I love fresh fruits and veggies from the farmers’ market in the peak of their season. I do yoga… sometimes. I hike. I’ve even started wearing aluminum-free deodorant. Whenever possible, I avoid highly processed foods and artificial additives. What am I getting at? Healthy habits. Suffice to say that I felt duped when I returned home from the fancy grocery store (a.k.a. beer store) and realized I had unknowingly purchased ale with “natural flavor added.” As someone who tries to steer clear of consumables with a laundry list of ingredients, I was dismayed by the ambiguity of this particular six-pack. I won’t name names, because there are plenty of reputable breweries that use this vague terminology on their labels. What exactly are these “natural flavors?” Why aren’t they being more transparent?
I’m willing to give the breweries the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they’re just trying to protect their unique blend of secret ingredients. But in my research, I found that the distinction between natural flavors and artificial flavors is also pretty vague.
David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, explains, “The largest difference is that natural flavors are coming from natural sources. The original ingredient is found in nature and then purified and extracted and added back into the food.” Both artificial and natural flavors are processed in a lab, but one is “synthetically processed” while the other is “purified in a lab but from a natural source.” Flavorings can contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients, including solvent and preservatives. And here’s the most dubious part: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a master list of about 700 food additives that are “generally recognized as safe.” Many components of natural (and artificial) flavors have not even been tested, but most scientists consider them to be safe.
For now, I’ll stick to my healthy (beer) habits. I’ll continue to cultivate a clear conscience while I sip brews like Elysian’s Avatar Jasmine IPA, because I know the jasmine essence comes from adding real, dried jasmine flowers to the boil and hopback. Straightforward ingredients, plus, it’s super tasty.
Question for readers: Is there a particular brewery you love that uses only pure, natural ingredients to add flavor?
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