Yes, you did read that right. Tea, cow poop and natural flavors have a lot more in common than you would ever have thought. How on earth did I ever end up making this connection? Well, last week I had a conversation with a friend about beverages and sugar content. At one point we landed on tea, and my friend said “well, at least I don’t have to worry about the tea I’m drinking, as it is all natural, right?”. Wrong! Unfortunately, you do need to worry if you care about what you are putting into your body, especially when it comes to tea in a bag.
Let’s start with natural flavors, what is it exactly? Well, it can be just about anything compiled of tons of different things, as long as it originally came from a natural source such as plants and animals. Read more about natural and artificial flavors here. The origin of a product very often used in natural flavors is called Castoreum, or in plain English beaver-butt. Hmm..beaver-butt in my tea? No, thanks!” Read more about it here, and check out the video below for more information.
Ok, so that’s pretty disgusting. But what does cow poop has to do with my tea? Well, as it is a natural source, it also goes under the disguised name “natural flavor”. Mayu Yamamoto, a Japanese scientist, managed to figure out a way to extract vanilla fragrance and flavoring from cow poop. It is a lot cheaper than using real vanilla. She actually won the lg Nobel Prize in Chemistry for it in 2007. You can read the long version here about her project, and the short version here. Yummy, beaver-butt and cow poop in my tea?
Checking up on what the European standards are,( most often they are the same as FDA’s), did not really help clarifying anything at all. According to the GUIDANCE DOCUMENT ON EC REGULATION ON FLAVOURING, Chapter IV, section 3.1.1 Natural flavouring substances:
The term “natural flavouring substance(s)” may only be used for flavourings in which the flavouring component contains exclusively natural flavouring substances.
So, whenever you read a food label on any kind of food or beverage, and you see that it contains natural flavorings, now you know that it can be just about anything ranging from beaver-butt to some type of sugar to cow poop. Also, when you read a food label, the ingredients are listed in the order with the largest amount of ingredient appearing first. Meaning that if you start reading the label for lets say peanut butter and it says: Sugar, sunflower oil, peanuts etc. Sugar would be the largest ingredient in that food product. Check it out the next time you buy something, it can be quite a revelation!
So what can we do? Always check the label on anything that you buy, and find out which brands do not use natural flavors! In terms of tea, I recommend buying loose leaf tea. You can buy the empty tea bags separately and fill them up yourself, if that makes it more convenient, to use at work for example. PUKKA tea is one brand that I trust and that I use a lot when I am traveling.
Enjoy your weekend, and keep reading those labels! 😉