Virtually all of our flavored teas are sourced from European suppliers that have the knowledge and equipment to control the process and produce relatively consistent results. These same sources supply flavored teas to the worldwide market. They use nature-identical flavorings for nearly all of their flavored teas.
We are often asked why we use artificial flavoring in our flavored teas, instead of natural flavoring as some European sources do. The answer to this is, in fact, that we source our teas from European sources that use natural flavorings as defined by EU specifications. These flavorings are, in fact, nature-identical flavorings. These same flavorings are defined as artificial by USFDA specifications.
From our EU supplier:
Nature-identical flavours have the same chemical composition as natural flavours and also taste and smell just like them. Furthermore, they maintain their taste and fragrance during longer storage periods. Utilisation of nature-identical flavours preserves the natural resources of the most popular and most frequently used raw materials for natural flavouring.
The FDA regulations are specified in the Code of Federal Regulations 21CFR101.22 as follows: any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof is deemed to be artificial.
Nature-identical flavors have the same molecular structure as flavors found in nature, and in the EU these can be labeled as natural. However, they are not derived from spices, fruits, etc. Thus, according to 21CFR101.22, nature-identical flavorings are considered artificial.
The reason they are produced is either because many flavorings are difficult to obtain in a useable form from natural sources, and/or they are can be very volatile, and have a very short shelf life. The US allows another class of artificial flavoring, which are chemical compounds created by flavorists (flavor chemists) to mimic a natural flavor. The EU bans this class of flavoring in their foodstuffs. Both this and nature-identical flavorings are lumped into the same category by the FDA and classified as Artificial Flavor. The FDA has classed roughly 2,800 artificial flavors as GRAS (generally recommended as safe).
Inconsistency of labeling standards between the European Union and the United States can certainly be misleading. We would prefer to be able to differentiate between nature-identical and artificial flavoring, but unless there is a change to the current CFR, we are
unable to do so. This makes it difficult for the consumer to make accurate comparisons.
"Upton Tea Imports was founded in 1989 with the objective of providing the North American tea drinker with
the finest teas available. We purchase teas from reputable brokers and estates worldwide, dealing only with
sources who are capable of providing top quality teas. We sell directly to the consumer, thus ensuring the
freshest product and fairest pricing."