Certified C.L.E.A.N. What does it mean?

Most beverage innovations today avoid using chemical-sounding additives or any ingredient perceived as artificial, most notably certain colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. It is part of the clean label trends and it has become the new norm in beverage formulation, referring to both the use of simple ingredients and transparent conversation.

‘Clean’ is the new norm in beverage formulation By Donna Berry in Food Business News

As ‘clean’ becomes the new norm, Three Trees decided to go farther and got certified C.L.E.A.N. The C.L.E.A.N. certification is a process putting words, equations and science in action to define a clear standard for a ‘clean’ product and create value for a word which is sometimes overused…

For products to be Certified C.L.E.A.N.:

  • “They must be “Conscious.” The Conscious element was captured by the criteria that the product must be 100% safe (for a score of 0 or 25.)

  • They must be “Live,” which means a majority of the ingredients must be organic, to fetch a score between 0 and 20.

  • They must be “Ethical” in the sense that the ingredients must be 100% non-GMO (for a score of 0 or 25.)

  • They must be “Active.” The notion of Active was denoted by the level of bioavailability of the combination of ingredients in the product, determined using a bioinformatics approach currently accessible through the CytoSolve technology. Score for this aspect can range from 0 to 20.

  • They must be “Nourishing,” as determined by ANDI nutrient score of the combination of ingredients, normalized between 0 and 10.” https://cleanfoodcertified.org/why-certification/

Systems Based Approach


“A consortium of industry leaders, with the leadership of Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, employed a multi-criteria, systems based approach in arriving at the critical elements underlying the Certified R.A.W. and Certified C.L.E.A.N. standards. Three important principles emerged from this systems based analysis. One principle was that the product must be Minimally Processed, second, the ingredients in the product must be Bioavailable, and the third was that it should be Safe” https://cleanfoodcertified.org/

Some additional thoughts about ‘clean’ food

As a result of the shifting preference towards eating clean, people have begun to consume plant-based dairy alternatives at a rapidly growing rate. Though some might associate nutmilks and dairy alternatives with veganism and lactose-intolerance, many people who have made the switch to plant-based milks continue to consume meat or other animal products. These individuals belong to an increasing group of people trying to consume more consciously, regarding the processes and ingredients that go into their food. In recent years, externalities surrounding dairy consumption have been highlighted by documentaries and other news sources like Doctor Michael Kapler’s article detailing the effects of hormones from cow’s milk on humans in Naked Food Magazine. Articles of this nature as well as the increased awareness of factory farm practices, such as the rampant usage of antibiotics, have contributed to a projected 11% drop in milk sales over the 2015-2020 period, and have led some consumers to favor dairy alternatives for their universal mission of helping people eat cleanly, naturally, and wholesomely.

Almondmilk and soymilk are the two largest players in dairy alternatives by a significant margin, but soymilk has begun to decline in popularity, down 10.5% in sales of refrigerated soymilk from April 2017 to April 2018, while refrigerated almondmilk, up 9.8% over the same period, and other alternatives continue to grow. While reading the ingredient list for a bottle of one of the leading brands of almondmilk, you might be surprised to find that the first ingredient listed is almondmilk, which begs the question ‘what else could be in the bottle?’ After listing almondmilk and perhaps a couple of familiar ingredients like cane sugar and sea salt, you will find one or even multiple flavoring agents, thickeners, stabilizers, and emulsifiers. These additives can take shape in lecithins, gums, and natural flavors. While plantmilk brands often offer variations of the same statement -- they claim to use only simple, wholesome, or natural ingredients -- many of these brands use natural flavors.

Natural flavors, one of the most widely used ingredients amongst all consumer packaged goods, share few differences with artificial flavors. The primary distinction between the two categories of flavors is the source material -- a natural flavor is derived from an animal or a plant, whereas an artificial flavor is synthetically produced. The actual chemical composition of the natural flavor and its corresponding artificial flavor, however, is often identical or extremely similar. Scientists will simply identify a compound from a natural source, and then process, strip, and treat the source material until their desired compound is isolated. For artificial flavors, however, scientists will simply use inorganic source material to create their desired compound. Both methods, though, produce extremely similar substances with extremely similar molecular makeups.

Aside from the alarming amount of similarities natural flavors share with artificial flavors, natural flavors can still come from undesirable places. Castoreum, a natural flavor used in desserts and vanilla flavored products for eighty years, originates from a brown, slime-like substance in the castor gland of a beaver next to the beaver’s anal gland. While no longer widely used in food (though still commonly used in fragrances), castoreum acts as an example of a natural flavor that hides behind the catch-all ingredient term. While not all natural flavors may originate from incredibly obscure sources like castoreum, the decision to utilize a highly processed, catch-all ingredient implicates these brands and their lack of commitment to a truly clean label.

Other than natural flavors, a number of other processed and sometimes harmful substances can make appearances in almondmilk ingredient lists. Sunflower lecithin, the most common lecithin used in almondmilk, is derived from sunflower gum after being processed by a cold press system. Carrageenan, a thickener and emulsifier derived from seaweed has been found to be carcinogenic, yet products that contain carrageenans can still be labelled ‘natural’. Two of the most widely used gums, Xanthan and Gellan, are cultivated through fermentation of bacteria cultures, and are then filtered and dried, resulting in a fine white powder. While gums, lecithins, and carrageenans might help to provide the milk-like consistency desired by some plantmilk drinkers, these substances are by and large indigestible by humans and can therefore be harmful for people with digestive issues. Companies that use such ingredients take advantage of people’s desire to move towards cleaner foods, while selling products that contain a number of processed and hardly natural additives.

So the next time you find yourself reaching for a bottle of almondmilk, cashewmilk, or anything else, make sure you double check the ingredient list for any unfamiliar or unwanted substances.