“Natural Flavorings”

I was teaching my 12- year- old daughter how to read labels. She asked whether she should eat things that say “natural flavorings.” I told her that if there is an allergy warning and wheat is not listed, then the natural flavorings are fine, but otherwise she shouldn’t. What do you think?

If a natural flavoring contains wheat, the label has to say so. It could be in the kind of allergen warning you mention, which would say “Contains Wheat” after the ingredients list. Wheat could also be noted right in the ingredients list as “natural flavoring (wheat).” But natural flavoring rarely contains wheat. Flavoring manufacturers, including both natural and artificial, have told us that wheat is rarely used to make a flavoring because it does not work very well. We have been checking ingredients lists on food labels for wheat in a flavoring ever since the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act was passed. It requires that wheat be labeled regardless of how it is used in all products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. We have seen very few cases where wheat is used. Edy’s French Silk ice cream is one of the rare products that contains natural flavoring made from wheat, and wheat is indicated on the label. So, since wheat is rarely used in flavorings and when it is, processors have been following the labeling law, your instructions for your daughter are fair and safe as far as wheat is concerned. That would leave flavorings made from barley (rye and oats would rarely if ever be used). The allergen labeling law does not require barley to be listed as the source of a flavoring because barley is not one of the top eight allergens. In most cases a flavoring made from barley will be called malt flavoring or barley malt or barley malt flavoring. In general your daughter should avoid malt flavoring. (Malt flavoring can be made from corn and would be safe, but it is more commonly made from barley.) So you have to decide if your daughter should avoid flavors on the very small chance one might be made from barley that’s not spelled out on the label. She would be avoiding a lot of foods that are actually safe. As always, it’s your call. But you do ask what we think and the answer seems to us that the risk is so small, it’s not worth worrying about.

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