One of the interesting things I discovered when I was developing our world class Ceylon Cinnamon Tea is the strange world of “Natural Flavoring “. Yes that right! The strange world of natural flavoring. Just like the strange world of High Fructose Corn Syrup, Red#40 dye, Sodium Nitrate, and Asbestos, the truth about natural flavoring is strange.
When I started out to source a great Cinnamon Tea with my business partner, I bought virtually every brand of Cinnamon Tea I could find. Every one of them was a disappointment, except one particular brand of Ceylon Cinnamon Tea I shall call Brand Fake. No point in giving our competitor free publicity right? To give credit where credit was due, brand Fake was far superior to all the other brands, even though it was not organic. To tell you the truth I am not that enamored of all this organic nonsense because really, quite lot of organic claims are false or misleading. That is not say I don’t recognize and appreciate real organic stuff. Coming from an Asian country I can tell I used to enjoy the best organic fruits and vegetables you could find. You see my grandfather would never buy fertilizer. It was unheard of. Pay for fertilizer? That was an absurd concept to him.
Initially I had my heart set on sourcing some good organic Cinnamon Tea. It all started when I bought some organic Cinnamon Powder for our Cinnamon Sugar which proved to be fantastic. As a result I was convinced that organic was the way to go. Since we had organic Cinnamon Powder so why not organic Tea right? In due course I found a supplier in Sri Lanka who was selling an organic Cinnamon Tea. I shall call this Brand “ Wishy Washy ”. The tea bag was really great, being one of those funky pyramid style tea bags where you could put larger leaf teas inside so it would brew better. The pyramid style bags are silk, made in China (who said all Chinese stuff was terrible) and biodegradable, which was an added advantage.
So I ordered a sample and waited with baited breadth. Then, total and utter disappointment!. I felt like I had been shot in the head with a good sized buck shot. It was like that movie scene in “ My cousin Vinny “: where Marissa Tomei explains about the deer being shot. Remember that? Oh dear or dear! How I cried. It smelt like cow dung. A strangely pungent smell at best.. I stand corrected. Fresh cow dung actually has a rather nice aroma. An acquired smell for sure, but workable. During our tests people positively hated this so called organic cinnamon tea. I don’t know about what passes for organic these days but even the quality of the tea was mediocre. Which proves the fallacy that not all organic products are good, if they are indeed organic. Some Sri Lankan’s, like their Chinese brethren who made fake
baby formula are an innovative lot, quite capable of mixing utter rubbish into a legitimate product.
To cut a long story short, I emailed brand Wishy Washy and told them the bad news. Of course I didn’t tell them it smelled like cow dung or it tasted like squirrel piss. That would have been undiplomatic. I was hoping against hope to salvage the relationship and truth be told they were our only source for Cinnamon Tea at that stage. I sent them a sample of brand Fake and asked them to match it. Now you have to understand that dealing with the Sri Lankan Postal Service and customs is like dealing with the Mafia. Actually the Mafia is far quicker and more efficient. Our package arrived a month later in Sri Lanka. A month! Two months of a frustrating game was played out after that. I was very polite and very patient even though I wanted to beat them to a pulp. I implored them to make a better Cinnamon Tea for us. All to no avail. All I got were cryptic emails and no progress. Then salvation came.
By sheer luck, my business partner found this other company in Sri Lanka. An innovative tea company that was just hungry for the business. I shall call this Brand “Savior “. A truly world class company striving to compete with the best in the world. It is at times like this that I become proud of my Sri Lankan heritage. Don’t get me wrong. Now I am an American first and Sri Lankan second now. Still there is a certain pride when the country of your birth can do something very well.
Brand Savior sent us a sample of their Cinnamon Tea. Again our hopes were dashed. It was just not good enough. What was going on? Certainly it could not come close to Brand Fake in the all important smell test. So I sent them a sample of Brand Fake and told them to match the quality. Of course there was much huffing and puffing. Countless samples were sent to us and none worked. The problem is that their Cinnamon Tea bags were made by adding tiny Cinnamon Flakes into the tea bags. Fine in theory but it just didn’t produce enough Cinnamon in a cup of Cinnamon Tea. Yes there was a faint whiff of Cinnamon but that was about it. There was no zest in the product. It was flat. Lifeless. Completely without panache.
That is when we got into this business of flavoring. You see brand Fake was pretty clever. They were putting pieces of tiny Cinnamon Sticks in their tea bags but also infusing the tea bags with Cinnamon flavor to give that wow scent. So I asked brand Savior to infuse the Cinnamon Tea with Cinnamon flavor but leave out the tiny flecks of Cinnamon sticks in the tea. I mean really, what is the point if flavor could achieve the same effect? After many experiments they produced a range of samples for us. It was really great! Exactly like Brand Fake. Nailed it! Finally I had a product that could match our competitors. So I sent our first order.
But by a stroke of sheer luck, just before they shipped it, I asked them what kind of flavor they had used. They said it was a Natural Cinnamon flavor that was manufactured by a Swiss firm called Fermenich. I was astounded. Why would anyone, least of all the country that had the best Cinnamon in the world, buy Cinnamon flavor from a Swiss company? To me it was the most ridiculous thing in the world. But I think you all know the answer. It was cost. It is much cheaper to use natural flavors. So I thought, hey it’s a natural flavor, let’s go with it.
But I still felt a little uncomfortable. What is natural flavoring? If they say its natural flavoring it can’t be that bad right? You would think so. That led us on a huge hunting expedition on Google. I discovered natural means fake.
According to FDA 501.22 Section 3 Natural flavoring merely means “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 “
That is like those credit card terms and conditions your credit card company or Apple sends you. Can you understand of any of that? I personally think that is probably the greatest travesty of American justice. That a bunch of lawyers run this country and they exploit the masses with their legalese.
Basically from what I understand from the FDA statement is that natural flavorings are extracted from the real thing. Notice the statement “whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional”. To me that means all the benefits are lost. In the case of Cinnamon flavoring, I assume the natural flavoring is somehow extracted through a process of distillation or other chemical processes. Because they did not add any other substance to it, the manufacture can now claim it to be natural. I think that is cheating. Just like those “ Free Credit Report “ ads on US TV, this is tragically a US problem. I want to paraphrase Obama when I say in no other country is this kind shenanigan even possible.
Why would anyone use natural cinnamon flavoring when you can use real Cinnamon leaf oil or Ceylon Cinnamon Bark Oil? Because Cinnamon Leaf is not sophisticated enough for food use and Cinnamon Bark is very expensive. Natural Cinnamon flavoring is cheap. Which is why Brand Fake was using it! But it was not the flavor of Cinnamon people need. They need the nutritional of cinnamon but most are unaware.
So it was decision time. For half a second I thought about using the natural flavoring but discarded that as a really silly idea. I thought we should create something real and tangible. Not only to remain true to our principles (honestly I don’t have that many principles) but also to make a better product so we can be more competitive. This natural flavoring process is destroying the good properties of Ceylon Cinnamon. Mind you this is pure speculation on my part, but logical reasoning. My feeling is that when you extract Ceylon Cinnamon into an essential natural flavor all you are extracting is the Cinnamon smell and taste and nothing else! What if that natural flavor extracting process is destroying the beneficial properties of Ceylon Cinnamon, leaving only the scent and taste of cinnamon? I think it does. And worse it is misleading to those who take Cinnamon Tea for health reasons.
I know I will certainly try to avoid buying all products that claim to have natural flavoring. Natural flavoring. A fake statement in a fake world. A lesson learnt.
To purchase high quality Ceylon Cinnamon visit Cinnamon Vogue