Flavors – Flavor Overview

What is a flavor? In this series, we will explore different sources of flavors. In this post, we provide a high-level overview of flavors.

What is flavor?

Flavors are the sensory impressions you experience when consuming foods and beverages. These impressions are formed by the chemical sensations of taste and smell. Along with other sensations, like texture, you get the full experience of a food product.

When looking at food and beverage regulations, flavors break down into three main categories: artificial flavors, spices, and natural flavors. These flavor categories make up the foods and beverages we consume. 

What’s the difference between a spice, artificial flavor, and natural flavor?

Food safety agencies regulate flavor categories based on specific ingredient compositions and the creation process.
Spices are primarily aromatic vegetables or plants that can be found in many forms, such as dried and ground, broken, or whole. Spices include ingredients such as pepper, rosemary, basil, and more. These ingredients are typically considered GRAS ingredients as they’ve been used safely for many years.

Artificial flavors are chemically composed ingredients and are usually regulated as a food additive (1,2). Food additives require additional rigorous safety assessments before being available on the market. While most artificial ingredients are considered additives, there are some artificial flavors are that are classified as GRAS ingredients. Artificial flavors include many different commonly found flavors such as strawberry, cinnamon, vanilla, and many more.

Natural flavors are processed ingredients derived from plants, essential oils, proteins, yeasts, and more. These ingredients can be classified as a GRAS ingredient or as a food additive as defined by the FDA depending on the ingredient composition (1,2). Natural flavors can include vanilla, lavender, orange, and many more.

Are inhaled or “vape” flavors different than food & beverage flavors?

Currently, flavors used in vaping products such as “e-cigarettes” have not been tested to be consumed via inhalation (1,2). This means safe consumption levels of these flavored vape products have not been established.

Are flavors safe?

The FDA ensures that food and beverage flavors on the market are safe for ingestion when consumed typically.

There are other organizations such as the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) that provides additional research expertise around flavors and flavor safety evaluation. They also provide an easy way to look up flavors and their uses at https://www.femaflavor.org/.

Flavors used for vaping in e-cigarettes have not been evaluated for inhalation safety. Therefore, we currently do not know a safe level of exposure (1,2,3).

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