Natural and artificial flavors are small chemical compounds that often have a negative association since people refer to them as "chemicals". All of the components of our food, our bodies, and the world around us are in fact chemicals. Things that we consume everyday like water which is actually dihydrogen monoxide and baking soda in our foods known as sodium bicarbonate are chemical compounds. The chemical properties and structures of flavoring substances are exactly what creates the taste receptors in our mouths.
The Food and Drug Administration defines natural flavor or natural flavoring as the 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. The term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring means any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a 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.
However, this distinction between the origins of flavors has no bearing on how safe, healthy, or tasty they are. In fact, flavor agents produced in a controlled laboratory setting undergo rigorous quality control at every stage, and do not require a lengthy, labor-intensive extraction process or acquisition of naturally rare materials. Many artificial flavors are actually available in higher purity than their natural counterpart and may be obtained with less damage to the environment.
Flavors are prepared by an elite group of highly trained professionals known as flavorists. Flavorists prepare mixtures of flavors to meet consumer flavor preferences, through following specific safety and efficiency guidelines that must comply with all the same FDA and USDA rules developed for food production.
The Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) has compiled a list of thoroughly vetted flavor compounds that are “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)”. FEMA publishes their findings and all scientific data with the FDA, with international scientific and regulatory bodies, and in the scientific literature.