Flavor or flavour is the sensory impression of a food or other substance, and is determined mainly by the chemical senses of taste and smell. The "trigeminal senses", which detect chemical irritants in the mouth and throat, may also occasionally determine flavor. The flavor of the food, as such, can be altered with natural or artificial flavorants, which affect these senses.
Flavorant is defined as a substance that gives another substance flavor, altering the characteristics of the solute, causing it to become sweet, sour, tangy, etc.
Of the three chemical senses, smell is the main determinant of a food item's flavor. While the taste of food is limited to sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory (umami)--the basic tastes--the smells of a food are potentially limitless. A food's flavor, therefore, can be easily altered by changing its smell while keeping its taste similar. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in artificially flavored jellies, soft drinks and candies, which, while made of bases with a similar taste, have dramatically different flavors due to the use of different scents or fragrances. The flavorings of commercially produced food products are typically created by flavorists.
Although the terms "flavoring" or "flavorant" in common language denote the combined chemical sensations of taste and smell, the same terms are usually used in the fragrance and flavors industry to refer to edible chemicals and extracts that alter the flavor of food and food products through the sense of smell. Due to the high cost or unavailability of natural flavor extracts, most commercial flavorants are nature-identical, which means that they are the chemical equivalent of natural flavors but chemically synthesized rather than being extracted from the source materials.
There are three principal types of flavorings used in foods, under definitions agreed in the E.U. and Australia:
a flavouring substance (or flavouring substances) which is (or are) obtained, by physical, enzymatic or microbiological processes, from material of vegetable or animal origin which material is either raw or has been subjected to a process normally used in preparing food for human consumption and to no process other than one normally so used.
The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations describes a "natural flavorant" as:
the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or any other edible portions of a plant, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose primary function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
Most artificial flavors are specific and often complex mixtures of singular naturally occurring flavor compounds combined together to either imitate or enhance a natural flavor. These mixtures are formulated by flavorist to give a food product a unique flavor and to maintain flavor consistency between different product batches or after recipe changes. The list of known flavoring agents includes thousands of molecular compounds, and the flavor chemist (flavorist) can often mix these together to produce many of the common flavors. Many flavorants are esters.
|Ethyl- (E, Z) -2,4-decadienoate||Pear|
|Ethyl maltol||Sugar, Cotton candy|
The compounds used to produce artificial flavors are almost identical to those that occur naturally, and a natural origin for a substance does not necessarily imply that it is safe to consume. In fact, artificial flavors are considered somewhat safer to consume than natural flavors due to the standards of purity and mixture consistency that are enforced either by the company or by law. Natural flavors in contrast may contain toxins from their sources while artificial flavors are typically more pure and are required to undergo more testing before being sold for consumption.
Flavors from food products are usually the result of a combination of natural flavors, which set up the basic smell profile of a food product while artificial flavors modify the smell to accent it.
Umami or "savory" flavorants, more commonly called taste or flavor enhancers are largely based on Amino acids and Nucleotides. These are manufactured as sodium or calcium salts. Umami flavorants recognized and approved by the European Union include:
Certain organic acids can be used to enhance sour tastes, but like salt and sugar these are usually not considered and regulated as flavorants under law. Each acid imparts a slightly different sour or tart taste that alters the flavor of a food.
The flavor creation is done by a specially trained scientist called a "flavorist." The flavorist's job combines extensive scientific knowledge of the chemical palette with artistic creativity to develop new and distinctive flavors. The flavor creation begins when the flavorist receives a brief from the client. In the brief the client will attempt to communicate exactly what type of flavor they seek, in what application it will be used, and any special requirements (e.g., must be all natural). The communication barrier can be quite difficult to overcome since most people aren't experienced at describing flavors. The flavorist will use his or her knowledge of the available chemical ingredients to create a formula and compound it on an electronic balance. The flavor will then be submitted to the client for testing. Several iterations, with feedback from the client, may be needed before the right flavor is found.
Additional work may also be done by the flavor company. For example, the flavor company may conduct sensory taste tests to test consumer acceptance of a flavor before it is sent to the client or to further investigate the "sensory space." The flavor company may also employ application specialists who work to ensure the flavor will work in the application for which it is intended. This may require special flavor delivery technologies that are used to protect the flavor during processing or cooking so that the flavor is only released when eaten by the end consumer.
Few standards are available or being prepared for sensory analysis of flavors. In chemical analysis of flavors, solid phase extraction (SPE), solid phase microextraction (SPME), and headspace gas chromatography are applied to extract and separate the flavor compounds in the sample. The determination is typically done by various mass spectrometric techniques.