The Real Tastemakers Behind Artificial Flavors

And why strawberry flavoring doesn’t really taste like strawberries

Photo: designbase/E+/Getty Images

A human intermediary is always needed to bridge the gap between chemical analysis and subjective taste.

However, despite advancements in analytical methodology, the human element remains invaluable in flavor design. For example, while only a small handful of signature compounds can be said to “taste” like strawberry, a real strawberry may contain hundreds of compounds that, together, create a unique depth of flavor. These smaller components may only be present at parts per million or billion. They may barely make a blip on a chromatograph, but their impact on our senses is disproportionately large.

To become a senior flavorist, someone must have between 10 to 15 years of direct experience.

During their first five years in the field, an apprentice flavorist repeatedly compounds flavors to achieve an intended result. For example, they may be given a coffee product and asked to match its flavor using available raw components. By diluting and combining different concentrations of ingredients, the apprentice can eventually mimic the product’s flavor. The apprentice will also catalog and describe several flavor ingredients each day to develop a written and mental library of their organoleptic properties.

Photo: makunin/Pixabay/CC0

While the work and training are long and arduous, flavorists have the satisfaction of seeing their work in products on grocery shelves and pharmaceutical counters.

Sometimes, a flavorist may create something that has no natural counterpart. Red Bull, for example, is cited as a postmodern medley of synthetic flavors that impart a unique, medicinal taste that people happen to desire when thirsty. That medicinal flavor has become strongly associated with the concept of “energy beverage.” Other energy drink companies have attempted to create a beverage that closely mimics a pre-existing natural flavor, but consumers always prefer the medicinal, synthetic flavor due to the close association.

Author of 150 Food Science Questions Answered | amzn.com/1646118332 | bryanquocle.com

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