What is Natural Flavor and is it Good for My Dog?
As we are up to the letter “N” in our dog food ingredient series, today we are writing about the ubiquitous and ambiguous “Natural Flavor”.
What is Natural Flavor?
Natural flavor is a flavoring additive that is present in many pet foods and treats. Even though natural flavors sound perfectly healthy, unfortunately, it is hard to know exactly what this ingredient really is.
For an idea of what a natural flavor is, the FDA website says:
With respect to flavors, pet foods often contain “digests,” which are materials treated with heat, enzymes and/or acids to form concentrated natural flavors. Only a small amount of a “chicken digest” is needed to produce a “Chicken Flavored Cat Food,” even though no actual chicken is added to the food. Stocks or broths are also occasionally added. Whey is often used to add a milk flavor. Often labels will bear a claim of “no artificial flavors.” Actually, artificial flavors are rarely used in pet foods.
According to current labeling rules, dog food companies are allowed to consider these natural flavors proprietary, and are not required to disclose exactly what is used to make the flavoring nor how it is actually made (i.e., via a chemical process).
Common names for Natural Flavor
In dog food, this ingredient is either referred to generically as in “natural flavors”, or slightly more specifically by mention of the flavor source, as in “natural chicken flavor”, “natural pork flavor”, “natural turkey flavor”, or “natural fish flavor”, to name some of the most common ones.
Why is Natural Flavor in Dog Food?
As the name implies, natural flavor is a dog food ingredient that is used to enhance the taste of the food.
Is Natural Flavor Commonly Used in Dog Food?
Unfortunately, natural flavor is very common in dog food. The ingredient “natural flavor” is present in almost 38 % of all dog foods. Specific varieties of natural flavor (e.g. natural chicken flavor, natural pork flavor) are present in another 10% of all dog foods. Thus, some form of natural flavor is added to virtually one-half of all dog foods.
Common Benefits or Risks of Natural Flavor
The only benefit of having natural flavors in your pet’s food is, allegedly, that it will taste better to the dog so that they will actually eat the food. Of course, if a food already contains real named proteins and fruits and vegetables, it would seem that those ingredients would be sufficient to make the food palatable to your pooch.
There are two main problems with natural flavor in dog food. First of all, in most cases, there is no mention of the source of those flavors. They could be chicken based, pork based, or from any other long list of ingredients. This is problematic if your pet has a known food allergy. You simply can’t know if that food contains the allergen or not.
Secondly, you have no idea as to the quality of the source of the natural flavor. As mentioned on the FDA site, animal digest is commonly used to extract the natural flavor. What exactly is digest? The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) says that digest is produced by the chemical or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean animal tissue that has not undergone decomposition. These animal tissues may not include hair, horns, teeth, hooves, and feathers, with the exclusion of trace amounts that are unavoidable even after acceptable processing methods.
Essentially, you have an ingredient that could be made up of who knows what, and possibly created using harsh chemicals or acids.
Slimdoggy Ingredient Comfort Level
Due to the fact that it is most often vague in terms of its source and extraction process, we give natural flavor the SlimDoggy frown. The only saving grace on this ingredient is that it is often found fairly far down on the ingredient list (rarely in the top 10), which minimizes its impact on the diet.
Miscellaneous facts about Natural Flavor
Sadly, many processed human foods also include an ingredient called natural flavor. Here is the FDA’s definition as it relates to human food:
The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
Sources and further reading
We're joining the Tasty Tuesday Blog Hop sponsored by Sugar, the Golden Retriever and Kolchak from Kol's Notes: