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Natural Flavor

Cartoon sketch of a man looking into a bathroom mirror and touching his face with one hand. Illustration by Earle Levenstein.

[FROM CFR-Code of Federal Regulations]

[Title 21, Volume 6]

"(3) The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive..or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis...which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice..edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root...poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof...whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors include the natural essence of extractives obtained from plants listed in subpart A of part 582 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter."

Right out of the starting gate, a confession.

I'm marginally hypochondriacal. I might be understating that but in any case, I'm alert to threats to my health; certainly to someone seated or standing near me and sneezing their brains out or holding up a rash for me to see and asking my opinion on what it might be.

But most of all, it's about food.

I wouldn't dream of buying any food product without checking the ingredients; and the longer the list, the less interest I have in what's inside. Further, if I come across an unfamiliar ingredient, my interest sinks to zero.


I'll tell you why.

I'm allergic to MSG and shrimp. Pretty definite on both counts; maybe more so on the MSG part but shellfish don't get my OK either.

The MSG part was an encounter years ago with the Big IT: the Angel of Death breathing down my neck at a business lunch in a Chinese restaurant after—cliche time—a couple of tablespoons of chicken noodle soup.

I thought I was pretty young to be having a heart attack, but rationality goes out the window when you're certain you're checking out. Amazing to see monosodium glutamate still appearing on a container of chicken broth.

The shrimp thing again was involved with business—might be a message here but I'll skip that part—eating as many shrimp as I could at the buffet table before dinner, a client commenting on my red somewhat puffy-looking face, confirmed when I saw myself in the men's room mirror. Foolishly, I rationalized that my face wasn't all that red and puffy and I wasn't having trouble breathing and that I'd just see if the red and puffy look would dissipate during dinner before going to the emergency room.

I survived, but I avoid shrimp and their ilk: lobster and crab. I'm fine with bivalves: clams, oysters and scallops. I'm convinced they're not out to kill me. Shrimp are.

Now then; back to those ingredients labels.

Top of my Absolutely Not In My House list is that very recent addition to an army of food products; Natural Flavors.

Why? Stellar example: a jar of olives, each stuffed with a garlic clove. My favorite go-to olive, forever. Never felt the need to examine the list of ingredients. I mean, we're talking about an olive and a clove of garlic. Recently, checked the list.

Shock of the ages: Olives, Garlic and—are you ready?—Natural Flavor.

Incomprehensible. Inexplicable. Totally mystifying. Bizarre.

Plus: a jar of lightly salted peanuts; short list: including peanuts and salt and a couple of spices and—you guessed it—

Natural Flavor.

On the other hand; a jar of unsalted peanuts; one ingredient: Peanuts.

All I can say is: Whaaa?

I mean, just look at the mob hanging out under the Natural Flavor umbrella.


Doesn't help my hypochondria.

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