FLAVOR CHEMISTRY

FEMA, the Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association that is, as opposed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, describes flavor as “the entire range of sensations that we perceive when we eat a food or drink a beverage”. This range of sensations comprises of taste, smell, color and temperature of which taste and smell are the most important. Taste can further be broken down as discerned by our taste buds into sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Such stimulation all provided by chemicals occurring naturally or laboratory created or a combination of the two. Naturally occurring flavor are often a combination of many chemicals. Coffee flavor, for example, is a combination of some 800 chemicals. The world’s most popular flavor is vanilla. Naturally occurring vanilla is a complex combination of about 250 flavor components. The demand for vanilla flavoring far outstrips supply as the orchid from which the vanilla bean is harvested only grows in certain tropical locations. Consequently, several flavor houses have successfully synthesized artificial extract. At a push, naturally occurring castoreum can be used as a substitute if you can put the fact out of your that it is a secretion from the anal and castor glands of beavers normally used to mark their territories.

The science behind flavors can lead to a fascinating career with specific flavor houses or food or beverage manufacturers. While foods incorporate existing flavors, over 90% of available store shelf groceries in the U.S.A. include added flavors. Thanks to scientific techniques, such as gas chromatography, some 4,000 chemical flavor compounds are now known and identified across a wide of fruits, vegetables, spices and condiments. Many flavors are developed by combining certain acids with alcohols to produce compounds with totally different characteristics from either constituent. Flavor chemists use these compounds or combinations thereof to safely enhance current foods and beverages and create brand new tastes. Who knows when someone will develop the next unique flavor such has already happened with products like Coca-Cola? No doubt, when someone does, it will become as well kept a secret as the formula for Coca-Cola. Branded flavors are often kept secure from same company flavor chemists until an apprenticeship period as much as seven years has been served.

This brief outline of flavor chemistry is not meant to be definitive but rather a “taste” of what a career in the art might entail. We hope it may encourage students to pursue such a career and, also, to encourage current flavorists to embellish our few words with more in-depth information about their trade for the benefit and education of others. So, if you have information to add, please provide it for publication on our blogs and social media. Thanking you in anticipation.

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