Food flavourings 101

Food Flavourings & Its Impact on Child’s Health

Do you know why junk foods like pastries, ice creams, burgers, pizzas and fries taste so good and attract children easily? They contain added flavours which homemade dishes don’t. And most often, kids lean towards junk foods as they think more with their taste buds than with their minds! However, the good news is that, in India, only FSSAI approved food flavourings are used by reputed manufacturers. Hence, moderate consumption will not harm your child. Also, knowing about the different types of flavourings and reading labels can help you.

Classification of food flavours into three types:

  1. Natural flavours and flavouring substances
  2. Processed flavourings
  3. Artificial flavouring substances

Natural food flavours – These are usually complex mixtures made by mixing more than one substance, but some of the best food flavours might come from a single ingredient too. A good example is clove oil, which gets its flavour from the chemical eugenol. These are organic aromatic compounds that are present as volatile essential oils or non-volatile constituents, for example, resins and oleoresins. These are produced in plants naturally. The essential oils present in natural foods like esters, aldehydes, acids, alcohols, ketones, and ether contribute to the flavour and aroma of many fruits and vegetables. Some examples are:

  1. Herbs like basil, mint
  2. Spices like cardamom, clove, turmeric
  3. Aromatic seeds like aniseed, cumin
  4. Fruits like orange and lemon
  5. Vegetables like peas, onions, garlic

Processed flavourings – These are developed with the help of some processes like decomposition, combination of different compounds or the formation of a new compound. Such flavours are derived from an enzymatic action, and an example is the flavour that is produced by the fermentation of sugar by microbes. Some of the processed flavours are obtained by:

  1. Caramelization
  2. Roasting
  3. Fermenting
  4. Toasting
  5. Baking

Added flavours can be of two types –

  • Naturally extracted flavour
  • Artificial flavour

Added flavours are widely used in bakery and confectionery goods, ready to eat foods, and beverages and fast foods. The flavours that are lost during cooking and other processes are brought back with the help of added flavours in one of the following ways:

  1. By adding natural flavours, like natural essences from fruits, and essential oils extracted from spices. For example, vanilla essence is prepared by extracting the essential oil from the vanilla pod.
  2. By adding artificial food flavours that are actually a blend of chemicals that mimic the original ones. For example, vanillin is a synthetic flavour used as a replacement for vanilla.

Other added flavours are sweeteners and flavour enhancers

Sweeteners – These can be natural sweeteners which are carbohydrates and nutritive sweeteners, or artificial sweeteners which are synthetic sweeteners and do not have any nutritive value as such.

Flavour enhancers – These are the chemicals that generally do not have any odour and taste by themselves. They are added to foods in small quantities to enhance the flavour. They can modify, enhance or intensify the original flavours of the foods.

Some of the chemicals used as flavour enhancers are as follows:

Monosodium glutamate (MSG):

This is also known as aji-no-moto or Chinese salt. It is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Adding MSG to foods can enhance the flavour that is lost during the harvesting and processing of foods.

Maltol:

Maltol is used to enhance sweet flavours in cookies, beverages and instant pudding mixes. This is naturally found in plants, and is produced when cocoa or coffee is roasted, or when bread is baked. It is artificially produced by fermentation of soybean proteins.

FSSAI regulations:

FSSAI prohibits the use of the following food flavourings:

  1. Coumarin and dihydrocoumarin
  2. Tonkabean (Dipteryladorat)
  3. β-asarone and cinamylanthracilate
  4. Estragole
  5. Ethyl methyl ketone
  6. Ethyl-3-phenylglycidate
  7. Eugenyl methyl ether
  8. Methyl β napthyl ketone
  9. p-Propylanisole
  10. Saffrole and isosaffrole
  11. Thujone and isothujone (α & β thujone)
  12. Diethyleneglycol and monoethyl ether as solvents

And here is a list of FSSAI-approved flavouring substances:

  1. Lactulose syrup is used in milk-based products as food flavours for toddlers. It can also be used in bakery products but the maximum limit in both is 0.5% by weight.
  2. Trehalose can be used as food flavours for kids in snacks and savouries like candies, icing, sweets, pasta and noodles, biscuits, cakes, breads and breakfast cereals, milk based sweets, carbonated beverages, jam, jelly, etc. But, it can be used only within prescribed limits and is generally mentioned on the labels.
  3. Oligofructose, phyto or plant stenol is added to syrups and health bars.

All these flavouring substances may have permitted emulsifying agents, stabilising agents, antioxidants, and anti-caking agents. Synthetic amorphous silicon dioxide (INS 551) can also be used in flavouring substances in the form of powder, to a maximum of 2 percent. It is compulsory for all food products to adhere to these rules, so as to maintain quality and safety.

Are food flavourings harmful?

Food flavourings are generally safe and have to undergo regulatory safety testing and approval before they can be added to foods. In India, FSSAI has strict rules in place to make food flavourings safe for consumers. Especially, when you buy food items from a reputed brand, you can rest assured that the flavourings used are not adulterated, contaminated, and follow all safety rules.

Also, make sure that the package has flavouring agents mentioned on the label, since this will mean that the brand ensures transparency and can be trusted. Artificial flavours should also be mentioned on the label. As a consumer, watch out for the FSSAI logo with Lic. No. as well.