organic vegetables

Organic versus Natural: That Is the Question

I often wonder whether organic and natural are synonymous. With Mother’s Day approaching, my mind drifts to Dot cooking her famed baked rice. That recipe called for chicken broth and that took time to make because she made everything from scratch.

Back then, I really did not understand the word organic as it pertained to food, but now I know she made a lot of food with the freshest ingredients. Not much came from a can or box.

Dot would buy beef bones from the local butcher and boil them forever along with onions, celery, and carrots. That was the basis of her beef broth. (Confession: I would get the bone before the dog.) She would do the same thing with chicken.

Of course, I did not know what the cattle and chickens were fed, but it was as close to organic as I could imagine.

The word natural has been vague forever. What does natural mean, and how does it differ from organic?

According to recent data, most consumers (51%) shop for “all-natural” rather than organic. What? Do they know what they are buying? Do I know what I am buying?

natural honey

Expectations for Organic Products

What are consumers’ expectations when they see organic vs. natural on a package? The word natural has been vague forever. What does natural mean, and how does it differ from organic?

Definition for Natural

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could not come up with an acceptable definition for natural. One very early one was “food with no artificial ingredients and only minimal processing”. Hmm.

People bought that definition for just a short time. Then came the litigation against Snapple, Nature Valley, Ben and Jerry, and the list goes on. Consumers would not accept high fructose corn syrup and Dutch-processed cocoa as natural, so how to define natural? 

Look for

Is Honey Natural?

Some of the foods we expect to be natural are not necessarily. I was very surprised when I researched the natural food industry. How can honey not be natural?  In some cases, it is not.

If you purchase honey at a grocery store, you might not be getting completely natural honey. When tested, 75% of the major brands of honey had no pollen in them. Scientists found that most of the pollen was processed out. Advice: When you purchase honey, go to a farm.

Is Olive Oil Natural?

I nearly had a mini-stroke when I read that my precious olive oil is not always oil squeezed from olives. That is what you would expect, right? About seven years ago, 95 olive oil producers were caught allowing fillers and second rate product into the olive oil.

olive oil

And there is more! The olive oil industry in Italy has been a major source of income to the Italian mafia. My head just exploded. If you would like more interesting facts, read more. Some of the information is mind-blowing.

How to Tell If Olive Oil is Natural

There is a book by Larry Olmsted entitled Real Food Fake Food that delves into the story. So how can we tell if we are getting the real stuff?
Real Food/Fake Food Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It

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Here are some good guidelines:

  1. Shop at a specialty shop where they let you sample the goods. If it does not have that wonderful flavor, it is not natural.
  2. Never buy anything that does not say “Extra Virgin” on the label.
  3. Look for a harvest date or a “pressed on” date.
  4. Look for a seal (PDO, DOP, or COOC).
  5. If it is made in Australia or Chile, it is fine. Buy it.

Final Thought

I do not know where to begin but here goes. You can trust the labeling on things that the government oversees.

  • 100 % organic means that all ingredients are certified to be organic.
  • Organic means that at least 95% of the ingredients are certified to be organic.
  • Made with organic ingredients means at least 70% of the ingredients are certified as organic.
  • All-natural and farm-raised mean absolutely nothing. It means they are in a class of food that the government does not strictly regulate.

Click for a recipe for Vegetarian Hash.


  1. Aloha, Sandi!
    So lucky for me to be directed to your site!! ( full disclosure… I’ve known Sandi for years, as her sister & I did our dietetic internship together & Mass General Hospital ions ago!) Love your concise, science based, yet personalized info! I’m a fan!! Please continue your writing!!

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