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  • [♪INTRO]

  • If somebody gives you the choice between two tasty-looking snack cakes -- but one is labeled

  • 'naturally flavored', and the other 'artificially flavored' -- most people would probably

  • go with the natural one.

  • It sounds better.

  • Who wants to eat food that's fake?

  • I like real food.

  • But those labels can be pretty misleading.

  • In fact, the flavorings could be chemically identical.

  • There are rules to what gets labelednaturalorartificial,” but they're pretty

  • subtle.

  • And you definitely don't need to avoid artificial flavors to stay healthy or be eco-friendly.

  • The only reason you might want to opt for the natural version in some cases is itsjust,

  • its flavor?

  • In the US, artificial and natural flavors are defined by the Food and Drug Administration,

  • because that's the agency that gets a say in how companies market and label their foods.

  • So first, the termflavorsitself refers to ingredients that are in the food mainly

  • for their taste, rather than any nutritional value.

  • So an apple in an apple pie would certainly be adding to the overall flavor, but it would

  • not technically be considered a flavor or flavoring.

  • And the FDA considers something a 'natural' flavor if it comes from a plant or animal.

  • That source could be virtually anything: fruit, bark, herbs, veggies, meats.

  • The list is long.

  • But if it's made from a plant or animal, it's natural.

  • If not, it's artificial.

  • It does get a little more complicated than that, but in the vast majority of cases, the

  • difference between the two is only the source.

  • We're sticking to specifics of the US here, but plenty of other countries differentiate

  • these flavors along the same lines, so you'll see similar claims on their food packaging.

  • Seems simple enough, but if you think about how we experience flavor, you can see why

  • this whole binary system the FDA has cooked up is not necessarily all that useful.

  • Because what makes your favorite chocolate chip cookies so delicious comes down to the

  • molecules you taste and smell, not where those molecules come from.

  • They're chemicals, whether they come from natural sources or are made from scratch in

  • a lab.

  • And in many cases, the molecules in natural and artificial flavors are exactly the same

  • down to the placement of each atom and bond.

  • That's because for a lot of common flavors, we know the main chemical behind them, and

  • whether you purify it from fruit or make it synthetically, a compound is a compound is

  • a compound.

  • Take the vanilla you might use when you bake cookies.

  • The main flavor component of vanilla -- and the one we recognize as having that sweet,

  • characteristic taste -- is a chemical called vanillin.

  • You can naturally extract it from vanilla beans by soaking them in water and alcohol.

  • Or, you can make the exact same chemical in the lab.

  • If you go the all-natural route, expect to pay big bucks, though, because vanilla beans

  • are the fruits of finicky tropical orchids.

  • They're a huge pain to grow and harvest.

  • And vanilla is the world's most popular flavor, we cannot grow enough beans to flavor

  • everything we want using only the real stuff.

  • There is another natural way to get vanilla flavor, with something called castoreum, but

  • that's not likely to be a fan favorite.

  • That's because it comes from the castor sacs of beavers, which are located down near

  • their tails.

  • Basically, flavoring via beaver butt.

  • Milking beavers for their secretions is not exactly a high-volume industry either, so

  • castoreum is too expensive to put in most foods.

  • But in the lab, you can make the same vanillin in huge batches and for much less money by

  • doing some fancy chemistry on paper pulp or petroleum derivatives.

  • That may sound less appetizing than getting it from the beans, but remember: the molecule

  • you get at the end is exactly the same.

  • And, it's how we're able to vanilla-fy most of the foods we eat.

  • So maybe don't write off artificial vanilla just because it's not natural.

  • You'll save some big bucks.

  • Then there are also some misconceptions about the environmental impact.

  • Counterintuitive as it might sound, natural flavorings aren't always so great for nature.

  • They can have much bigger environmental footprints than their artificial counterparts.

  • Take massoia lactone, a chemical that tastes like coconut, which you can find in the bark

  • of certain trees in Southeast Asia.

  • The tricky part is if you strip off the bark to get it, you kill the tree.

  • So, as much as we might want to have that lovely pina colada flavor, the natural version

  • is really inefficient and unsustainable.

  • Whereas synthetic chemists can whip up massoia lactone in the lab, no tree stripping necessary.

  • Granted, artificial flavorings aren't perfect for the planet either.

  • They're often made from oil, and can require special materials that aren't environmentally-friendly.

  • Production can also create wastewater.

  • Still, that's usually better than killing entire groves of trees or going through thousands

  • of kilos of fruit in search of specific flavor compounds.

  • There is one major downside to keeping things strictly in the lab, though: the taste.

  • Because while synthetic vanillin is the same molecule you'll find in the stuff from vanilla

  • beans, real vanilla has hundreds of other compounds that subtly change the flavor.

  • Artificial vanilla is a pretty good substitute because around 80% of vanilla flavor comes

  • from that one vanillin compound.

  • Most people can't tell the difference.

  • But other flavors are much harder to replicate.

  • Artificial strawberry might be delicious, for example, but if you think about it, it

  • doesn't really taste like strawberries.

  • That's because you simply can't reproduce that flavor very well with one or two chemicals.

  • It's super complex.

  • So, the purity you get with artificial methods may sometimes make for less-sophisticated

  • flavors.

  • On the other hand, it also means that those flavors are better-known to scientists, and

  • more rigorously tested.

  • If this runs counter to your intuition, you're not alone.

  • Packages proudly proclaiming 'no artificial flavors' are trying to appeal to the common

  • feeling that substances from Mother Nature are inherently safer and better than ones

  • invented and produced by people.

  • That's called the naturalistic fallacy.

  • But nature isn't infallible, and there's all kinds of stuff out there that's natural,

  • but will also super kill you.

  • Just because a flavoring comes from a plant or animal doesn't mean it's safer or healthier.

  • Which is why US flavor regulations apply to both natural and artificial flavors.

  • It's a system called Generally Recognized As Safe, or GRAS.

  • Basically, back in the mid-20th century, the FDA decided that food additives should be

  • tested, although they could be exempted from review if experts already agreed that the

  • substance was safe.

  • Since the rules took full effect in the late 1950s, just two flavors have been banned,

  • one natural and one artificial: calamus, which comes from a plant also known as sweet root;

  • and cinnamyl anthranilate, a synthetic compound that gives a grape or cherry flavor.

  • Some flavorings have raised other types of health flags, like diacetyl, the artificial

  • buttery flavoring in microwave popcorn.

  • If it's inhaled in extremely large amountslike if you work in a popcorn factory

  • and don't use protective equipmentit can cause a lung disease known as popcorn

  • lung.

  • But eating it isn't a problem, so we still use it.

  • In theory, it's still possible that some flavors we use have minor negative health

  • effects we just don't know about, even with this testing system.

  • One complication is that the evidence is summarized by an industry group.

  • But since the rules apply to both types of flavors, there's no reason to be extra suspicious

  • of the artificial ones.

  • Another part of artificial flavoring's bad reputation comes from the fact that it's

  • in processed foods, which are less healthy for youthey're often high in sugar

  • and fat while also being low in fiber and nutrients.

  • But that's not the flavoring's fault.

  • And of course, natural flavoring is used for the exact same thing.

  • Perhaps the most misleading example of this is orange juice.

  • Americans used to get most of their orange juice from concentrate, but these days, we

  • tend to buy it in cartons where the juice doesn't need to be diluted.

  • It seems like a fresher option, and companies have marketed it that way to get a premium

  • price.

  • But the juice isn't as fresh as they make it sound.

  • Because of the realities of large-scale production, the juice ends up sitting in tanks for months

  • at a time.

  • To keep it from spoiling, producers pasteurize it and also remove all the oxygen in a process

  • called deaeration.

  • To be fair, that processing is important to keep the juice safe to drink.

  • But it also removes a bunch of the nicer flavor compounds that make freshly squeezed juice

  • so refreshing.

  • The juice might not be from concentrate, but companies still re-flavor it right before

  • it's put in the carton, with what people in the industry call juice packs.

  • The packs are a mix of flavors, usually from oranges, orange oil, or orange essence.

  • So technically, they have natural sources.

  • But that doesn't mean the flavor is coming from freshly-squeezed orange juice, or that

  • the juice is somehow less processed and healthier because the flavorings are natural.

  • Once you find out what the termsnaturalandartificialreally mean, you start

  • to see this type of misleading marketing everywhere.

  • But if you think it's confusing now, just wait a few years.

  • Because biotech is getting in on flavorings, blurring the lines even more.

  • Companies are trying to come up with new ways to make flavors that still count as 'natural'

  • under current labeling regulations -- even though the source may be bacteria or yeast,

  • rather than any recognizable plant or animal.

  • With genetic engineering, you can program microbes to produce certain flavor molecules,

  • then isolate the molecules and use them just like other flavorings.

  • That could be a more efficient and eco-friendly solution in some cases, especially for hard-to-source

  • flavor compounds.

  • But in a way, it would make the labeling claims on food packaging even more meaningless.

  • Like, is that all-natural vanilla flavor from vanilla beans or a very special strain of

  • yeast?

  • If you wanted the natural stuff for the more nuanced flavor, you'd have no way of knowing

  • what you were getting.

  • For now, just don't be fooled by claims that sticking to natural flavors is healthier

  • or better for the environment.

  • Tastes and flavors are based on chemistry, and a lot of the time, the artificial ones

  • are just as good.

  • Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow!

  • If you're interested in learning more about flavor chemistry, you can check out one of

  • our previous episodes, about 5 chemicals that are in everything you eat.

  • [♪OUTRO]

[♪INTRO]

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What Do 'Natural' and 'Artificial' Flavors Really Mean?

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    joey joey に公開 2021 年 05 月 06 日
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