When Granola Bars Roam Free

Perhaps it’s because I’m a food scientist or perhaps it’s because I have an odd sense of humor, but I always get a kick out of products labeled “natural.” Let me share the 5 “natural” anomalies that amuse me the most.

Green-Eyed Insight on the Most Unnatural “Natural” Food Products

The FDA’s pseudo-definition of “natural”

The use of “natural” is a joke, and consumers are thankfully starting to catch on (See this message from the False Advertising Industry – “The Natural Effect”). Partially due to consumer interest and partially due to lawsuits that spring up over improper use of “natural” claims, the FDA has been asked repeatedly to define this controversial term. However, the FDA has offered only the following guidance:

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. – “What is the meaning of ‘natural’ on the label of food”;
FDA Basics – http://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/transparency/basics/ucm214868.htm

I understand that if a product has no artificial ingredients it might make sense to put “All Natural” on the label. On the contrary, one could argue the products which most deserve the term are products that don’t have labels, like apples, oranges and other produce. Then again, is a baby carrot really natural? It was reshaped from its original, natural state. What about sliced bread? With questions like this, it’s easy to understand why the FDA has been hesitant to issue a formal definition. In the meantime, let us enjoy in good humor these anomalies of Mother Nature.

Five Favorite Unnatural “Natural” products:

1. Brownie – harvested from Muscle Beach?

I knew that cool guys don’t look at explosions but I didn’t know that macho men ate brownies for protein. Not only is this product not found in nature, it’s also not your typical brownie. It tastes chocolatey and delicious in my own opinion, but has the consistency of a Powerbar, not a brownie from your grandmother’s kitchen.

All Natural Brownie
This brownie has been hitting the gym a lot lately

2. Peanut Butter – collected from wild trees in Nutter Fort, West Virginia?

Nutter Fort, West Virginia is a real place, but this peanut butter is made by man, not Mother Nature. While the image of peanut butter dripping like sap from trees makes me smile, it’s worth noting that the ingredients list of this product is much simpler than the typical peanut butter — roasted peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt.

natural peanut butter
Natural ingredients but still not quite a product of Mother Nature

3. The Strawberry-Lemon — from the gardens of wild bears?

Ever heard of a Grapple (R)? It’s an apple that smells and tastes like grapes. It’s not genetically engineered, and there’s an interesting video about it here: Unwrapped — “Grapeful”. A strawberry-lemon is apparently the source of flavor in an energy drink I’ve discussed in another post: 5 Tips to Spotting a Bad Product. Am I being overly picky? Perhaps. But surely I’m not the only one who finds this claim amusing.

Unnatrual Natural Flavors in Energy Drinks
All Natural Unnatural Fruit Flavoring

4. Water with a kick – from Soda Springs, Yosemite National Park?

The following is a rather questionable product, in fact I’d go as far as saying it’s an example of what not to do. Pink lemonade is of the most common examples used to indicate the gray area in what the FDA considers natural. As Law360 explains:

The only FDA guidance on the term is a nonbinding informal policy, which states: “[T]he agency has considered ‘natural’ to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including colors regardless of source) is included in, or has been added to, the product that would not normally be expected to be there. For example, the addition of beet juice to lemonade to make it pink would preclude the product being called ‘natural'”. – “Avoiding ‘Natural’ Disasters”; Law360

caffeine water natural label
Caffeine : Water : : Beet Juice : Lemonade

5. The best cookie ever — found in the Mohave dessert or the Mrs’ fields?

Have you ever ignored a super-strong craving and ended up eating twice as many calories as you would’ve if you just ate the darn cookie? Moderation is sometimes better than deprivation. In this case, when I’m craving a cookie, I want something that won’t give me that “blown it” guilt. This is a cookie I can feel good about eating, and it tastes good too!

Bottom Line and an Example of What ‘Natural’ Labels Should Look Like

Instead of working around semantics, it might mean more to the consumer to forgo “natural” claims and just say that your product is free of artificial ingredients. Yes, you could convey your message with an asterisk, like this:

Kashi natural label dinner
The fine print that could save you millions in legal fees.

Until the FDA creates an official definition for this controversial term, consumers and food scientists have two choices: A) let it bother you, or B) let it make you smile.


Related Posts:

GreenEyedGuide Recommends “Read It Before You Eat It” – a guide to reading labels

Judge scolds plantiffs in ‘natural’ lawsuit, “There are no shampoo trees.” – Greenberg Traurig News and Events, Publications

Institute of Food Technologists Press Release on “Natural”


5 thoughts on “When Granola Bars Roam Free

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.