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Ricola is NOT “just natural” – and not healthy

February 24, 2007

Time flies and it has been a week already since my last post. Shows how easy it is to break a (good) habit.

Anyway, I am back. Happy Lunar New Year to one and all. And “happy birthday” too. If I remember correctly, today 24 February is the 7th day of the Lunar New Year and, according to Chinese culture, today is “everybody’s birthday”!

A while ago, I wrote about The Mouth Revolution. I was really excited to discover the site as well as The Mouth Blog and I wrote to them to offer some blog contributions.

One possible post I suggested was about Ricola, the Swiss herbal candy, which uses the slogan “It’s just natural” even though it contains the artificial sweetener, aspartame.

Today, I finally got an email reply from Mark Berger at The Mouth Blog saying: “I checked the food label of Ricola cough drops and didn’t see ‘Aspartame’ listed… I was concerned when you mentioned it.”

Just to be sure, I went to check again at 7-Eleven a while ago. The front of the Ricola packet says “Sugar free” and the ingredients’ list on the back includes ‘Aspartame’. It also carries the usual warning that it contains phenylalanine, a substance that must be avoided by people born with a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria (PKU).

I realised that some double standards are being applied here. When I did a Google search for “Ricola ingredients”, true enough I don’t see aspartame listed, only sugar.

But when I did a similar search on “Ricola” and clicked “Pages from Singapore”, I am led to the Ricola Asia website as well as The Ricola Club website.

There is no mention of aspartame there either, but it says “100% natural” as well as “sugar free”. This is obviously the version I found at 7-Eleven, containing aspartame.

Under “About Ricola”, the website adds:

All Ricola products are made from 100% natural herbs… There’s not a single artificial flavour or colour in Ricola products. It’s the 13 natural Swiss Mountain Herbs that have been giving Ricola sugar free Lozenges and Pearls their unique gentle, soothing and refreshing character.

So now you know that Ricola products not only taste good, but they’re healthy too!

Notice the careful wording there? They say “100% natural herbs” rather than “100% natural ingredients”. (In any case, is there such a thing as “unnatural herb”? Of course all herbs are natural!)

They also say “not a single artificial flavour or colour” rather than “not a single artificial ingredient”.

This is yet another case where consumers have to be extra careful when reading food labels. ALWAYS read the ingredients list rather than product descriptions and slogans like “It’s just natural”.

So is Ricola healthy?

Perhaps the US or European version is, provided one does not take too much because sugar is not exactly a healthy food. As for the Singaporean / Asian variety, my recommendation is to avoid it!

17 comments

  1. Hi Richard,

    The use of the “word” natural in product packaging and unregulated (at least in the US, and I don’t know if it’s regulated anywhere) and even though it’s supposed to mean the product is free of preservatives and chemical additives, I’ve found many products with this label that are just not natural. It should not be surprising as the word “natural” has been found to boost sales; Manufacturers love that they can use it, and there are no rules to follow or that can be enforced to stop them using the word. Buyers should be wary.

    The sweetener Ricola uses is Isomalt. It doesn’t appear to be harmful, except some articles online say it may sometimes be mixed with sucralose, which I do not like any better than aspartame!


  2. Perhaps in the US – I believe that’s where you are right now? – the sweetener is Isomalt.

    Here in Singapore, Ricola uses aspartame, which is definitely and highly unnatural.

    But you are right about misuse of the word “natural”. Long ago, I was looking at all the companies named “natural” in the phone book, and found one called “Natural Plastics”!


  3. The double standard must be quite prevalent. Not too long ago I picked up a pack of Oreo cookies made in a neighbouring country. I think it listed vegetable shortening in its ingredients. The less careful consumer would mistakenly believe that Oreo has taken out all trans fat as it was widely reported to have done so in America. I checked the US imported products and they were trans fat free. At least enough for them to be labelled so.

    It would seem that we are treated as some kind of dumping ground for the rejects back home!


  4. hi, i was just googling ‘ricola aspartame’ and came here. I’m from europe and just learning about aspartame and yes, saw on the package that my beloved ricola cough drops contain aspartame. what a shame!


  5. Hi, the normal ricola does not contain aspartame… but the sugar-free ricola does :D

    Death to sweeteners!


  6. It is very disappointing.


  7. Can anyone suggest a cough drop that does not have sugar or artificial sweeteners? I talk and sing a lot during my days as a music teacher, and while I always have that water handy, the throat drops help also!


  8. I know this is old, but just FYI, I’m from Canada and have seen both the “sugar free” (with aspartame) and another version that has sugar instead.


  9. I literally have a bag of Ricola infront of me, Ingredients are menthol as the active, and inactive herbs such as elder, horehound, hyssop, lemon balm, linden flowers, mallow, peppermint, sage, thyme, wild thyme, honey, natural flavors, starch syrup, sugar. I think that asian bag you got was a horrible knock off because I always read the back of ingredients label on everything I eat, and I’ve never seen anything like what you had listed. Sounds like that store is buying a knock off, probably illegal version of it, but then again this is from 2007 and its now 2011, so perhaps it has changed but I’ve read labels for years and dont ever recall any of that in Ricola.


  10. I’m looking at the pack of Ricola that my mother in law got from Hong Kong and it specifically notes on the box that it contains artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame-K…you are right!


  11. Lakerol too contains aspartame


  12. Another thing to watch out for is the caramel color which was recently linked to cancer.


  13. Hey, I use the US version of Ricola herb drops, and my experience is that they quickly relieve a lot of symptoms I might experience from various ailments, such as colds, allergies, nausea, anxiety, hunger, even pain. Not sure if its just in my mind or what. But I swear by that product as a quick fix until I can get hold of real medicine. I always keep a few in my pocket in case a need arises. I’ve heard other people say they’ve had the same experience with Ricolas (the brownish color, rectangle drops). I do wonder why it helps so many ailments.


  14. Products that are labeled zero calories are not that promising. It’s true. There are no calories in them but to make them taste as good as they are, substitutes are added. Artificial sweeteners that come with side effects are included in the ingredients. They have to be, to redeem the flavor. Otherwise, the products will end up too awful to be a delight.You’d think you’re in the right track with artificial sweeteners. With no calories, you can say goodbye to some extra pounds in your system. You feel as if you’re doing alright. Well, you’re not. Truth be told, if you intend on losing weight through these empty calories, you are kidding yourself. Not only do they not have any dieting advantage, they, also, puncture your body with other effects..

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  15. Can any of you people actually read? Sugar Free Ricola has aspartame. Ricola does not. Hello. There IS a difference.


    • Yes we CAN read, Gay. But it seems that Ricola has different labelling and different standards in different countries. Here in Singapore, regular Ricola, without stating sugar-free, comes with aspartame.



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