If you are new to the dairy-free game then meat and vegetables are an easy go-to meal. You can switch up your protein and vegetable allowing for a wide variety of options.
In our house, we try to follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time we eat healthy, usually paleo, and we splurge 20% of the time (weekends and holidays). We are also pretty good about making our own marinades and seasonings. However, every once in awhile Trader Joe’s has a pre-packaged meat that looks too good to pass up.
Like any good dairy-free mama I religiously read the label to make sure that there isn’t any dairy.
Often I come across that elusive phrase every dairy-free mama loathes: NATURAL FLAVORINGS.
What the heck does that mean? And is it dairy or not? If you try to do a quick internet search on your phone while standing in check out, you’ll likely come across five different articles saying five different things.
Here is a breakdown of what the term means to the major regulators:
“Spices (e.g., black pepper, basil, and ginger), spice extracts, essential oils, oleoresins, onion powder, garlic powder, celery powder, onion juice, and garlic juice are all ingredients that may be declared on labeling as “natural flavor,” “flavor,” or “flavoring.” Spices, oleoresins, essential oils, and spice extracts are listed in the Food and Drug Administration regulations.”
Ok so let’s head over to the FDA site and see what they say about natural flavorings.
“The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors, include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in subpart A of part 582 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter.”
So…wait is it safe or not?
The answer is maybe.
The only way you will know for sure is to contact the company that makes the product and inquire with them about their product. As a rule of thumb, if natural flavorings appeared on a label for a meat product I avoid it. If it shows up on a non-meat product (i.e. seasoning packet or condiment) I am generally ok using it.
Here is why: Food regulated by the FDA must label any allergens contained in their products. However, foods regulated by the USDA are not required to include allergen information on their labels.
The good news (sort of) is that the FDA has jurisdiction over 80% of the food supply, including seafood, dairy and produce. USDA regulates meat, poultry and processed egg products. For this reason, I personally avoid any meat products that list “natural flavorings” on their label unless I have confirmation from the company that the product is free of trigger allergens.