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Natural vs. Artificial Flavors: What's the Difference?
The world of flavor science is massive. Did you know, for instance, that something as simple as apple juice has 26 different flavor and aroma compounds? There's a whole field of science dedicated to isolating, identifying, and repurposing natural flavor compounds. It's not easy to get French fries as delicious and salty and starchy as they are, but someone has to do it. Flavor science has given us things like monosodium glutamate (MSG), diacetyl, castoreum, trimethylamine, and many more. These compounds are derived from natural sources and give us some of the most common flavors in food. MSG used to be very common in Chinese food as a flavor enhancer. Diacetyl, on the other hand, is the core buttery flavor compound found in candy, popcorn, and margarine.
These are just a few examples to illustrate that all food is made of chemical compounds. Nutritional labels that say "artificial ingredients" can carry a bad reputation, but it's worth examining what "artificial" actually means. For instance, cheeseburgers may contain 4-hydroxy-5-methyl-3(2H)-furanone, 2-methyl-3-furanthiol, and bis(2-methyl-3- furyl) disulfide-which is just a chemical make-up of "natural beef flavoring." Flavor scientists produced this compound by cooking beef stock in a pressure cooker (to distill the water). This leaves just the potent molecular compounds that make burgers so, well, beefy.
A very special thanks to Kat Odell from Eater for stopping by and hosting with Trace!
How to Make a Potato Chip That Tastes Like a Sandwich (The Atlantic)
"In the early 20th century, many middle-class households took their culinary cues from progressive health reformers who considered highly spiced, intensely flavored foods-the garlicky, pickled, and spicy dishes associated with immigrant cuisines-to be dangerously stimulating."
Diacetyl chemical in artificial butter popcorn linked to Alzheimer's plaque build-up (CBS News)
"An ingredient used in artificial butter flavoring for popcorn may worsen the effects of an abnormal brain protein that's been linked to Alzheimer's disease."