Are Flavored Teas Bad For You?
What a good question. Over the years, we have been conditioned to believe that the word ‘flavored’ translates to chemicals, unhealthy, or unnatural. Mega food companies looking to cut costs are the ones to blame for most of this mistrust, often substituting good ole’ fashioned nature out and replacing it with chemical alternatives. However, flavored can mean many different things and flavored does not always mean unnatural or chemically created.
The History of Tea Flavoring
Unaltered tea is known as Straight Tea or Pure Tea. Prized for its flavor and health benefits. Tea, in its own right, is delicious all on its own and many pure teas should be left unaltered. Some teas simply don’t blend well with additional flavoring or adding flavoring would only take away from their already natural nuanced flavor. Adding flavoring to teas like these would be like adding ketchup to a properly seasoned USDA Prime Tenderloin. It’s just not right.
Tea has been around a long time and over the years ingredients have been added to some teas to make for a complimentary tea flavor. There are many different ways to add flavor to tea and new tea drinkers may find these types of teas more pleasing especially if they are coming from coffee or soda. Here are the 4 main ways tea is flavored.
1. Blended Teas
Tea can be blended with other dried ingredients such as spices, flowers, or fruit. Chai is a prime example of this. With spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, pepper, ginger, star anise, and sometimes others. For other teas, It is common to add some flowers such as hibiscus, rose, blue cornflowers, or marigold flowers to a tea to add some floral flavor as well. And there is always fruit which can add sweetness and an exotic twist to the tea flavor.
2. Scented Teas
Flavor can also be embedded into the leaves during the drying process. Jasmine tea is a common scented tea where the aromatic jasmine buds are layered with the tea leaves during the drying process to absorb the fragrance and flavor of the flower. Lapsang Souchong also creates a unique flavor profile by using pine smoke during the drying process giving the tea a special flavor.
3. Natural Flavoring
Adding dried ingredients can add some flavor, but because those ingredients are dried they can lose the strength of their flavor; therefore, adding additional natural flavoring can help solve this problem. However, companies have abused this natural designation in the past (not cool), so let’s talk about what natural flavoring really means.
The FDA has very specific definitions for what can be classified as natural and what cannot. It’s kind of complex and boring so for our purposes here, we will summarize. Natural flavoring is simply a highly concentrated extract derived from nature whose purpose is to add flavor rather than nutritional value. These extracts can be taken from spices, fruit, vegetables, herbs, roots, etc…
For an extract to be considered natural flavoring, it doesn’t have to come directly from the source. For instance, vanillin can be extracted from the vanilla bean, but that flavor compound can also be derived from coffee beans, apples, or even wheat bran through a process called ferulic acid fermentation.
When natural flavoring is added to tea it’s not a lot, roughly a teaspoon per pound. The flavoring is carried through the tea by a carrying agent, generally ethyl alcohol. As the alcohol evaporates the flavor is absorbed into the tea. What is generally left is a small amount of flavoring that can make a big difference.
4. Artificial Flavoring
Artificial flavoring gets a bad name. They have been demonized over the years, but a better understanding of what it means to be artificial may give you a different perspective.
Most tea blenders who use artificial flavoring use what is known as nature identical. This means that it is made of the exact same molecule as what is found in nature; however, it has been isolated or synthesized making for an equivalent compound. If it were to be truly artificial, at least according to European standards, it would have to be made of compounds that don’t exist in nature. The FDA doesn’t make these same differentiations.
The Bottom Line
If you see that your tea has natural flavoring or artificial flavoring as the ingredient, don’t trip. These flavors are what give these teas some of their amazing taste and they do not take away from the healthy benefits of the tea. They are naturally occurring flavors extracted from what is either purely nature or is the equivalent molecular structure of what is found in nature. The amount is minimal and the health benefit of the tea is amazing. We wouldn’t want you to miss out or stop enjoying what you love because someone in the media mob demonized the word flavoring.