What are natural flavors exactly and are they safe to consume? Here we break it down for you.
lacroix cans with blue background

If you've ever wondered what exactly makes LaCroix taste like pamplemousse (or any of the other 20 plus flavors)-take a look at the ingredient list. The popular seltzer beverage is made with carbonated water and natural flavor. The natural flavor is where the mystery lies and now a new lawsuit is claiming that the flavors are not so natural after all.

On October 1, a lawsuit was filed against LaCroix's parent company, National Beverage Corp., claiming that ingredients used in LaCroix were synthetic. The plaintiff, Lenora Rice, claims that LaCroix's drinks "include limonene, which can cause kidney toxicity and tumors; linalool propionate, which is used to treat cancer; and linalool, which is used in cockroach insecticide."

National Beverage Corporation released a response denying the claims in the suit. Their statement says the case has no basis for its claims and that they'll be seeking damages.

The ingredients named in the suit can be derived synthetically, but they are also found naturally. Linalool, in particular, seems to be making headlines. People are concerned about the cockroach insecticide ingredient potentially in their seltzer. What the lawsuit doesn't say is that linalool is an organic compound, found naturally in many fruits. Limonene can be extracted naturally from citrus peels.

And while the plaintiff and her law firm Beumont Costales are seeking damages, it's unclear how these flavors would be harmful, even if they did come from synthetic sources and not natural sources.

Understandably, there is some confusion around natural flavors.

What are natural flavors exactly?

LaCroix gets a lot of questions about their flavors so right on their website they explain further:

"The flavors are derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit used in each of our LaCroix flavors. There are no sugars or artificial ingredients contained in, nor added to, these extracted flavors."

The FDA has a prettty broad definition of what a natural flavor is. "Natural flavors" covers hundreds of substances that are added to food products in tiny amounts. Unlike "artificial flavors" that are synthesized from man-made ingredients, natural flavors are derived from animals or plants. Spices, flavor enhancers (like MSG) and actual animal or plant tissues (such as celery powder) must be listed separately. This category covers ingredients ranging from the innocuous (e.g., essential lemon oil, extracted from real lemons) to the truly gag-worthy (e.g., castoreum, an imitation vanilla flavor made from beaver anal gland secretions-no joke).

Since we're talking about such minuscule quantities, natural flavors should be safe. But the category includes so many unnamed substances, you're somewhat in the dark about what you're actually consuming.

What about artificial flavors?

Chemically, artificial flavors and natural flavors are practically identical, although the ingredients come from different sources. Flavors that come from a plant or animal source are labeled as natural, otherwise they are labeled artificial. For example, benzaldehyde, the flavoring component that gives the distinctive almond taste to foods and other products, can be extracted from the nuts or created in the lab by scientists. Both forms are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.

What should you do about your seltzer?

If you're one of the many self-proclaimed LaCroix addicts out there, it's perfectly healthy to keep drinking it. Seltzer has zero calories and no added sugar. Flavorings do make seltzer more acidic than flat water which can damage your teeth. Stick to plain for your pearly whites. If you're still worried about what's in these natural flavors, but want something with a little pizzazz, opt for a seltzer flavored with real fruit juice.

Some original reporting by Anne Treadwell