How do flavors work?

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I was sharing a can of bacon flavored pringles at work with some coworkers and we got into discussing the different types of “weird” flavored chips we’ve eaten. Cheeseburger flavor, taco flavor, and oven roasted chicken flavor, pizza flavor, etc. How the heck do they manage to get the chip to taste like a cheeseburger? Bread, cheese, meat, and all? How?

In: Biology

Flavor all comes down to two basic things (as far as I’m aware): chemical composition, and temperature (this affects the movement of the molecules).

If a scientist is able to break down the general composition of a cheeseburger to the basic elements and then create a flavor powder that contains most of the more important chemicals, then with a little bit of psychological suggestion people will taste what they are told it’s supposed to taste like.

Generally speaking, the more complex flavors like oven roasted chicken or pizza you wouldn’t associate with those foods if you were blind tasting the product. For the oven roasted chicken you might think it’s chicken broth flavored and for pizza you might think it’s tomato and cheese flavored.

The seasoning powder is made with combinations of dried ingredients like spices, dehydrated vegetables, or dried and powdered vinegar or sour cream. Some of these come from natural sources and others are artificially made.

Something like a bacon cheeseburger flavour would be made by mixing salt with some powdered beef stock, pork stock, smoke flavouring, and powdered cheese. A taco flavoured chip might have the same beef stock with some Mexican spices, tomato powder, and powdered cheese.

They first determine what compounds give the food it’s taste. Then they try to create manufacturable artificial compounds that has almost the same chemical composition with those of the original. Then, they add another bunch of compounds called “enhancers” which fine-tunes the flavor to be more close to the original. Lastly, they may add some bits of the original ingredients to further “convince” your mind that “this flavor is cheeseburger”


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