Making life taste better

Flavourings

Flavourings

Coffee has more than 800 different aromachemicals.

One of the most important qualities of our food is the flavour – it has to taste good. All flavours are a subtle mix of the five basic tastes – salt, sweet, bitter, sour and savoury – combined with the aromas that the foods give off, which are a crucial part of the way foods taste.

From a regulatory point of view, the flavourings that are used in food are Coffee has more than 800 different aromachemicals. grouped into those that are natural, and those that are man-made. Natural flavourings are obtained from natural sources, whereas the man-made ones may be synthetic versions of exactly the same chemicals that are found in nature, such as vanillin, whilst others may not be found in nature, such as ethyl vanillin. Some food flavourings rely on just one major component, but most are a mixture of many different aromachemicals.

It’s not just processed foods that contain a cocktail of flavourings – most natural foodstuffs contain very many different aromachemicals, which all contribute to the complex flavour. Tarragon essential oil, for example, has nearly 80 components, and coffee more than 800. Yet some flavours are down to just a handful, such as vanilla, where the chemical vanillin is the major ingredient.

Other characteristic flavours are created during cooking or fermentation, and many of the chemicals responsible have been identified. For example, the browning reaction that gives the characteristic caramel flavour to fried onions, pork crackling and even gravy is a chemical reaction between proteins and carbohydrates. Variations on this reaction produce many of the most delicious flavours. Allylpyrazine gives a roasted nut flavour; methoxypyrazines taste of earthy vegetables; 2-isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine has a green pepper flavour; and acetylpyrazines taste of popcorn.

Use of food additives ‘safer and more transparent’ thanks to new legislation.

Safer and more transparent use.

The use of additives in food will soon become even safer and more transparent thanks to legislation adopted by the European Commission.

“This represents a landmark in our efforts to strengthen food safety in the EU,” says Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli (pictured). “The adoption of two regulations on additives will further empower citizens and industry alike as they will make it easier for everyone concerned to know exactly what additives are allowed in foodstuffs.”

The two regulations establish two new lists. The first concerns additives in food and will come into force in June 2013. This list will allow consumers to easily identify which additives are authorised in a particular foodstuff. The second list relates to additives in food ingredients, and will apply 20 days after its publication in the EU’s Official Journal.

Transparency is one major benefit of the new legislation as the new list makes it obvious that in some food categories the authorised additives are very limited or not allowed at all. This is the case, for instance, for unflavoured yogurt, butter, compote, pasta, simple bread, honey, water and fruit juice. In other categories, usually those concerning highly processed foodstuffs – such as confectionery, snacks, sauces and flavoured drinks – a large number of additives are authorised.

“Any initiative that helps educate and enlighten consumers is to be welcomed,” says an FAIA spokesman.

This legislation does just that, while helping to reinforce the message that authorised additives are not only safe but also play a key role in food safety.

Salt in bread

THE STORY:

A third of breads contain more salt than recommended under guidelines being introduced next year, according to campaign
group CASH (Campaign for Action on Salt and Health).

The figures came after the Department of Health announced that bread accounts for more salt in our diet than any other food, making up almost a fifth of our daily intake. However, manufacturers said many loaves with the lowest salt levels were supermarket brands, which were the most popular.

FAIA SAYS:

Despite salt levels in bread being reported to have fallen by about a third over the past decade, bread manufacturers are under mounting pressure to cut down further. However, in reducing salt levels further, manufacturers are faced with numerous technical challenges.

Firstly, salt influences the production process by improving the dough handling properties and also helps control yeast activity during fermentation. In addition, it influences the sensory properties of bread and is directly linked to consumer acceptance. For these reasons, it would be difficult to completely eliminate salt from the recipe. The main challenge in making low salt bread is that is becomes sticky and is less easy to process with lowering salt levels, meaning that there is a potential for the dough to stop processing lines, leading to down time and wastage.

Salt also plays a major role in achieving the flavour of the bread and, of course, on product shelf life. Products with reduced salt may require balancing of the flavours to achieve an acceptable product.

* Take the bread health scare with a pinch of salt…

Chemist in the kitchen

A page from our first website!

If you want to know more about how food additives tie in with the chemistry that goes on in the kitchen, a downloadable booklet entitled ‘In the mix’ is accessible from the home page, or from the image on this page.

Chemicals have always been welcome in the kitchen: sodium bicarbonate, pectin, yeast, acetic acid etc.

Every cook is a chemist. The first chemical laboratories, back in the Middle Ages, were glorified kitchens, and many chemical processes derive from techniques of cooking. The vital technique of distillation was perfected in the course of man’s search for intoxicating drinks. And far from being dehumanizing, such chemical processes have an ancient magic and glamour, as the great Italian writer Primo Levi pointed out (he was also a chemist):-

Distilling is beautiful.

‘First of all, because it is a slow, philosophic, and silent occupation, which keeps you busy but gives you time to think of other things, somewhat like riding a bike. Then because it involves a metamorphosis from liquid to invisible (vapour) invisible, and from this once again to liquid; but in this double journey, up and down, purity is obtained, an ambiguous and fascinating condition, which starts with chemistry and goes very far. And finally, when you set about distilling, you acquire the consciousness of repeating a ritual consecrated by centuries, almost a religious act, in which from imperfect material you obtain the essence, the usia, the spirit, and in the first place alcohol, which gladdens the spirit and warms the heart.’

Every kitchen contains a battery of chemical reagents, each with their specific chemical purpose; e.g. sodium bicarbonate, pectin, yeast, acetic acid, sodium chloride; and also substances, such as milk and eggs, that are not usually thought of as chemicals but which actually miracle reagents that chemists would still be incapable of creating if they didn’t already exist.

In many cases, ingredients that sound like chemicals are derived from natural products: lecithin from soya is similar to egg lecithin, acetic acid comes from vinegar, Vitamin C is the active ingredient of lemon juice, and so on. The principle of using additives is something that every cook, high or low, uses every time they prepare a meal. To understand the processes of making sauces, meringues, bread and cakes, of marinading, tenderising and caramelising is to become a food chemist, and it greatly enhances the pleasure of cooking to see it from a chemical point of view. Cooking is chemistry in action, with the added benefit that you can eat the results.