What is Flavour?
Understanding flavours and how they are made vs marketed by food companies is important for anyone navigating the food industry. Some customers choose natural over artificial thinking it is the better or healthier choice, and that can't be further from the truth. Food culture has a trend towards labeling things "natural" without understanding if that label really makes things better - or even what it means in the context of food.
All flavours regardless of the label of 'artificial' or 'natural' are safe.
Some tea customers do like to choose "unflavoured" or "pure" estate/single origin teas - which is a perfectly valid choice. If you are looking for unflavoured teas and herbs, the website is set up for you to sort out the teas this way, or as you have noticed, by reading the ingredients and noting when flavour is added. Tea has existed for thousands of years without flavour and it is an exciting world to discover. However, if you love the idea of a "strawberry tea" that's fine too! It is important to understand how that is created, and that it does not come about by adding in dried strawberries, but by the addition of flavours!
What is Flavour?
Flavourings are ingredients that are added to foods, or in this instance, tea, in small amounts, either to give a specific flavour or enhance what is already there. Flavourings can either be produced from extracting the aromatic compounds from nature, or by manufacturing new compounds to excite our taste buds. All flavour agents, whether natural or artificial, are chemical compounds.
What Are Flavours Made Of?
Flavourings are prepared by capturing flavour chemicals from:
- essential oils;
- mixtures of essential oils and synthetic organic chemicals;
- or entirely from synthetic chemicals.
The flavour chemicals are then combined with a carrier or solvent such as alcohol, glycerol, propylene glycol, alone or in combination.
What are Flavour Chemicals/Aroma Compounds?
Flavours are chemical compounds that have a smell or odour. For a chemical compound to have a smell or odour it must be sufficiently volatile to be transported to the olfactory system in the upper part of the nose. Flavours affect both the sense of taste and smell, whereas fragrances affect only smell.
- Over 7,000 volatile compounds have been identified in foods
- Approximately 1,500 of these volatile compounds are used in the creation of flavourings – Nature Identical or Natural
- Approximately 400 materials not identified in foods are also used in flavourings – Artificial
How are flavours created?
All chemical flavours, whether they are natural, nature identical, natural/artificial or artificial are created in food flavour laboratories. The CFIA and FDA in Canada and the United States set out regulations regarding the labeling of flavours.
- Natural flavour: 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 flavouring substances.
- Nature-identical flavour: These are obtained by synthesis or isolated through chemical processes, which are chemically and organoleptically identical to flavouring substances naturally present in products intended for human consumption. They cannot contain any artificial flavouring substances.
- Artificial flavour: are any flavours that are not defined as natural, even if they have the exact same chemical composition as flavours isolated directly from nature. These are typically produced by fractional distillation and additional chemical manipulation of naturally sourced chemicals
It is important to understand that just because a flavour is labeled natural, it does not mean it was sourced from the actual food of the flavour profile. Any natural flavour can be obtained by other fruits, nuts, trees, plants or animal found in nature.
Natural can be great. But synthetic can be too.
The compounds used to produce artificial flavours are almost identical to those that occur naturally. Artificial flavours in some situations may be safer to consume than natural flavours due to the standards of purity and mixture consistency that are enforced either by the company or by law. Natural flavours, in contrast, may contain impurities or unlisted allergens from their sources, while artificial flavours are typically more pure and are required to undergo more testing before being sold for consumption. The price of Natural flavours in almost all cases is higher than Artificial flavours as the sourcing of chemicals is higher, and freight charges of natural flavours are higher. Natural flavours must use an alcohol carrier, which creates restrictions on shipping quantities and abilities due to flammability. Artificial Flavours do not require a lengthy, labour- and resource-intensive extraction process or acquisition of naturally rare or difficult-to-cultivate materials. As such, many artificial flavours are actually available in higher purity than their natural congeners and may be obtained with less damage to the environment and at a cheaper price.
The important thing to know is the ingredients used in our food supply are safe, no matter their source. Using the claim ‘natural’ in flavouring does nothing more than create a niche product sold at higher price.
More Science Reading Here! :
organoleptically, the adverb of organoleptic 1 : being, affecting, or relating to qualities (as taste, colour, odour, and feel) of a substance (as a food or drug) that stimulate the sense organs.