How do artificial flavors work?

All the snacks and chocolates that you love to feast on have something in common. If you read the packaging carefully you’ll see the text ‘Contains Artificial Flavors’. If you ever wondered what that means, read on.

First of all, how do we smell and taste things?

Smell is a very direct sense. Anything that we smell contains some sort of chemical that evaporates and enters our nose and comes in contact with sensory cells in the nose.When chemicals come in contact and activate our taste buds, we taste them.

Artificial flavors in action
Mimicking a natural flavor isn’t that easy because natural flavors are normally quite
complex, with dozens or hundreds of chemicals interacting to create the taste/smell. But it turns out that many flavors – particularly fruit flavors – have just one or a few dominant chemical components that carry the bulk of the taste/smell signal. Many of these chemicals are called esters. For example, the ester called ‘ Octyl Acetate is a fundamental component in orange flavor. The ester called ‘Isoamyl Acetate’ is a fundamental component of banana flavor. If you add these esters to a product, the product will taste, to some degree, like orange or banana. To make more realistic flavors you add other chemicals in the correct proportions to get closer and closer to the real thing. You can do that by trial and error or by chemical analysis of the real thing.

Creating flavours that don’t exist in nature
There are hundreds of chemicals known to be flavoring agents. It’s interesting that they
are normally mixed to create “known” tastes. People make artificial grape, cherry, orange, banana, apple, etc. flavors, but it is very rare to mix up something that no one has ever tasted before. But it can and does happen occasionally. Juicy Fruit gum is a good example!

So next time if you read ‘Contains Artificial Flavors’, you’ll know that chemistry was involved in helping create it!