Audience: Elementary and Middle School students
Bubblegum, cotton candy, banana… There are so many flavors to choose from!
You know what they taste like, but have you ever wondered how they are made?
Flavorists, scientists who work with flavors, are able to create your favorite flavors by combining a variety of different ingredients. Sometimes, these ingredients might even be considered inedible - such as petroleum! Petroleum is typically found in certain types of rocks and is used in fuels such as gasoline or kerosene.
Specific chemicals are used to create artificial flavors. Image by @girlwithredhat from Unsplash.com.
When flavorists receive a request for a certain artificial flavor, they will first take the natural product with the desired taste and will identify the different parts that make up the flavor. An example would be deciding whether the flavor is sweet or salty. Scientists working in the laboratory will then find the molecular fingerprint of natural food. Molecular fingerprints allow scientists to understand what a molecule might look like using mathematics. Following that, flavorists will try to match the molecules from the natural food with artificially-created molecules available in the lab.
Sometimes, flavorists might need to mix 70-80 different chemicals together in order to get the exact flavor they want.
One example is octyl acetate, a molecule that is key to creating an orange flavor. Isoamyl acetate allows flavorists to create the banana flavor. Cinnamaldehyde is used to create cinnamon flavor and limonene is used to imitate a citrus flavor.
Using artificial flavors has many benefits for food producers. They are typically cheaper than using natural ingredients, which need water and land to grow, must be transported, and prepared to be used. Artificial flavors also allow for more enhanced—or stronger—flavors because they can be used in various amounts. Sometimes, combining artificial flavors may even lead to new flavors that could never be found in natural foods!
Gumballs are one example of the use of artificial flavors. Image by @MarvinMeyer from Unsplash.com.
Bubblegum, for instance, is a mixture of banana, cherry, strawberry, and sometimes even orange, lemon, or cinnamon; it’s pretty unlikely that you’d find a mix like that in nature!
Flavorists provide us with varieties of different sweets and snacks that we enjoy day to day. So the next time you’re chewing away on a piece of gum, consider how it came to be!
HowStuffWorks.com Contributors - "How Do Artificial Flavors Work?" - 31 May, 2000.
bonappetite.com, Kate Dwyer - “The Truth About Natural and Artificial Flavors” - March 15, 2017
Spoon University, Jennifer Nigro - “What Exactly is Bubblegum Flavor?”
Ameritas - “4 Things to Know About Artificial and Natural Flavors” - May 25, 2017
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