Many of the discussions surrounding natural and artificial flavors are about whether or not natural flavors are better for you. Another common topic is the origin of natural flavors. 

A beverage’s flavor additives are essential to the drink’s sensory profile. It’s important to know the differences between the types of additives. This guide will discuss everything you need about artificial and natural flavors. 

What’s Flavor? 

Flavor refers to the sensory impression that a beverage gives a person. It’s determined by the chemical senses of smell and taste. One flavor can contain 50-100 compounds from artificial and/or natural sources. 

A person’s “trigeminal senses” can also detect chemical irritants in their throat and mouth. They might also determine what a drink’s flavor is. The taste of drinks can get changed with artificial and natural flavor additives. 

Flavor additives enhance or alter the flavor of a food or beverage. They can also create a flavor for a product that doesn’t have the desired flavor. Flavors can also make bland but healthy options more appetizing. 

What Are Natural Flavors?

Natural flavors are defined as flavors that get isolated from sources found in nature. These sources can be plant or animal-based. The sources that natural flavors get drawn from include:

  • Roots
  • Herbs
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Fruits
  • Bark
  • Spices

Many people associate natural flavors with sustainability. They also assume that the product is healthier if it contains natural flavors. As we mentioned, if a product has natural flavors, it just means that the flavor was sourced from nature. 

The function of a natural flavor is to flavor a beverage. It’s not designed to make a product more nutritious. 

What Are Artificial Flavors?

Artificial flavors are flavors that aren’t sourced from natural places. People assume that if something has artificial flavoring, it’s not as healthy for you as products with natural flavoring. 

In regards to flavor science, that’s not necessarily the case. Artificial and natural flavors aren’t that different. Sometimes, a natural flavor can also include synthetic chemicals. 

Artificial flavors get created in a controlled laboratory. They undergo thorough quality control throughout the formulation process. You can find many artificial flavors with higher purity than natural ones. 

Flavor chemists prepare flavor mixtures that follow strict efficiency and safety guidelines. They also create profiles to meet the preferences of consumers. Flavor and beverage formulation companies must comply with USDA and FDA rules for food production. 

For example, if you eat vanilla ice cream, you’re likely eating artificial flavors. There aren’t enough vanilla beans that can keep up with the demand needed for the flavor. Vanillin is the compound that gives vanilla its signature flavor. 

The chemical compound of artificially or naturally sourced vanillin is the same. Artificial flavors are designed to have the same flavor as those found from natural sources. Its chemical structure mimics the natural compound, giving beverage manufacturing companies a cost-effective solution to flavor their drinks. 

What Kinds of Artificial Flavors Are There?

Countless artificial flavors are designed to mimic natural flavors. Remember that creating an artificial flavor that hasn’t been tasted before is rare. 

You can find a complete list of FDA-approved artificial flavors on their website. Some common artificial fruit flavors and other types of flavors include:

  • Vanilla
  • Herbs
  • Butter
  • Buffalo
  • Grape
  • Banana
  • Cherry 
  • Orange

What Are Hybrid Flavors?

Many beverages say on their labels that they include artificial and natural flavors. The natural flavor is used to create the basic flavor profile of a beverage. Artificial flavors enhance and modify the flavor profile. 

The artificial and natural flavors work together to support the flavor profile of a beverage. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Understanding the differences between artificial and natural flavors can be confusing. Let’s discuss some of the commonly asked questions about flavors. 

Where Do Beverages List Their Flavor Ingredients?

Flavor companies don’t have to disclose the ingredients that make up their natural or artificial flavors. The ingredients need to be recognized as being safe by the FDA. As we mentioned earlier, 50 to 100 ingredients can be used in one flavor.

Listing all those ingredients would result in a long list for a beverage label. The FDA requires that a beverage label only say if natural or artificial flavors have been used. Not listing all of the ingredients also protects the flavor’s formula. 

Are Natural Flavors Healthier Than Artificial Ones?

Artificial and natural flavors contain the same molecules. Structurally speaking, they’re the same. Their nutritional value is also the same. 

A beverage’s nutrition has nothing to do with its flavor additives. Don’t judge a beverage’s nutritional value based on what type of flavor is used. 

What’s Used for Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Drinks?

You can find artificial and natural flavors for alcoholic drinks. Flavors for non-alcoholic drinks can come from natural/artificial sources.  

Do Artificial Flavors Taste Bad?

A misconception about artificial flavors is that they taste harsh or chemically. Flavor science has progressed a lot in recent years.

A flavor chemist can create any profile that you want. Most people can’t tell the difference. 

Natural Flavors vs. Artificial Flavors — What’s Best?

So, what’s the best — natural flavors vs. artificial flavors? Chemically speaking, artificial and natural flavors are the same. 

Artificial flavors get created in a lab and undergo rigorous testing. Natural flavors get sourced from things found in nature. 

There is a lot of hype surrounding the supposed nutritional benefits of beverages with natural flavors. However, there is no nutritional benefit of natural flavors over artificial ones. 

The experts at MetaBrand are here to help you through the formulating and manufacturing process for your beverages. From creating the right flavor profile to producing your drink, we’ve got you covered. Contact us today to get connected. 

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