When you turn over a bottle of orange juice to read the ingredients label, you probably notice somewhere listed are "artificial flavors." These artificial flavors contain various chemicals combined to mimic a natural flavor, such as the flavor of a banana or a mango. Don't let the word "chemical" scare you though; everything in our world is made up of chemicals and large combinations of molecules. Our taste and sense of smell are responses to those chemicals.
It seems that anything that is "natural" appeals to us marginally more than any "artificial" counterpart. But the difference between natural flavorings and artificial flavorings is really quite minuscule: it comes down to the origin of the molecules, whether they come from a natural source (an orange) and are purified in a lab, or whether they are synthetically produced in a lab. The end results (the natural or artificial flavorings) are often times almost indistinguishable at the molecular level.
So then, why even use artificial flavors if the natural ones would suffice? An article on Business Insider wrote that artificial flavors are much more cost-efficient, and are potentially more safe than natural flavors because the chemicals are tested and verifiably approved for consumption. Due to the manner in which artificial flavors are created, they are oftentimes held to stricter regulations than natural flavors. There are also flavors in nature, like cyanide extracted from bitter almonds, that are not healthy to consume. Of course, no one would think to ingest cyanide, but the idea is that not everything occurring in nature is automatically healthy for humans. Dr. Andrew Weil chimed in on artificial flavors on his website, saying that artificial flavors are simpler in composition and may be more stable than natural ones, which is why manufacturers prefer them!
Vandana Sheth, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said in a CNN article that natural and artificial flavors are believed to induce food cravings in some people because of the quick burst of flavors those foods provide. What artificial flavors conceal, however, is food that is generally less wholesome. A shiny red apple doesn't require any added flavorings, whether natural or artificial. Whether a food has a natural or artificial flavoring doesn't shed much light on the healthiness of the product; along with flavorings, look for added fructose corn syrup, added sweeteners or color dyes. Remember that when looking for a healthy snack or drink, the ingredient list should be short.