Taste Versus Flavor

There is nothing better than the taste of biting into a fresh, homegrown tomato, juicy and full of flavor. Or is there?

For decades, commercial food manufacturers have been trying to improve upon nature’s ability to provide us with enticing flavors in our diet. The “natural flavor” additives discussed previously are just one facet of this effort to manipulate flavors.

We don't often think about it, there is a difference between taste and flavor.  Taste is the perception of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (or savory).  Smell, temperature, texture and more all go into creating what we perceive of as flavor.  Here's a video that explains a little about it:

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Flavor Manufacturing Companies

The confusion comes in when our senses are manipulated in order to convince us that something tastes good.  Processed food manufacturers employ separate companies tasked with creating flavor compounds that manipulate and attract consumers.  They spend tens of millions of dollars to find what is just the right balance to make something appealing.  For example, if it's a snack chip how salty and fatty does it need to be, how much crunch, how much texture?  This is something that they look at for each and every product.

It goes beyond simple combinations however.  Wild Flavors, a flavor-development company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, has created an additive called “Resolver” that they claim can overcome undesirable taste components by attaching itself to a given receptor on the tongue and preventing that particular taste from being perceived.  Alternatively, companies like Givaudan and Cargill  create tastes rather than prevent them and are responsible for thousands of flavors we experience in everyday products.  They manufacture flavors for a vast number of foods and beverages, as well as pharmaceuticals, oral care products like toothpaste or mouthwash, lip balm, vitamins and even pet food.

Food Addictions

The more sinister result of this Frankenstein approach to flavor manipulation is the creation food addictions.  Global food conglomerates don’t deny that one of their goals is to develop products that consumers will purchase again and again.  It is troublesome that these companies appear to place commercial interests above public safety and health.  These addicting flavor concoctions are often made from an extensive list of chemicals.  In fact, more than 300 individual compounds may be necessary to endow a food with the flavor associated with a ripe strawberry or the fresh, homegrown tomatoes we love.

How can this type of manipulation possibly benefit consumers?

Unfortunately flavor profiles are often secret and hidden on the label under the terms “natural” or artificial flavors.  This is because they are considered valuable intellectual property.  Food manufactures try to conceal the fact that processed foods are flavored with a myriad of chemicals with unknown long-term effects on the human body and brain.

The good news is that as the public becomes more informed, and concerned, about the chemicals and artificial ingredients added to our food there has been significant backlash.  In response, some companies have begun to remove some of these harmful ingredients.  Just this summer, General Mills announced it will strip all artificial flavors and colors from its cereals by the end of 2017.  Other companies are also beginning to remove artificial ingredients from their products.  Not because they want to, but because consumers are demanding it.

This serves as a reminder of the power we have when we take personal responsibility for what we consume and take initiative to educate ourselves about what is in the foods we eat.