The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “natural” as “being or composed of ingredients that are from nature and not artificial.”
With that definition in mind, it makes sense that when you see the words “all natural” or “natural flavors” on a food or drink label, you expect that the ingredients are “from nature.”
But you might be surprised at how unnatural some of those “natural” ingredients are. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has no set definition of what “natural” means in labelling.
Since its 1906 Pure Food & Drug Act, the FDA has deemed that natural flavors must originate from a natural source, but the FDA does not stipulate what is done to that substance afterwards. In fact, many “natural” flavors become decidedly unnatural after spending some time in the lab.
A good example of the term “all natural” gone bad is orange juice. Although commercially produced orange juice includes orange juice as a natural ingredient, the product often undergoes an unnatural process before it hits your grocery store shelf.
In her book, “Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice,” Alissa Hamilton explains that orange juice companies first squeeze oranges into giant tanks that remove all the oxygen from the juice. Without oxygen, orange juice can be stored for up to a year before bottling.