Not only is the use of flavoring chemicals governed by cultural, religious and regulatory considerations, but so are processing aids and functional components, such as alcohol extraction or encapsulating shell material.


Global Flavoring Options

The area of flavorings is one segment of the food industry where the rate of innovation continues to rise, driven by a range of needs. Shifting consumer demands for new taste experiences, clean label trends, legislative restrictions and matching formulations with the desired final food claims drives flavor suppliers. This article reviews global flavoring options from a legislative viewpoint, touching upon positive lists of flavoring substances, levels of undesirable active principals, natural claims, pictorials, and acceptable solvents and carriers.

It is not uncommon for regulatory information services to be asked to give information on the global/international law for a certain topic, i.e., the company or person making the inquiry has an understanding that a single, harmonized set of rules exists. Well, sadly, there is no such thing in the area of food law, and, when trading globally, one has instead to piece together the requirements set in the many and varying rules and regulations.

One must first consider what is meant by the word “flavoring”? The term is often used generically, which reflects the common labeling requirement for the ingredients list. Within the group of substances typically regarded as flavorings sit essential oils, herbs, spices, botanical extracts, juices, isolates and chemically synthesized substances—to name a few options. For regulatory purposes, however, definitions are set for specific sub-categories of flavorings, and different requirements may apply for flavoring preparations, flavoring substances, smoked flavorings, processed flavorings and other categories, including controls for the use of the word “natural.”

Non-flavoring Component Considerations
Commercial flavorings often contain carriers and solvents, as well as additives such as emulsifiers, antioxidants and preservatives. These are restricted by law to certain substances (positive lists vary globally), often with associated maximum levels of addition; a food manufacturer will not need to worry too much here, as flavor houses will know these requirements. In terms of adding flavorings to food and drinks, it is important to be aware of these constituents to ensure compliance with labeling and advertising controls. Also, for certain Middle Eastern markets, even the small amount of ethanol that could be present as a solvent will not be tolerated.

For labeling purposes, additives, carriers and solvents in flavorings are often exempted from declaration, as they may be viewed as processing aids with no technological effect in the final food. The major exception to this comes with allergenic ingredients, such as soy-, maize- and wheat-based ingredients. Again, looking at the global market, one must make sure one knows what the declarable allergens in the markets are, as these do vary. If working with a flavor that is encapsulated, a check regarding allergenic components, such as milk proteins, will be important. Care is also needed with claims for final foods, such as additive-free/GM-free/no artificial “X,” by checking for these minor ingredients in the flavoring system. If seeking to make full natural claims, it is important to realize that a flavoring can legally be called a natural flavor, but contain other ingredients, which would render an “all-natural” claim misleading. How would consumers and campaign groups react, if a food contained GM-/irradiated-/nano-materials or trace amounts of additives and a solvent, such as propylene glycol, yet carried a strong natural claim via words or suggestive imagery?

Other than in a minority of specific cases, the use of flavorings in foods is generally permitted, provided their use does not mislead the consumer, and they are safe for consumption. What is controlled are the actual substances that may be used to construct a particular flavor blend and labeling claims (such as natural). Foodstuffs in which the addition of flavorings is prohibited are generally those whose composition is controlled via product-specific controls. Compositional standards exist for selected food categories in most countries, and these will often restrict and/or prohibit the addition of flavorings. For example, the addition of chocolate flavor to certain chocolate products is generally prohibited.

Conveying Content to Unsafe Mother Nature
Before moving on to consider further detail of the composition and labeling controls, one must briefly dwell on how the use of flavorings could mislead a consumer, as referenced above. In this area, a frequent concern involves food flavors generally associated with health by consumers, such as açai, green tea, goji and pomegranate. If one chooses to promote a prepared food with these flavors, but the product does not actually contain any of the biological actives with the purported health benefits, this could be challenged as misleading to consumers. Such products are appearing in the marketplace, which does not make them legal--it could just mean they are yet to be challenged. A potentially significant development in this area is a recent, high-profile case involving a children’s snack product that conveys the impression it contains a certain fruit juice content, which in reality it does not. Allegations have been made that misleading claims are being made, including one for fruit juice content, despite the fact that it has an accurate ingredients list.

Top-level legal controls always require foods and food ingredients to be safe and may be no more specific than that. Activities of the flavor industry are co-coordinated within the trade by The International Organization of the Flavor Industry (IOFI), an association consisting of the National Associations of Flavor Manufacturers from 22 countries, including the U.K. and U.S. Of particular note in this group is the U. S.’s Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA). The Expert Panel of FEMA works on safety evaluation of food flavorings for the benefit of the flavor industry and consumers through its “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) assessment of flavoring substances. Flavoring substances are determined to be GRAS by the FEMA Expert Panel under authority granted in the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which is administered by the FDA. Since 1965, lists of flavoring substances determined to be GRAS have been published in a series of publications and are available through FEMA. The FEMA GRAS lists of flavoring substances are accepted as safe food ingredients in many countries. 

Other points of reference for flavoring substance acceptability include positive lists incorporated into national legislation, safety assessments by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the Council of Europe (CoE). Examples of acceptability are given in the chart “Examples of Controls on Flavoring Substances.”

The CoE is distinct from the European Council and was established in 1949 to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles generally surrounding human rights issues. The Council of Europe Committee of Experts on flavoring substances has carried out much work on acceptability for use in food, with significant information provided regarding, in particular, natural sources of flavorings. These lists have been published and are commonly referred to as “the blue book,” with an updated volume due this year.

In addition to generic food safety requirements, most countries have legislation controlling the level of contaminants in foods; in some cases, these are specific to flavorings, and examples of such controls can be seen in the chart “Heavy Metal Limits Specific to Flavorings.”

Other substances of concern from a food safety perspective are certain biologically active compounds that may occur naturally in flavor ingredients, such as coumarin (a natural constituent in cinnamon). It is common to find prohibitions on adding these substances, as such, to foods. Also, lists of such actives will be found in flavor regulations with specified maximum limits. These limits may be generic (across all foods) or applied to specific foods. It should be of no surprise that levels vary around the world.

Changes Afoot
So, what significant change is afoot in the flavorings world? Newly introduced in Europe is the FIAP (Food Improvement Agents Package) that includes a Regulation on Flavourings, published December, 31, 2008. The regulation will be binding as of January 20, 2011. During the transitional period, current national legislation will still be in force.

The key changes introduced are:
  • No distinction is made between nature-identical and artificial flavoring substances; both are now “flavoring substances.”
  • Two additional flavoring categories are defined (i.e., “flavor precursors” and “other flavorings”).
  • Process flavorings are renamed “thermal process flavorings,” with production conditions and levels set for certain substances.
  • Processes permitted for natural flavoring substances and preparations are specified.
  • The description “natural flavoring substance(s)” may only be used for flavorings where the flavoring part contains exclusively natural flavoring substances.
  • The description “natural X flavoring,” where X = a specific source, such as a particular fruit, may only be used if the flavoring component has been obtained exclusively or by at least 95% (w/w) from the named source; the remaining component must also be natural.
  • The description “natural X flavoring with other natural flavorings” may only be used when the flavoring component comes partly from the named source and is easily recognizable--clear as mud!
  • The description “natural flavoring,” without reference to the name of the source, may only be used when a flavor is derived from different source materials, and a reference to the source materials would not reflect their flavor or taste.


The regulation also requires re-evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority of all the substances in the E.U. draft register. This is the one to watch, as concern within the flavors industry is that this may lead to the loss of certain important flavor components from the toolboxes of the flavorists. pf

Leatherhead Food International provides the global food and beverage industry, including its 1,000 members worldwide, with expertise and services in areas from fundamental research to product development to marketing. Backed by a staff of nearly two dozen regulatory experts, its Legislation Information Service provides quick inquiries to its members on a free allocation basis. On a consultancy basis, it provides insights and information on regional regulations or in specific areas, including global topics like Codex law. Contact Steve Osborn at help@leatherheadfood.com for interest in regulatory information projects. For membership information, send an e-mail to membership@leatherheadfood.com.

Website Resources:
www.leatherheadfoodinternational.com -- Type in the word “flavourings” to access a list of reports on international regulations among other information (note: use the British spelling of “flavourings”)
www.iofi.org -- International Organization of the Flavor Industry site, with information on flavor safety and a range of links to flavor regulatory websites