At some point on the journey to being full-blown LaCroix-aholics, we’ve all taken a moment to look at the side of our can of Pamplemousse and scan down to the ingredients list to learn what gives it that subtle, almost-nonexistent-yet-still-there flavor. Unfortunately, all we’ve found there is disappointment. Because after the nutrition label (zeroes across the board), only two ingredients are listed: carbonated water and natural flavor (sometimes “natural essences”). So… what does that mean, exactly? What the heck are those “natural flavors”?
On LaCroix’s website, the company explains: “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.” So it starts with oils extracted from the fruit, but what then?
This is where the delicate art of flavor science comes into play.
Natural flavor, according to the Food and Drug Administration, is anything that adds flavor to a food product, so long as it’s derived from a plant or animal. But according to Wired, “natural flavors can be made up of more than one ingredient — including artificial ingredients that help preserve the flavor or help it mix well with the other ingredients.… Just like their artificial counterparts, natural flavors are complex chemical formulas invented by food companies and a small handful of flavor houses around the world.”
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it just means that the exact formulations for those “natural flavors” are a tightly-guarded trade secret, and they are most likely just essential oils from the fruit mixed with trace amounts of stabilizers, solvents, and preservatives. So if you want to replicate your beloved Pamplemousse at home but without the aura of mystery, we suggest you take plain sparkling water and squeeze a twist of grapefruit peel over it — or you can drink one of these beverages that are even more hydrating than water.