Are you a fan of delicious flavor? Who isn't, right? Whether it's the cheesy flavor of a hot pizza or the fruity flavor of a strawberry smoothie, flavors make our foods come to life and make eating and drinking two of the most fun things we can do every day!
If someone asked you how you sense flavor, what would you tell them? Would you say you taste flavors with your tongue? That's true! But would you believe that sensing flavor involves more than just your tongue?
Scientists who have studied how humans sense flavor believe that the overall sensation of flavor is a combination of both taste and smell. They also believe that the temperature and texture of foods and drinks add to the overall sensation of flavor.
In fact, some scientists believe that smell is a more important factor in determining flavor than taste is! A study of the taste buds on the tongue reveals that there are only a few basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory.
However, the ways food can smell is basically limitless. Think about soft drinks and candy, for example. Many of these items are made of similar substances and have similar basic tastes. However, their flavors can be quite different when manufacturers use a wide variety of scents to make their products stand out.
Some foods have their own unique flavors based upon their natural chemical composition. For example, an orange tastes…well…like an orange! You can say the same thing for a banana and hundreds of other fruits and vegetables.
When you eat an orange, your nose and tongue and hands detect the orange's taste, smell, temperature and texture. The overall sensation is the flavor you know as “orange." This is what you expect when you eat an orange.
But what about when you drink orange Kool-Aid®? Or eat orange sherbet? These items are not oranges, but they taste a lot like oranges. Are oranges used in making these items? Maybe, but probably not — these foods have most likely had artificial orange flavoring added to them.
Scientists call these artificial flavorings added to foods flavorants. They're chemical substances that alter the foods they're added to in order to make them taste a particular way. So the orange sherbet you eat might taste like the natural fruit, like an orange, but there may not be any actual oranges in the sherbet if artificial flavorings were used to create that “natural" flavor!
Flavorants are created by people called flavorists who work for companies who specialize in developing new flavors. Many times, artificial flavors are chemically almost identical to natural flavors. However, natural flavors are sometimes difficult or too expensive to manufacture, so cheaper, easier artificial versions are created instead.