SIMPLE SCIENCE: What are 'natural flavors?'

"Natural flavors" are the fourth most common ingredient listed on food labels, only after salt, water and sugar, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website

It is listed in more than 20 percent of foods rated by the EWG, which has a database of more than 80,000 foods.

Flavoring is used to provide greater taste to the food, make it more appealing to customers by either adding a flavor or replacing something that was lost during food production.

These flavors can either be natural or artificial. Although it would seem natural flavors would be derived from food, such as blueberry flavoring coming from mashed blueberries, they actually only consist of natural chemicals, according to CNN.

Natural flavors only need to be derived from chemicals found in nature. They are often found in a food, enhanced and added to food, whereas artificial flavors are manmade chemicals, completely created in a lab.

For this reason, EWG reported that names like McDonald's "natural beef flavors" can be applied to ingredients in food, even though those flavors derived from wheat and milk.

Harshel Patel is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. He is the digital editor of The Daily Targum. He can be found on Twitter @harshel_p.

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