Last weekend I bought a bottle of store-brand seltzer water at my local grocery store, an Albertsons. I was a little hesitant at first because I'd never bought their generic brand before, called "Super Chill." But it was cheap and I was intrigued by the fact that it was raspberry flavored, which I'd never tried before. But was it chemically flavored, I wondered? Apparently not, I assured myself. There were only two listed ingredients (as you can see at left), "carbonated water, natural flavor." Great. What could be wrong with that?
Once I got home, however, I looked at the label a little more carefully. I noticed that the nutritional information said at the top, "contains 0% juice." Ok, what are the "natural flavors" then, if not raspberry juice? Turning the label over, I also saw that the front side read, "raspberry flavored with other natural flavors." Other? What are the "other" natural flavors besides raspberry in the raspberry seltzer?
That's when I did a little internet research. According to the website Natural Ingredient.org (which you can view HERE), "natural flavor" is actually a technical, legal term and not merely a commonly-understood colloquialism. The Code of Federal Regulations defines "natural flavor" as follows."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."
So my raspberry seltzer water may have been flavored with a "distillate of meat" or a "fermentation product thereof," or, alternatively, a "protein hydrolysate" (a sterile solution of amino acids and peptides)?
Apparently, "natural flavors" are created by scientists in laboratories. They're called "flavor chemists," and they combine gasses, oils and other extracts to simulate or enhance the flavors of processed foods. The "American flavor industry" is said to be a $1.4 billion a year business. You can even join the Society of Flavor Chemists, based in Neptune, New Jersey. If you're interested, click HERE.