Nothing beats the taste and aroma of a fresh, ripe cherry. Or does it? According to Eric Shlosser of “Fast Food Nation” fame, the food supply contains more artificial ingredients than natural ingredients. Artificial cherry flavoring, for example, consists of chemicals — primarily benzaldehyde — as opposed to natural fruit extract.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, flavor companies aren’t required to disclose ingredients as long as they are Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS. This policy allows flavor companies to protect their secret formulas. According to the Ohio Department of Health, the main chemical in cherry flavoring is benzaldehyde. Benzaldehyde is a chemical compound containing carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. When formulated, it emits a pleasant almond odor.
In 1917, the National Association of Retail Druggists published a recipe for artificial cherry flavoring. Its formulation contained ethyl acetate, ethyl benzoate, oil of persicot, benzoic acid, glycerin and alcohol. The formula was originally published to prove that artificial flavors were inferior to natural and would be a passing fad. Instead, artificial flavors have become more complicated and prevalent over time.
Artificial vs. Natural
Shlosser contends that most flavors can now be chemically replicated in a lab. Artificial flavorings are often favored over natural flavors because they are more shelf-stable; they can be reproduced quite accurately and inexpensively and can withstand processing. They are also readily available and of consistent quality.
The FDA states that artificial flavoring is no less safe, nutritious or desirable than natural flavors, and that benzaldehyde is safe for human consumption. However, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, or OSHA, begs to differ. OSHA finds several known health factors related to benzaldehyde: irritation of the eyes, skin, nose and throat and contact dermatitis.
References and ResourcesFast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal; Eric Schlosser
U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Chemical Sampling Information Benzaldehyde
Flavor Facts: Natural vs. Artificial: What is the Difference?
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)
Ohio Department of Health: Benzaldehyde
The N.A.R.D. Journal: The Everyday Handy Formulary; Pharmaceutical Industry