Understanding the Flavor of Food

What do cool mint, vanilla ice cream and cherry topping all have in common? Aside from being ingredients in a delicious sundae, all of these foods and flavors were made possible for you to enjoy by a flavorist. According to the Flavor Extract and Manufacturers Association (FEMA), a flavorist is a specially trained scientist (part chemist, part artist) who skillfully designs the wonderful flavor combinations of our favorite foods and beverages.

Let’s take a quick look at food flavors.

The primary function of flavors is to add taste to foods, as they have no nutritional properties.  Flavors come in both natural and artificial varieties. Artificial flavors are carefully selected to provide a larger and more diverse variety of flavors.  Natural, on the other hand, may incorporate natural derivatives such as fruits, spices and vegetables to achieve a broad array of flavors.  Even natural flavors need a boost. Oftentimes, a minimum amount of synthetic compounds are used in mixtures to achieve these flavor combinations. According to FEMA, “Both ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ flavorings have a place in the U.S. food supply to meet consumer demand for a variety of safe and tasty products.”

Food and beverage manufacturers have used artificial flavors for decades, and they provide important benefits. For instance, artificial flavors allow people who have food allergies to safely consume flavors they might otherwise not be able to enjoy. They also allow people to enjoy a variety of food flavors even when they are out of season.

Here’s a taste of a few common flavoring ingredients.

Menthol is a mint-related flavor ingredient in chewing gum that has been found to provide long-lasting, high-intensity and high-quality flavor. Ethyl vanillin (artificial vanilla), is actually 3.5 times stronger than vanilla. It has a broad array of uses in food, chocolate, ice cream and beverages.pineapple

Other common flavoring agents include:

  • Amyl acetate, used as banana flavoring
  • Benzaldehyde, used to create cherry or almond flavor
  • Ethyl butyrate for pineapple
  • Methyl anthranilate for grape
  • Methyl salicylate for wintergreen flavor
  • Fumaric acid, which adds tartness and acidity to dry foods.

Both natural and artificial flavors play an important role in making our food and beverages taste so good.  Without many of these flavors, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy delicious sweets and treats. I don’t want to imagine a world without an ice cream sundae!

Sources
Food Science: Flavoring Agents
Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA)