Thursday, October 4, 2007

Natural Ingredients?

Just what exactly does "natural ingredients" mean? For example, the flavor we call vanilla comes from a chemical called vanillin that is extracted from vanilla beans. One can also make vanillin in a chemistry lab, and this vanillin is identical to the vanillin that comes from real vanilla beans but it must be called "artificial vanillin". Okay so far, but it gets more interesting. Vanillin can also be made in the laboratory by means of a bacterial fermentation process and this product does not have to be labeled artificial. Huh? All three sources produce exactly the same substance.

(There is also imitation vanilla, which contains no vanillin at all but that's another story.)

Then there is the question of product labeling. There seems to be no regulation of use of the word "natural". Assuming that one has determined what is and what is not a "natural ingredient", there is no definition of what constitutes a "natural" cosmetic or food product. Each manufacturer has its own definition. Some feel that 70 percent natural ingredients justifies the product being labeled as natural. Others feel that 50 percent is enough. Some feel that one percent is enough. It's clear that without doing deep research on a each product, the word "natural" appearing on the label is meaningless. It tells you nothing more than showing you how to spell "natural".

Now what I want to know, is water a natural ingredient? How natural is natural? What about water produced in a hydrogen fuel cell? What about the exhaust from the space shuttle's main engines, which is 100 percent water? Is that artificial water? And how do you keep artificial water from mixing with real water? Curious minds want to know.

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