Skip to main content
Chemistry LibreTexts

17.6: Flavorings- Spicy and Sweet

  • Page ID
    152250
  • Learning Objective

    • Know the different types and properties of natural and artificial flavoring ingredients.

    Food touches all of the senses. We taste, we smell, we see color and shape, we feel texture and temperature, and we hear sounds as we eat. All of these elements together create a palette with an infinite number of combinations, but the underlying principles that make food taste good are unchanged.

    • Variety and diversity in textures and the elements of taste make for interesting food.
    • Contrast is as important as harmony; but avoid extremes and imbalance.

    Many ingredients are used to enhance the taste of foods. These ingredients can be used to provide both seasoning and flavoring.

    • Seasoning means to bring out or intensify the natural flavor of the food without changing it. Seasonings are usually added near the end of the cooking period. The most common seasonings are salt, pepper, and acids (such as lemon juice). When seasonings are used properly, they cannot be tasted; their job is to heighten the flavors of the original ingredients.
    • Flavoring refers to something that changes or modifies the original flavor of the food. Flavoring can be used to contrast a taste such as adding liqueur to a dessert where both the added flavor and the original flavor are perceptible. Or flavorings can be used to create a unique flavor in which it is difficult to discern what the separate flavorings are. Spice blends used in pumpkin pies are a good example of this.

    Spices, Herbs, and Flavorings

    Knowing how to use seasonings and flavorings skillfully provides cooks and bakers with an arsenal with which they can create limitless flavor combinations. Flavoring and seasoning ingredients include wines, spirits, fruit zests, extracts, essences, and oils. However, the main seasoning and flavoring ingredients are classified as herbs and spices (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

    1A.jpg

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) Spices and herbs at a shop in GoaIndia.

    Knowing the difference between herbs and spices is not as important as knowing how to use seasonings and flavorings skillfully. In general, fresh seasonings are added late in the cooking process while dry ones tend to be added earlier. It is good practice to under-season during the cooking process and then add more seasonings (particularly if you are using fresh ones) just before presentation. This is sometimes referred to as “layering.” When baking, it is difficult to add more seasoning at the end, so testing recipes to ensure the proper amount of spice is included is a critical process.

     

    Spices

    The spice trade developed throughout the Indian subcontinent[2] and Middle East by at earliest 2000 BCE with cinnamon and black pepper, and in East Asia with herbs and pepper. The Egyptians used herbs for mummification and their demand for exotic spices and herbs helped stimulate world trade. The word spice comes from the Old French word espice, which became epice, and which came from the Latin root spec, the noun referring to "appearance, sort, kind": species has the same root. By 1000 BCE, medical systems based upon herbs could be found in ChinaKorea, and India. Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation.

    Spices are aromatic substances obtained from the dried parts of plants such as the roots, shoots, fruits, bark, and leaves. They are sold as seeds, blends of spices, whole or ground spices, and seasonings. The aromatic substances that give a spice its particular aroma and flavor are the essential oils. The flavor of the essential oil or flavoring compound will vary depending on the quality and freshness of the spice.

    The aromas of ground spices are volatile. This means they lose their odor or flavoring when left exposed to the air for extended periods. They should be stored in sealed containers when not in use. Whole beans or unground seeds have a longer shelf life but should also be stored in sealed containers. 

     

    Web Links

    An A to Z list of spices is provided on the link https://chem.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Biological_Chemistry/Book%3A_Chemistry_of_Cooking_(Rodriguez-Velazquez)/Understanding_Ingredients%3A_Spices/83%3A_Spices

    A complete FDA list of spices and natural seasonings and flavorings that are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) is provided on the link below:

     https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=182.10

    Herbs

    Herbs tend to be the leaves of fragrant plants that do not have a woody stem. Herbs are available fresh or dried, with fresh herbs having a more subtle flavor than dried. You need to add a larger quantity of fresh herbs (up to 50% more) than dry herbs to get the same desired flavor. Conversely, if a recipe calls for a certain amount of fresh herb, you would use about one-half of that amount of dry herb.

    The most common fresh herbs are basil, coriander, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)). Fresh herbs should have a clean, fresh fragrance and be free of wilted or brown leaves. They can be kept for about five days if sealed inside an airtight plastic bag. Fresh herbs are usually added near the completion of the cooking process so flavors are not lost due to heat exposure.

    Dried herbs lose their power rather quickly if not properly stored in airtight containers. They can last up to six months if properly stored. Dried herbs are usually added at the start of the cooking process as their flavor takes longer to develop than fresh herbs.

     

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) A bundle of thyme (Thymus).

     

    Flavorants or Flavorings

    Flavor, is the perceptual impression of food or other substances, and is determined primarily by the chemical senses of the gustatory and olfactory system.[1][2] The "trigeminal senses", which detect chemical irritants in the mouth and throat, as well as temperature and texture, are also important to the overall gestalt of taste perception. The taste of food, can be altered naturally or artificially.

    A "flavorant" is defined as a substance that gives another substance taste, altering the characteristics of the solute, causing it to become sweet, sour, tangy, etc. Although both terms, in common language, denote the combined chemical sensations of taste and smell, the same terms are 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 source materials. Identification of components of natural foods, for example a raspberry, may be done using technology such as headspace techniques, so the flavorist can imitate the flavor by using a few of the same chemicals present. 

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\) list the three principal types of flavorings that are used in foods, under definitions agreed in the EU and Australia.

     

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\) Three Principal Types of Flavorings Used in Foods (Under Definitions Agreed in the EU and Australia)

    Type Description
    Natural flavoring substances These flavoring substances are obtained from plant or animal raw materials, by physical, microbiological, or enzymatic processes. They can be either used in their natural state or processed for human consumption, but cannot contain any nature-identical or artificial flavoring substances.
    Nature-identical flavoring substances These are obtained by synthesis or isolated through chemical processes, which are chemically and organoleptically identical to flavoring substances naturally present in products intended for human consumption. They cannot contain any artificial flavoring substances.
    Artificial flavoring substances These are not identified in a natural product intended for human consumption, whether or not the product is processed. These are typically produced by fractional distillation and additional chemical manipulation of naturally sourced chemicals, crude oil, or coal tar. Although they are chemically different, in sensory characteristics they are the same as natural ones.

    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 flavorists 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 consist of esters, which are often described as being "sweet" or "fruity" (see the table below).

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\)  Different Odors Associated with Esters.

    1A2.jpg

     

    Other Plant based and Artificial Sweeteners

    sugar substitute is a food additive that provides a sweet taste like that of sugar while containing significantly less food energy than sugar-based sweeteners, making it a zero-calorie (non-nutritive)[1] or low-calorie sweetenerArtificial sweeteners may be derived through manufacturing of plant extracts or processed by chemical synthesisSugar alcohols such as erythritolxylitol, and sorbitol are derived from sugars. In 2017, sucralose was the most common sugar substitute used in the manufacture of foods and beverages; it had 30% of the global market, which was projected to be valued at $2.8 billion by 2021.[2]

    In 1969, cyclamate was banned for sale in the US by the Food and Drug Administration. As of 2018, there is no strong evidence that non-sugar sweeteners are either unsafe or result in improved health outcomes.[3]

    When these sweeteners are provided for restaurant customers to add to beverages such as tea and coffee, they are provided in small colored paper packets (see image); in North America, the colors are typically blue for aspartamepink for saccharin (US)[note 1] or cyclamate (Canada), yellow for sucraloseorange for monk fruit extract, and green for stevia.[4] These sweeteners are also a fundamental ingredient in diet drinks to sweeten them without adding calories.

    Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute derived from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana, native to Brazil and Paraguay. The active compounds  (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)) are steviol glycosides (mainly stevioside and rebaudioside), which have 30 to 150 times the sweetness of sugar,[3] are heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable.[4]The body does not metabolize the glycosides in stevia, so it contains zero calories like some artificial sweeteners. Stevia's taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, and some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations.

    The legal status of stevia as a food additive or dietary supplement varies from country to country. In the United States, high-purity stevia glycoside extracts have been generally recognized as safe (GRAS) since 2008, and are allowed in food products, but stevia leaf and crude extracts do not have GRAS or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in food.

     

    clipboard_e332802d6466895ba10f9334fe6030024.png

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\) Steviol, the basic building block of stevia's sweet glycosides.

     

    Stevia rebaudiana

    The plant Stevia rebaudiana has been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guaraní peoples of South America, who called it ka'a he'ê ("sweet herb").[8] The leaves have been used traditionally for hundreds of years in both Brazil and Paraguay to sweeten local teas and medicines, and as a "sweet treat".The genus was named for Spanish botanist and physician Petrus Jacobus Stevus (Pedro Jaime Esteve 1500–1556), a professor of botany at the University of Valencia.[9]

    In 1899, Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni, while conducting research in eastern Paraguay, first described the plant and the sweet taste in detail.[10] Only limited research was conducted on the topic until, in 1931, two French chemists isolated the glycosides that give stevia its sweet taste.

     

     

    Table \(\PageIndex{3}\)  Relative Sweetness of Different Natural and Artificial Sweeteners.

    Compound Relative Sweetness
    Sucrose 100
    Fructose 173
    Stevia 300
    Aspartame 18,000
    Acesulfame K 20,000
    Saccharin 30,000
    Sucralose 60,000

    Artificial Sweeteners

    Several other kinds of organic compounds have been synthesized that are far superior as sweetening agents. These so-called high-intensity or artificial sweeteners (Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\)) are useful for people with diabetes or other medical conditions that require them to control their carbohydrate intake. The synthetic compounds are noncaloric or used in such small quantities that they do not add significantly to the caloric value of food.

    The first artificial sweetener—saccharin—was discovered by accident in 1879. It is 300 times sweeter than sucrose, but it passes through the body unchanged and thus adds no calories to the diet. After its discovery, saccharin was used until it was banned in the early 1900s. However, during the sugar-short years of World War I, the ban was lifted and was not reinstated at the war’s end. One drawback to the use of saccharin is its bitter, metallic aftertaste. The initial solution to this problem was to combine saccharin with cyclamate, a second artificial sweetener discovered in 1937.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, several clinical tests with laboratory animals implicated both cyclamate and saccharin as carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances. The results from the cyclamate tests were completed first, and cyclamate was banned in the United States in 1969. Then a major study was released in Canada in 1977 indicating that saccharin increased the incidence of bladder cancer in rats. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a ban on saccharin that raised immediate public opposition because saccharin was the only artificial sweetener still available. In response, Congress passed the Saccharin Study and Labeling Act in 1977, permitting the use of saccharin as long as any product containing it was labeled with a consumer warning regarding the possible elevation of the risk of bladder cancer. Today this warning is no longer required; moreover, the FDA is currently reviewing the ban on cyclamate, as 75 additional studies and years of usage in other countries, such as Canada, have failed to show that it has any carcinogenic effect.

    A third artificial sweetener, aspartame, was discovered in 1965. This white crystalline compound is about 180 times sweeter than sucrose and has no aftertaste. It was approved for use in 1981 and is used to sweeten a wide variety of foods because it blends well with other food flavors. Aspartame is not used in baked goods, however, because it is not heat stable.

     

     

    152705812599903164.png

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\) Different Artificial Sweeteners.

     

    In the body (or when heated), aspartame is initially hydrolyzed to three molecules: the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine and an alcohol methanol. Repeated controversy regarding the safety of aspartame arises partly from the fact that the body metabolizes the released methanol to formaldehyde. It should be noted, though, that a glass of tomato juice has six times as much methanol as a similar amount of a diet soda containing aspartame. The only documented risk connected to aspartame use is for individuals with the genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU); these individuals lack the enzyme needed to metabolize the phenylalanine released when aspartame is broken down by the body. Because of the danger to people with PKU, all products containing aspartame must carry a warning label.

    Acesulfame K, discovered just two years after aspartame (1967), was approved for use in the United States in 1988. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar and, unlike aspartame, is heat stable. It has no lingering aftertaste.

    One of the newest artificial sweeteners to gain FDA approval (April 1998) for use in the United States is sucralose, a white crystalline solid approximately 600 times sweeter than sucrose. Sucralose is synthesized from sucrose and has three chlorine atoms substituted for three OH groups. It is noncaloric because it passes through the body unchanged. It can be used in baking because it is heat stable.

    All of the extensive clinical studies completed to date have indicated that these artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States are safe for consumption by healthy individuals in moderate amounts.

    Flavor Enhancers

    The US Food and Drug Administration define flavor enhancers as food additives that enhance the flavors already present in foods without providing their own separate flavor.  The names of flavor enhancers found on product labels include moosodium glutamate (msg), hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium guanylate or inosinate.   Umami or "savory" flavorants, more commonly called taste or flavor enhancers, are largely based on amino acids and nucleotides. These are typically used as sodium or calcium salts.[11] Umami flavorants recognized and approved by the European Union are listed in Table \(\PageIndex{3}\).  

     

    Table \(\PageIndex{4}\)   Umami Favorants Recognized and Approved by the European Union.

    Acid Salts Description
    Glutamic acid salts This amino acid's sodium salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), is one of the most commonly used flavor enhancers in food processing. Mono- and diglutamate salts are also commonly used.
    Glycine salts Simple amino acid salts typically combined with glutamic acid as flavor enhancers
    Guanylic acid salts Nucleotide salts typically combined with glutamic acid as flavor enhancers
    Inosinic acid salts Nucleotide salts created from the breakdown of AMP, due to high costs of production, typically combined with glutamic acid as flavor enhancers
    5'-ribonucleotide salts Nucleotide salts typically combined with other amino acids and nucleotide salts as flavor enhancers

     

    Monosodium glutamate (MSG), also known as sodium glutamate, (Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\)  is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids.[2] Glutamic acid is found naturally in tomatoesgrapescheesemushrooms and other foods.

    MSG is used in the food industry as a flavor enhancer with an umami taste that intensifies the meaty, savory flavor of food, as naturally occurring glutamate does in foods such as stews and meat soups.[5][6] It was first prepared in 1908 by Japanese biochemist Kikunae Ikeda, who was trying to isolate and duplicate the savory taste of kombu, an edible seaweed used as a base for many Japanese soups. MSG as a flavor enhancer balances, blends, and rounds the perception of other tastes.

     

                           

    clipboard_e02c5085e63e074ac5d3807140d5611df.png

     

     Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\) Monosodium glutamate. 

     

    Summary

    • Many ingredients are used to enhance the taste of foods. These ingredients can be used to provide both seasoning and flavoring.
    • Flavoring and seasoning ingredients include wines, spirits, fruit zests, extracts, essences, and oils. However, the main seasoning and flavoring ingredients are classified as herbs and spices.
    • Sucrose and fructose are two common natural sweeteners.  
    • The so-called high-intensity or artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, cyclamates, and aspartame) are useful for people with diabetes or other medical conditions that require them to control their carbohydrate intake
    • Flavor enhancers are food additives (largely based on amino acids and nucleotides) that enhance the flavors already present in foods without providing their own separate flavor.

    Contributors

    • Sorangel Rodriguez-Velazquez (American University). Chemistry of Cooking by Sorangel Rodriguez-Velazquez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted

    • Libretext: The Basics of GOB Chemistry (Ball et al.)
    • Wikipedia
    • US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA)
    • Marisa Alviar-Agnew (Sacramento City College)

     

    • Was this article helpful?