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Is Artificial Chicken Flavor Vegetarian? A Dietitian’s Perspective

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

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Chicken flavoring is kind of a weird thing, right?  Is it seasoning meant to flavor chicken, or is it seasoning made from chicken by-products?

Essentially, it depends. 

Many artificial chicken flavorings are actually vegan, containing mostly mixed, dried vegetables and hydrolyzed vegetable protein, along with some salt and pepper.

However, a vegetarian or vegan needs to pay attention to the particular product, as some do contain chicken fat or bones. Read on for more details, as well as examples of vegetarian products.

Understanding Artificial Flavors and Their Sources

Artificial flavor is a term that is regulated by the FDA.  

Their definition is any substance meant to add 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.

The FDA requires food manufacturers to disclose when artificial flavors are used and specify the flavor it is mimicking (i.e., artificial vanilla or artificially flavored strawberry).

Furthermore, labeling regulations require many common foods, including poultry, to be declared on the label (i.e., powdered onion) rather than listing those foods under the umbrella of “spice.”

So, in essence, artificial flavors can not be derived from natural foods and thus are produced in a lab.

Flavorists spend lots of time analyzing the chemical composition of different flavors so they can recreate those flavors in a more cost-effective manner.

Some artificial flavors are so advanced that they have the exact same chemical makeup as their natural counterparts.

So why make artificial flavors if it takes effort to figure out the composition of the natural flavor?  Essentially, cost.

Extracting flavors can be a long, difficult process that requires a lot of processing.  

Essentially, using artificial flavors is less time-consuming, requires LESS processing, and reduces environmental concerns and costs.   

So, What About Artificial Chicken Flavoring Specifically?

Similar to the examples of artificial vanilla and strawberry, artificial chicken flavoring shouldn’t contain any actual chicken.

If any chicken was used in the product, it has to be disclosed in the ingredient list.

For your reference, there is a patent for artificial chicken flavor.  You can check out exactly what chemical compounds are there.

Why would a Vegetarian Want to Use Artificial Chicken Flavor?

This really depends on the individual.  I actually don’t use these products, and prefer not to use meat substitutes for the most part.  If I do use them it’s for their ease, or because someone else wants it in their meal.

However, someone else may miss the flavor of their favorite chicken dish, but have personal, ideological, or health reasons to not eat meat.  

In reality, these products can be thought of as any other in your spice rack.

Vegetarianism and Artificial Chicken Flavor

Because artificial flavors cannot be derived from natural sources, it’s safe to say that a completely artificial chicken flavoring is actually vegetarian. 

Whether or not you want to eat artificial flavors is still a matter of personal preference, though.

Determining Vegetarian Status of An Artificial Chicken Flavor

If you are buying a product designed to make something “taste like chicken,” check the label for the inclusion of “natural flavors.” 

On the ingredient list, if a chicken by-product is used in the natural flavoring, it must be disclosed, as mentioned above.

Confirmed Vegan Artificial Flavor Products to Use at Home

If you’d rather not search out vegetarian-friendly products yourself, I’ve tried to find a variety of chicken flavoring for you!

Below, you’ll find artificial chicken seasonings, products that contain vegetarian artificial chicken flavorings, and products that contain only natural seasonings.

Seasonings

It’s actually harder to find artificial chicken flavoring than it is to find naturally flavored products.   Here are the few I can find that appear vegetarian. 

However, if not specifically stated on the label, some individuals may prefer to contact the company to verify.

Naturally flavored “chicken” Flavoring

And if you’d prefer, here are some options that do not use artificial flavor. They are essentially variations on vegetable broth.

What About Poultry or Chicken Seasoning?

Products labeled poultry seasoning or chicken seasoning are usually a blend of herbs and spices that are designed to go well with poultry and do not contain any actual animal products.

Burlap and Barrel has one called Chicken Basquaise, which is a blend of paprika, shallot powder, tomato powder,  thyme, garlic, salt, black pepper, coriander, and bay leaves.

Practical Tips for Vegetarians

Because items that are generally considered food (onions, meat, carrots, etc) must be included on the ingredient label, it’s fairly easy to spot when animal products are used in the food you are looking at.

Additionally, since vegetarian diets are becoming more popular, many companies will put right on their front label if they are vegetarian-friendly or not.

Many seasonings labeled chicken flavored are actually a blend of spices. There are a few artificial chicken flavors available, but they are actually quite difficult to find on grocery store shelves.

If you’re looking at something that is chicken-flavored, turn it over and look at the label. You’ll often find chicken fat or chicken broth on the ingredient list. This is true of products like chicken-flavored ramen and chicken-flavored rice.

Your safest bet is to make the products yourself, so you know exactly what’s in it, AND so it’s exactly how you like it!

  • If you want to amp up the flavor of a particular recipe, consider adding miso paste or nutritional yeast to your seasonings.  
  • Experiment with seasonings to see if you can find a blend that reminds you of an old favorite.
  • For broth, there are a number of alternatives to chicken broth that are just as delicious.
  • Even cream of chicken soup has vegetarian alternatives!

A Dietitian’s Take on Artificial Chicken Flavor for Vegetarians

All artificial chicken flavors and even some natural chicken flavors are vegetarian-friendly.  Some do contain whey powder, so vegans will need to look for that as well.

Think of these products as seasonings, just like any other seasoning you may have on your spice rack.

Instead of seeking out vegetarian or vegan versions of common convenience foods, see if you can’t find a way to improve and customize recipes to your taste.  In reality, products like Rice-A-Roni don’t take any less time than making rice on your own anyway.

Looking to expand your regular dinner rotation?  Consider my 7-Day Vegetarian Cooking Challenge!

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