“Cannot Guarantee” that Honey Is not an Ingredient in the Natural Flavor of WestSoy’s Chicken-Style Seitan According to Manufacturer Hain-Celestial
by Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director
In July 2011, a Chicago area reader forwarded to the VRG the response he received from Hain-Celestial, the company that owns WestSoy, the manufacturer of Chicken-Style Seitan, about the natural flavoring in that product. (Seitan is a food made from the gluten of wheat. Its texture is dense and chewy.) He was told in an email by a male Consumer Relations Representative at Hain that “There is no ingredient from animal source in Seitan.” Unsure of the accuracy of that response, the reader asked us to conduct our own inquiry.
The VRG emailed Hain-Celestial for more information about the flavors in its Chicken-Style Seitan, asking specifically if honey may be included. The same Consumer Relations Representative responded to us by saying:
“honey is not a major allergen and we cannot guarantee that it would not be included in the natural flavors…”
‘Natural’ is used as a general term to encompass both natural flavors that are both vegan and non-vegan. It’s used to convey that the flavor or ingredient doesn’t have anything artificial in it…. The term ‘natural flavor’ or ‘natural flavoring’ means any ingredient that is from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, a vegetable, edible yeast, herb, bark, root, leaf, meat or poultry products whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
The VRG is familiar with the definition provided by Hain and given in the previous paragraph; it is the legal definition of “natural flavor” as stated in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, (CFR), Chapter I, Subchapter E, Part 501, subpart B, Section 501.22 (3). Unfortunately, this definition is so encompassing that many vegetarians and vegans are left wondering what exactly constitutes the natural flavors in their favorite packaged food products, including WestSoy’s Chicken-Style Seitan. Further compounding the problem is that companies are not legally obligated to reveal their proprietary flavors to consumers.
Sometimes, when prompted, companies will tell consumers what is not in their natural flavors. So, in light of the different natures of Hain’s answers to us and to our reader, The VRG tried again to obtain more clarification.
We spoke to a female Consumer Relations Representative at Hain who, after reading off the ingredients of the Chicken-Style Seitan, (in which “natural flavoring” is listed fourth among twelve ingredients; always listed from major to minor as mandated by the CFR), told us unequivocally: “There is no ‘honey’ per se. Honey is not considered a “natural flavor.” If honey were present, it would be listed as such.”
We mentioned the earlier replies regarding this issue, and asked to speak directly to the male Consumer Relations Representative who had written us earlier for further clarification.When the VRG spoke with him in September 2011, (who identified himself as a supervisor), he said: “We cannot guarantee that honey is not included as a natural flavor [in the Chicken-Style Seitan.] Honey can be considered a “natural flavor.” Our natural flavors can change from time to time. They are not known to us [on the phones so we can't say what's not included.]“
The supervisor told me that at one time long ago, “honey crystal” was a natural flavor in one product. It was not listed as honey but subsumed under the term “natural flavor.” The supervisor noted that sometimes flavor formulations change making it difficult for consumer relations representatives to state with any assurance what currently the natural flavoring is in any given product.
The contents of this blog, website, and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. We do not live in a perfect world, so keep in mind the larger picture while doing the best you can. Please use your best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.
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