The flavor of food: What you need to know about flavoring

April 19, 2023

Have you ever wondered what gives your favorite snacks and drinks their delicious flavor? It's all thanks to the magic of flavoring additives! Whether it's vanilla's sweetness or citrus's tanginess, flavorings are the secret ingredients that make our taste buds dance. But what exactly is flavoring, and why is it used as an additive in food and drinks? We'll explore the fascinating world of flavoring and uncover why it's essential to our favorite treats.

1.  What is flavoring?

A flavoring, also known as flavor or flavorant, is a food additive. It gives a new taste to another substance, altering the characteristics of the solute to make it sweet, sour, spicy, and more. We will discuss flavoring, its production method, its different forms, and its role in our food and beverage industry.

1.1 How to make flavoring?

The basic steps in producing flavorings include extraction, synthesis, and processing. Extraction involves extracting the required compounds from natural substances. Synthesis refers to combining the compounds into flavorings using chemical reactions. Processing consists in transforming the flavorings into suitable forms in foods and beverages.

Natural flavorings can be extracted using distillation, infusion, cold pressing, or mechanical pressing. The extracted aroma compounds can then be processed into liquid or powder forms.

1.2 Form of flavoring

1. Liquid Flavoring

Liquid flavorings contain 10%-20% aromatic compounds and 80%-90% solvents such as water or propylene glycol. Three categories divide them: water-soluble, oil-soluble, and emulsified. Aromatic compounds dissolve in water-soluble solvents like ethanol or glycerin to obtain water-soluble flavorings. Aromatic compounds dissolve in oil-soluble solvents such as peanut, rapeseed, sesame, olive, or camellia to get oil-soluble flavorings. Emulsified flavorings are obtained by dispersing aromatic compounds in water using specific emulsifiers, stabilizers, and thickeners such as soy lecithin, pectin, or starch.

2. Powdered flavoring

Powdered flavoring is a type of flavoring where the aromatic substances make up 10-20% of the product, with a carrier comprising the remaining 80-90%. Powdered flavoring has gained popularity quickly and has a wide range of applications in beverages, snacks, baked goods, and more. It comes in three forms: blending, adsorption, and encapsulation. The encapsulated form, which uses microcapsules, is today's most commonly used powdered flavoring in the food industry.

3. Emulsified Flavorings

Emulsified flavorings contain 80%-90% solvents, emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilizers, colors, acids, and antioxidants. Typically, manufacturers make emulsified flavorings to fulfill special needs. Popular fruit juice drinks in the market have a certain degree of turbidity. To make the fruit juice drink taste richer and last longer, emulsified fruit flavorings are added. The carrier of emulsified flavorings is usually a good emulsifier, making it easier for the flavoring to dissolve in various foods.

1.3 Role of flavoring

  1. Enhancing flavor

Some food ingredients have little or no flavor, so edible flavorings are used to enhance their taste. Candy, ice cream, soda, and various jellies are examples of foods whose enticing aroma is primarily or completely provided by edible flavorings.

  • Stability

Some food ingredients have little or no flavor, so flavorings are used to enhance their taste. Candy, ice cream, soda, and various jellies are examples of foods whose enticing aroma is primarily or entirely provided by flavorings.

  • Supplementing flavor

Some foods may lose volatile flavor components during food processing, leading to a lack of or an impure aroma. Adding edible flavorings often improves and supplements the smell. This supplementing effect is essential for jam, canned meat, bread, and biscuits.

  • Masking flavor

Some foods have unpleasant odors or produce undesirable odors during processing. Adding appropriate flavorings can help cover up or remove these unpleasant flavors. For example, adding star anise, cumin, and cinnamon to meat products can remove the gamey and fishy smell.

  • Antioxidant properties

Studies at home and abroad have shown that many spices have antibacterial, antioxidant, and therapeutic properties. Some studies have shown that cloves and cinnamon have good antibacterial properties in fresh pork, and the extract of Cinnamomum cassia and clove can significantly inhibit fat oxidation in ground meat. Therefore, spices can be used as preservatives or antioxidants in some foods to extend their shelf life.

  • Replacement effect

When it is difficult to use natural products directly, such as when raw material supplies are inadequate, costs are high, or processing techniques are complex, it is best to use corresponding flavorings to replace or partially replace them.

  • Appetite stimulation

Adding spices to food can produce a unique aroma, and aroma can stimulate saliva secretion, so spices have the effect of stimulating appetite and helping digestion.

2.  How does the flavoring work?

The tongue can detect five primary tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (savory). Each of these tastes has a specific receptor responsible for catching it. Sugars activate sweet receptors, acids activate sour receptors, amino acids in protein-rich foods activate umami receptors, salt activates salty receptors, and certain chemicals like caffeine or quinine activate bitter receptors.

Apart from the primary taste receptors, other receptors in the mouth and nose contribute to detecting flavors. The trigeminal nerve, which transmits sensory information from the face and mouth, can detect sensations such as heat, cold, and pain, adding to the overall flavor experience. The sense of smell also plays a crucial role in detecting flavors. When we eat food, it releases volatile compounds into the air, which stimulate the olfactory receptors in the nose. This stimulation combines with the taste sensations on the tongue, creating a more intricate and delightful flavor experience.

3.  Types of flavoring

We have already learned about the basic information of flavorings, but what are their classifications? There are many ways to classify flavorings. We will subdivide them based on their production methods.

3.1 Natural flavoring

Natural flavorings are flavoring compounds derived from natural sources such as plants, fruits, vegetables, and animals. It can be further classified into two subcategories: natural identical and non-identical. Natural comparable flavorings are chemically similar to the flavor compounds found in the natural source. In contrast, natural non-identical flavorings are derived from natural sources but may undergo some chemical modification to enhance their flavor or stability.

  • Vanilla

Vanilla is a common flavoring that can add aroma and taste to food. Common types of Vanilla include vanilla extract, vanilla oil, and vanilla powder. Vanilla extract, vanilla oil, and vanilla powder are all used to enhance the flavor and aroma of food. Vanilla extract is concentrated and commonly used in baked goods, desserts, and beverages. Meanwhile, extracting essential oil from vanilla allows for its use in cooking, baking, and seasoning. Finally, grinding dried vanilla beans into a fine powder produces vanilla powder. Besides its delicious taste and aroma, vanilla offers certain health benefits, such as promoting digestion and relieving anxiety.

  • Cinnamon

Cocoa powder is a natural flavoring that comes from roasted cocoa beans. There are two main types: natural and Dutch-processed. Manufacturers make natural cocoa powder by grinding roasted cocoa beans into a fine powder with a slightly acidic flavor and reddish-brown color. In contrast, Dutch-processed cocoa powder undergoes an alkalizing treatment to neutralize its acidity, resulting in a darker color and milder, less bitter flavor.

People commonly use cocoa powder in chocolate products, including candy, baked goods, and beverages. In addition to its delicious chocolate taste, cocoa powder is also known for its high concentration of antioxidants.

  • Cocoa powder

Cocoa powder is a natural flavoring that comes from roasted cocoa beans. There are two main types: natural and Dutch-processed. Manufacturers make natural cocoa powder by grinding roasted cocoa beans into a fine powder with a slightly acidic flavor and reddish-brown color. In contrast, Dutch-processed cocoa powder undergoes an alkalizing treatment to neutralize its acidity, resulting in a darker color and milder, less bitter flavor.

People commonly use cocoa powder in chocolate products, including candy, baked goods, and beverages. In addition to its delicious chocolate taste, cocoa powder is also known for its high concentration of antioxidants.

3.2 Artificial flavoring

Artificial flavorings are chemical compounds synthesized in a laboratory to mimic the flavor and aroma of natural ingredients.

Unlike natural flavorings, derived from real ingredients such as fruits, herbs, and spices, artificial flavorings are created through a combination of chemicals and compounds.

  • Vanillin

Vanillin, or vanilla aldehyde, is the first artificial flavoring to be synthesized. It is an aldehyde extracted from the seeds of the large orchid plant Vanilla planifolia and naturally occurs in vanilla beans. Due to its solid milky aroma, vanillin is commonly used in products such as cakes, cold drinks, candy, cookies, bread, and other food products.

  • Ethyl butyrate

Ethyl butyrate is a chemical compound the food industry commonly uses as an artificial flavoring. It occurs naturally in fruits such as pineapples, oranges, and strawberries. It has a sweet, fruity aroma that resembles pineapples or strawberries and is a colorless liquid. So it's a popular choice for flavoring fruit-flavored snacks, drinks, and candy. Some alcoholic beverages like beer and wine also use it as a flavoring agent.

  • Methyl anthranilate

Methyl anthranilate is a grape-like flavoring often used in grape-flavored beverages, candy, and gum. It has a sweet and fruity aroma reminiscent of grapes and is also commonly used as a bird repellent due to its natural occurrence in the Concord grape.

  • Benzaldehyde

Benzaldehyde has a sweet and slightly bitter taste and is often combined with other flavorings like vanilla to enhance its flavor profile. Its almond-like taste makes it a popular ingredient in baked goods and desserts.

3.3 Natural flavoring vs. Artificial flavoring

Natural flavorings and artificial flavorings are two food additives used to enhance the taste and aroma of processed foods, beverages, and snacks. While both types of flavorings can achieve similar results, they differ in source, purity, price, safety, and flavor.

CategoryNatural FlavoringArtificial Flavoring
SourceComes from natural food sourcesCreated in a laboratory
ComplexityCan contain a complex mixture of natural compoundsUsually made up of one or a few chemical compounds
TasteCan have a more nuanced, complex flavor profileTends to have a more uniform, consistent taste
CostGenerally more expensiveGenerally less expensive
Labeling requirementsGenerally recognized as safe and do not require specific labeling beyond the general category of "natural flavorings."Must be listed specifically by name or code number in the ingredient list.
  1. Source: Natural flavorings come from fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. On the other hand, artificial flavorings combine chemicals and compounds made in a laboratory.
  2. Purity: Natural flavorings are typically considered to be of higher purity than artificial flavorings because they are derived directly from natural sources. However, natural flavorings may still contain small additives or processing aids to improve their stability and shelf life. Artificial flavorings, on the other hand, are typically pure chemicals that have been synthesized to mimic the flavor and aroma of natural ingredients.
  3. Price: Natural flavorings are generally more expensive than artificial flavorings because they require more resources. The cost of sourcing, processing, and extracting natural ingredients is often higher than synthesizing artificial flavorings in a laboratory.
  4. Safety: Natural flavorings are generally considered safer than artificial flavorings because they are derived from real food ingredients. However, natural flavorings may still contain small amounts of harmful substances such as pesticides, heavy metals, or allergens. Artificial flavorings are typically considered safe when used in moderation.
  5. Flavor: Natural flavorings typically provide a more authentic and complex flavor profile than artificial flavorings. Natural flavorings are composed of a wide variety of compounds that work together to create a unique and complex flavor. In contrast, artificial flavorings are often simpler in composition and may lack the same depth and complexity as natural flavors.

4.  Application of flavoring

Flavorings are widely used in various fields of food production. They not only improve food quality and compensate for flavor defects but also promote the rapid development of the food industry. Currently, flavorings are mainly used in the following areas of the food industry:

4.1 Application in candy

The production of candy requires heat processing, which causes a significant loss of aroma. Therefore, flavorings are needed to compensate for the loss of smell. Flavorings are widely used in producing hard candy, inflated candy, caramel candy, fruit juice candy, gelatin candy, chewing gum, bubble gum, powdered candy, and other candy products. Although the amount of flavorings used in candy is small, they play a decisive role in the aroma and flavor of the product. They can make candy smell good and have a variety of flavors to meet people's demands for different tastes.

4.2 Application in beverages and cold drinks

Flavorings are also widely used in the production of beverages and cold drinks. The aroma components in beverages are easily lost during processing, and adding flavorings can supplement the lost aroma and maintain and stabilize the natural taste of the beverage product. They can also cover up any sour flavors in the creation and, most importantly, enhance the product's grade and popularity in the market, thereby increasing its value. For example, white wine has unpleasant tastes like rough, spicy, bitter, or fishy. A certain amount of spices are added to cover up these flavors while highlighting the unique aroma of white wine.

4.3 Application in seasoning

Flavorings are widely used in seasoning, including meat products, puffed seasoning, biscuit seasoning, instant noodle seasoning, and other seasoning packets for convenience foods. In the production of seasonings, the characteristic flavor of the product is often not apparent due to the influence of various raw materials or different temperatures and control conditions during chemical reactions; that is, the product lacks the initial flavor. Properly adding edible flavorings can make up for this deficiency.

4.4 Application in dairy products

Dairy products are an essential source of high-quality protein for people. Due to people's different preferences and tastes, other flavorings are added to give products a unique flavor. Flavorings are mainly used in acidophilus milk, lactobacillus beverages, and artificial butter. Milk, citrus, and fruity flavorings are the traditionally popular mainstream flavors in edible flavorings, while the application of mango, aloe vera, grape, passion fruit, papaya, and grapefruit in acidophilus milk is expanding.

4.5 Application in baked goods

Flavorings are most widely used in baked goods, especially in biscuits. They can not only mask any unpleasant odors from some ingredients but also enhance the aroma of the biscuits and increase people's appetite. In addition, during the baking process, some of the fragrance is lost due to the evaporation of water, and excessive heating may cause some fragrances to escape. Adding the right amount of flavorings can solve this problem.

5.  How to use flavoring?

Did you know that the safety regulations for food flavors are primarily made and controlled by organizations like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)? It's good to know that there are organizations out there looking out for our safety regarding the food we eat. And knowing how to use flavorings properly can make all the difference in achieving the desired taste. We will summarize the methods of using flavors based on their scope and principles of use.

5.1 Reference amount of flavoring

  • In candy

Microencapsulated flavors have been used in candy production, especially gum, which can reduce the loss and damage of flavors during processing and keep the aroma long while chewing. In the production of candy, oil-soluble flavors with high heat stability are generally used, and the amount added to candy is usually 0.1% to 0.3%. However, in gum and bubble gum, the amount added is usually required to reach 0.5% to 0.8%.

  • In beverages

Water-soluble or emulsified flavors are more widely used in beverages and cold drinks, but the amount added is generally small, around 0.03% to 0.05%.

  • In seasonings

Seasonings typically contain savory flavors such as pork, beef, lamb, chicken, seafood, vegetables, and spices. These flavors are primarily oil-soluble and can withstand high temperatures. The number of edible flavors added to seasonings depends on different processes, formulas, and customer requirements, generally ranging from 0.3% to 0.8%.

  • In baked goods

Due to the high surface temperature of biscuits during baking, which can reach 180-200°C, heat-resistant and oil-soluble flavors are required. The available amount added is 0.1% to 0.3%.

5.2 Principles of the Use of Flavoring

There are many types of flavors, and the methods of use are also complex, but the following principles must be followed:

  1. Select the flavor according to the type of food and the different characteristics of the flavor itself.
  2. Use a flavor that can be dissolved.
  3. Add it in a proportion not exceeding 1% to 2%, and only increase it under exceptional circumstances.
  4. Avoid mixing with high-concentration sugar solutions or acidic solutions.
  5. Strictly control the water temperature during addition. The water-soluble flavor should not be heated above 70 degrees, and the oil-soluble flavor should not be heated above 120 degrees.

5.3 Use of flavoring

  1. Control the amount used: Different flavors require different amounts, and the quantity used should be adjusted according to actual needs and personal taste. Excessive use of flavors does not increase the taste of food and produces irritating tastes.
  2. Pay attention to mixing: Different types of flavors can be mixed, but it is necessary to pay attention to reasonable matching and avoid being too complex to prevent taste confusion.
  3. Avoid heat processing: Flavors are not suitable for use in high-temperature environments, so it is necessary to control the temperature and time during cooking to avoid generating harmful substances.
  4. Storage precautions: Flavors must be stored in a cool, dry, ventilated environment, avoiding moisture or heat. At the same time, they must be kept away from flammable materials and toxic substances.

6.  Alternatives to flavoring

If you want to cut down on flavorings in your cooking or baking, consider these alternatives:

  1. Use herbs and spices instead of artificial or natural flavorings. Basil, oregano, and thyme are famous in Italian dishes, while coriander, cumin, and turmeric are common in Indian cuisine.
  2. Add a tangy flavor to your dishes with citrus fruits like lemon or lime. Use the juice or zest in recipes or as a garnish.
  3. Try using vinegar, such as apple cider or balsamic, for a tangy and slightly sweet flavor. It's great in salad dressings or marinades.
  4. Use stock or broth as a base to add depth to savory dishes like soups and stews. Chicken or beef stock can be incredibly flavorful.
  5. Add natural flavor to your dishes with fresh ingredients like fruits and vegetables. Diced tomatoes or roasted bell peppers can add a sweet and savory flavor to pasta dishes or sandwiches.
  6. Enhance the natural flavors of your ingredients with a bit of salt and pepper. Sometimes, that's all you need.

In conclusion, flavoring is crucial in enhancing the taste and aroma of food and drinks. From natural to artificial flavorings, these additives help create the diverse flavors we enjoy in our favorite snacks and beverages. By understanding the science and regulation behind flavoring additives, we can make informed decisions about what we consume and appreciate the complexity of the flavors we love.

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