A scientifically based guide has been developed to evaluate the safety of naturally occurring mixtures, particularly essential oils, for their intended use as flavor ingredients. The approach relies on the complete chemical characterization of the essential oil and the variability of the composition of the oil in the product intended for commerce. Being products of common plant biochemical pathways, the chemically identified constituents are organized according to a limited number of well-established chemical groups called congeneric groups. The safety of the intake of the each congeneric group from consumption of the essential oil is evaluated in the context of data on absorption, metabolism, and toxicology of members of the congeneric group. The intake of the group of unidentified constituents is evaluated in the context of the consumption of the essential oil as a food, a highly conservative toxicologic threshold, and toxicity data on the essential oil or an essential oil of similar chemotaxonomy. The flexibility of the guide is reflected in the fact that high intake of major congeneric groups of low toxicologic concern will be evaluated along with low intake of minor congeneric groups of significant toxicological concern (i.e., higher structural class). The guide also provides a comprehensive evaluation of all congeneric groups and constituents that account for the majority of the composition of the essential oil. The overall objective of the guide is to organize and prioritize the chemical constituents of an essential oil in order that no reasonably possible significant risk associated with the intake of essential oil goes unevaluated. The guide is, however, not intended to be a rigid checklist. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) Expert Panel will continue to evaluate each essential oil on a case by case basis applying their scientific judgment to insure that each natural flavor complex is exhaustively evaluated.