“The typical consumer believes that naturally flavoured processed food is somehow healthier than artificially flavoured processed food. The distinction is laughable… Flavours are value-neutral from a health standpoint. They are chemicals. The only difference between a natural and synthetic flavour is the source material and derivation process. Take cherry for example. What gives cherries their ‘cherriness’ is a molecule called benzaldehyde. To make natural cherry flavour, you start with cassia, a tree bark related to cinnamon and, using chemical-free processes like pressure and steam, extract from it cinnamic aldehyde. This can then be converted into benzaldehyde, the base of natural cherry flavour. To make an artificial cherry flavour, you extract the benzaldehyde from coal tar on petroleum using chemical processes. The molecules resulting from both processes are identical, although the natural flavour costs ten to fifty times more to produce.
“Aside from flavour, the other ingredients in ‘all natural’ foods—starches, proteins, fats, etc.—are often dramatically modified from their naturally occurring states in order to produce products that better withstand the intense processing required to manufacture safe packaged food. ‘All-natural processed food’ is an oxymoron and a myth… But the idea that it’s better for you is deeply ingrained in society. It’s become a key to success from a consumer-acceptance standpoint.”
—excerpted from ‘Frontiers of Flavour’ by Nelson Handel (The Walrus, June 2005)