Our Quality Standards: No Artificial Colors or Flavors

Is there red dye in your BBQ sauce? Is there fake vanilla in your ice cream? Not if they come from Whole Foods Market. You won’t find artificial colors or flavors here.

We don’t sell just anything. Really. Everything in our stores has to meet our quality standards, or we won’t carry it.

In this series we’re giving you the inside scoop on our process , and some of our most fundamental standards – no artificial preservatives , no hydrogenated fats, no artificial sweeteners , and no artificial flavors or colors – and why what you find in our stores is different than anywhere else.

When assessing food ingredients, our Quality Standards team always asks: Is it necessary? For artificial colors and flavors, the answer is easy: NOPE. There are plenty of good options without them.

Difference between Artificial and Natural Colors

Artificial colors are chemically synthesized in a lab while natural colors are pigments extracted from plants, minerals or other naturally occurring material. Natural colors are listed on a food ingredient label with the name of the source and the fact that it’s used for color, like: “beet juice (added for color).” We only allow natural colors in our food products.

Examples of natural colors include annatto extract (yellow), dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown), caramel (yellow to tan), beta-carotene (yellow to orange) and grape skin extract (red, green).

Difference between Artificial and Natural Flavors

Artificial flavors are produced through a set of complex chemical processes. They’re intended to have the same taste and odor sensations as natural products, but chemically they are very different. No artificial flavors are allowed in the foods we sell. They just aren’t necessary.

The foods we sell rely on natural flavors. By regulation, a natural flavor is one that is extracted or fermented from a spice, fruit, vegetable, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, or dairy products. Natural flavors are usually listed as “natural flavors” on an ingredient label.

Also, the regulated term “natural flavors” may not include MSG (monosodium glutamate), hydrolyzed proteins, and autolyzed yeast. These ingredients must all be declared on the label by their common or usual names rather than hidden within a blanket term like “natural flavors”. Regardless, you won’t find MSG in our stores. It’s one of our unacceptable ingredients for food .

You Won’t Find Artificial Colors in Our Food

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates color additives for food. Their reasons for adding color to foods include:

  • correcting natural variations in color
  • enhancing colors that occur naturally
  • providing color to colorless and "fun" foods
  • offsetting color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions

In the US, the FDA permits these nine artificial colorings in food:

  • Blue No. 1
  • Blue No. 2
  • Green No. 3
  • Red No. 3
  • Red No. 40
  • Yellow No. 5
  • Yellow No. 6
  • Citrus Red 2
  • Orange B

No Artificial Flavors Either

There are thousands of molecular compounds used as flavoring agents and they‘re often mixed together. Here are just a few simple examples:

  • Isoamyl acetate — banana
  • Benzaldehyde — bitter almond
  • Cinnamadehyde — cinnamon
  • Ethyl propionate — fruity
  • Methyl anthranilate — grape
  • Diacetyl – buttery
  • Limonene — orange
  • Ethyl maltol — sugar, cotton candy
  • Ethyvanillin — vanilla
  • Methyl salicylate — wintergreen

Because natural flavorings and colors aren’t as intense and abundant as artificial versions, they cost more for both manufacturers and consumers. It’s kind of funny how you have to pay a bit more to get food that has less added to it. Or is it just plain ironic?Lots of folks choose to avoid additives in their food for a variety of reasons. Whether for a health concern, an allergy or a desire to eat closer to nature, our standards make it easier for you to know what’s in your food...and what isn’t. Find out the details on all of our quality standards .

Do you eat food free of artificial colors and flavors? What are your reasons?

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