Determining the ‘Naturalness’ of a Product

Determining the ‘Naturalness’ of a Product

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As consumers become more aware of the impact our industrial processes have on our health and the environment, more and more people are demanding ‘natural’ products. But what exactly is a ‘natural’ product?Natural vs. Artificial

The definition of ‘natural’ is “produced or existing in nature.” The definition of ‘artificial’ is “made by human work.” In contrast, the definition of ‘synthetic’ is “produced by chemical synthesis, not by natural process.”There are two types of products that often carry the ‘natural’ label. The first are products that use natural materials to produce a product that would appear on its own without human intervention, which is the true definition of natural. The second are products made from natural ingredients but that would not otherwise exist on its own, without human intervention.Lets look at a couple quick examples:

An example of a natural product made from natural ingredients is wine. The fruit, sugar and yeast used to make wine occur naturally and do not require human intervention to begin the fermentation process to make alcohol. The only reason humans do intervene in the fermentation process is that it is more efficient to make alcohol under controlled conditions, and a better quality product is produced.

Another example of a natural product made from natural ingredients is soap. Soap is made from fats and alkali. The process of putting the fat and alkali together and forming soap can and does occur in nature, although the process is uncommon. The first soaps were made from wood ashes — a natural alkali — and oils, and they had a tendency toward harshness. Today soaps made under controlled circumstances can result in products that are extremely mild yet effective.

In contrast, an example of an ‘artificial’ product made from natural ingredients is chocolate cake. The flour, sugar, cocoa, butter, eggs and other ingredients are certainly natural, but cake would not exist on its own without human intervention. The only way a cake can be produced is when humans mix the appropriate ingredients and apply heat to it. Thus, in the most basic definition, cake is an artificial product.

Do these examples square with the typical understanding of natural and artificial? Well, perhaps the natural examples do, but generally one does not see cake defined as an artificial product (at least not “made-from-scratch” cakes), so thinking of ‘artificial’ in this way may require a paradigm shift.

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