Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"Natural" Flavoring

Natural flavoring,
it must be good for me, right?

It's natural for goodness sake... Take a gander at the labels of some of your favorite snack foods. You might see the innocent sounding ingredient "natural flavoring" nestled in between the seemingly endless number of components in one food item. Let's take McDonald's french fries for example. If you have the displeasure of having to go to this restaurant for some reason, you may choose to order the french fries...harmless right? McDonald's followed the lead of many other fast food franchises a few years ago and started frying their potato sticks in pure vegetable oil. Well, there may also be a "natural flavor" in the french fries that you didn't know about. The McDonald's Corporation will not reveal the exact origin of the natural flavor added to its fries. In response to inquiries from Vegetarian Journal, however, McDonald's did acknowledge that its fries derive some of their characteristic flavor from "an animal source." Beef is the probable source, although other meats cannot be ruled out. In France, for example, fries are sometimes cooked in duck fat or horse tallow.

The Vegetarian Legal Action Network recently petitioned the FDA to issue new labeling requirements for foods that contain natural flavors. The group wants food processors to list the basic origins of flavors on their labels. At the moment, vegetarians often have no way of knowing whether a flavor additive contains beef, pork, poultry, shellfish, or some other animal source. One of the most widely used color additives -- whose presence is often hidden by the phrase "color added" -- violates a number of religious dietary restrictions, may cause allergic reactions in susceptible people, and comes from an unusual source. Cochineal extract (also known as carmine or carminic acid) is made from the desiccated bodies of female Dactylopius Coccus Costa, a small insect harvested mainly in Peru and the Canary Islands. The bug feeds on red cactus berries, and color from the berries accumulates in the females and their unhatched larvae. The insects are collected, dried, and ground into a pigment. It takes about 70,000 of them to produce a pound of carmine, which is used to make processed foods look pink, red, or purple. Dannon strawberry yogurt gets its color from carmine, and so do many frozen fruit bars, candies, and fruit fillings, and Ocean Spray pink-grapefruit juice drink.


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