Decoding Food Labels: Unveiling the Mystery Behind “Natural and Artificial Flavors,” “Spices,” and “May Contain” Statements

When it comes to food labels, there’s often a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. Terms like “natural and artificial flavors,” “spices,” and “may contain” statements can be vague and misleading, leaving consumers unsure of what they’re actually consuming. This article aims to decode these terms and shed light on the mystery behind food labeling, providing you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions about your diet.

Understanding “Natural and Artificial Flavors”

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a natural flavor is one that’s derived from a plant or animal source, such as fruit, meat, fish, spices, herbs, roots, or similar plant material. On the other hand, an artificial flavor is one that’s derived from a source that is not plant or animal, or is synthesized in a lab.

However, it’s important to note that the distinction between natural and artificial flavors doesn’t necessarily reflect their nutritional value or safety. In fact, natural flavors are not inherently healthier or safer than artificial ones. The FDA requires that both types of flavors be safe for consumption.

Deciphering “Spices”

The term “spices” on a food label can be particularly confusing. According to the FDA, it’s a catch-all term that refers to any aromatic vegetable substance, such as cinnamon, sage, or garlic. However, it does not include substances that have been modified in any way, such as those that have been dehydrated or ground.

While this term can be frustratingly vague, it’s used to protect the proprietary recipes of food manufacturers. If you have specific dietary restrictions or allergies, it’s best to contact the manufacturer directly for more information.

Interpreting “May Contain” Statements

“May contain” statements are used to indicate that a food product may contain trace amounts of an allergen due to cross-contamination during manufacturing. This is not a guarantee that the allergen is present, but rather a warning for those with severe allergies.

It’s important to note that these statements are voluntary and not required by the FDA. Therefore, the absence of a “may contain” statement does not guarantee that a product is free of specific allergens.


Decoding food labels can be a complex task, but understanding these terms can help you make more informed decisions about your diet. Remember, when in doubt, it’s always best to contact the manufacturer directly for more information.