Due to protection of industry trade secrets, it’s unclear what exactly goes into “natural bacon type flavor.” For this reason, we can’t say for sure whether or not it’s actually bad for you. However, if it’s like most “natural flavors”... it’s probably not that great for you.
Americans love bacon. Bacon burgers. Bacon wraps. Bacon cocktails. And yes—even bacon-flavored chips.
When Lays launched a “BLT” flavored chip in 2012, an interesting ingredient rose to prominence along with it: natural bacon type flavor. Since then, the additive has made its way into a few other snacks and processed foods. So... what is it exactly?
It’s hard to say for sure. “Natural flavors” rank as the fourth most commonly occurring ingredient on the Environmental Working Group’s database of over 80,000 foods, only being outranked by staples like water, sugar, and salt. However, natural flavors are not as clear-cut as those three. Natural flavors are usually derived from some sort of synthesis or extraction—it doesn’t really matter how they get to their end state, so long as the manufacturing process begins from a “natural” ingredient such as an animal, fruit or byproduct. Any type of added flavoring (either natural or artificial) could contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients. Some of those ingredients are innocuous but others may contain common food allergens or even potential carcinogens.
It’s difficult to say for sure what goes into natural bacon type flavor—in order to protect trade secrets, the FDA does not require manufacturers to individually break out those ingredients. Concerned vegetarian customers who emailed Lays to inquire about the additive received this canned response: “Lay's Classic BLT does not contain any animal related ingredients other than milk.”
So if it’s not made from actual bacon, why bother? Like most natural flavors, natural bacon type flavor is most likely added to mimic the taste, improve the flavor or ensure consistency across multiple batches.
In any case, when a “natural flavor” is added to a food or drink— the food can no longer be called “natural.” For this reason, it’s best to avoid natural bacon type flavor until the long-term effects (or even the ingredients it contains) are known.
If you have concerns about this ingredient, consult your physician or nutritionist for more information. It’s also important to reach out to companies like Lays to demand more information about what is going into their products. The FDA may protect their trade secrets... but as a consumer, you have every right to inquire.
Possible short-term side effects
Possible long-term side effects
- adds flavor
- makes taste consistent
- safe for vegetarians