What’s in a Flavor? A Proposal to Address Consumer Confusion Surrounding Natural Flavoring

Nena Benavides*


Most consumers incorrectly believe that natural flavors are healthier than artificial flavors. This erroneous belief may stem from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) definition of a flavor as either natural or artificial in terms of the source of the flavoring ingredients. This definition creates a false dichotomy that masks the fact that natural and artificial flavors are often chemically identical. Both natural and artificial flavors are synthesized in a lab, often involving hundreds of artificial chemical components. Both are then added to foods that are extensively processed, such that they no longer contain enough of the named ingredient to achieve the flavor the food proposes to have without the use of added flavors. Consumer confusion over these terms has sparked hundreds of lawsuits, while the current convoluted regulatory scheme has done little to address consumers’ misperceptions. This Article proposes that the definitional distinction between natural and artificial flavors be removed. This would reduce consumer misconceptions about these terms and create consumer demand for a new signal of high-quality, healthy foods. Sellers may then turn to flavoring their products with whole ingredients to distinguish themselves because this is a costly signal that is not easily replicated by low-quality sellers. The result would benefit consumers through healthier products and greater transparency.