What are Flavors?

The previous article discuss perception of flavor and how your brain interprets taste and aroma, but what are flavors?  The simple answer is that flavors are a complex mixture of ingredients that mimic foods from nature (i.e. orange, strawberry, etc.).

Foods consists of the two major components of flavor: Taste Ingredients and Aroma Ingredients.  Taste ingredients are very commonly known and they are materials like Sugar and Salt.  These materials create a taste response in the mouth: Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Sour and Umami.  These components are vital to the perception of each flavor, but they don’t make up the unique identifying characteristics of a product such as Orange.  The materials that make up the unique characteristic of a food such as orange are Aroma Ingredients (perceived by the sense of smell).

What are Aroma Ingredients?

Aroma Ingredients are broken down into multiple classes, but to keep it simple we will look at these as two categories: Aroma Chemicals and Natural Extractives.  Natural Extractives are materials extracted from living materials such as Essential Oils.  Natural Extractives have a complex composition that is unique to the material used to perform the extraction.

Aroma chemicals are organic molecules that have been either synthesized in a lab, using traditional organic chemistry techniques, or isolated from living organisms.  These differ greatly from Natural Extractives in that they are individual compounds, not a mixture of different materials.  An example of an Aroma Chemical is something called Vanillin.  Vanillin is the main component of Vanilla Beans, and gives vanilla its signature aroma.

Natural Extractives

Natural extractives are extracted from living (or previously living) material such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.  These materials are often isolated by a process called Steam Distillation.  Steam Distillation is a process by which water is heated to a vapor (100 degrees Celsius) and passed over the material.  The steam removes the oils from the material, is condensed and collected in a container, where the water and oil are allowed to separate.  Once the water and extracted material (oil) have separated (which will occur because the extracted material is not soluble in water), the extracted material layer can be collected.  There are many other extraction techniques and I will try to cover those later!

Aroma Chemicals

Let’s cover this topic in its very own post! Too much to cover under this category!


Flavors are a complex mixture of ingredients designed to mimic the foods that we eat every day.  They can be made from many different types of materials such as Essential Oils or Aroma Chemicals.  The goal of flavors is to help people enjoy the foods that they eat everyday, and ensure the quality and safety of everything we consume.  Future posts will dig deeper into the details of flavors, flavor creation, food chemistry and many other topics.