natural flavors spice

Spice as a natural source of food additive for natural flavors.

Natural Flavors

What are Natural Flavors?

Natural flavors are food additives derived from a natural source, such as a spice, fruit, vegetable, plant or animal. Although they are not synthetically produced like artificial flavors, they still undergo considerable processing and can contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients.1

Flavor additives play an important role in the food industry, giving products recognizable tastes and added flavor. Natural flavors make up over half of all flavoring additives used in foods today.2


From the earliest recipes, foods have been flavored with spices, plants and animals. Processed flavor additives came along as the Industrial Revolution swept the world during the 18th century. As mass production and shipping became standard practice, preserved and processed food took on a different taste than consumers were used to. Added flavors were introduced to give a familiar taste, mostly in baked goods, candies and sodas and in processed foods when they skyrocketed during the 1950s.

Today most all packaged goods have added flavor – synthetic or natural. However, natural flavors are used just as often as artificial ones, if not more so. A push for healthier products has increased demand for natural flavor additives.

Commercial Production

Natural flavors are manufactured from a variety of plants, roots minerals or animals. They are then enhanced with solvents and preservatives to ensure shelf life and conformity across products. Often, natural flavors will contain many of the same chemicals as artificial ones.2

Flavors are produced by either physically extracting the flavor, or microbiological and enzymatic processes. This method produces flavors by replacing portions of sugar and salt used in products. It uses bacteria, fungi and yeast to produce an enzymatic process. Natural cheese flavors are an example this method.3

Each natural flavor is produced differently, depending on the original source the flavor comes from. However, it can not include any artificial flavoring or nature-identical additives.


Flavoring additives fall into two main categories, based on how they affect products:

  1. Flavoring Smell, to give products aroma. Natural ones are usually extracted or distilled from original sources, then purified.
  2. Flavoring Tastes, which can be grouped into sweet, sour, salty or bitter additives. There are also flavors that add “unmani, or the flavor associated with meats and high-protein foods.

Flavoring tastes can enhance flavors already present or add additional flavors. Natural flavors must be labeled “artificial” in products if there is a flavor not present in the actual product.

FDA regulation

As long as all the chemicals used in natural flavors are GRAS under the FDA, companies are not required to list the ingredients of the flavor additive. The FDA defines natural flavors or flavorings as the natural essence or extractives derived from a spice, fruit, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products.


1. Hui, Y. H. Handbook of Food Science, Technology, and Engineering. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis, 2006.
2. Branen, Alfred Larry, P. Michael Davidson, and Seppo Salminen. Food Additives. New York: M. Dekker, 1990.
3. Carroll, Austin L., Shuchi H. Desai, and Shota Atsumi. “Microbial Production of Scent and Flavor Compounds.” Current Opinion in Biotechnology 37 (2016): 8-15.