When it comes to food and drink, flavor is the No. 1 factor that influences consumers’ purchasing choices. To create the most appealing and tasty products possible, therefore, food manufacturers work with food flavorists, specialized professionals who use an incredibly wide range of natural and artificial ingredients to create the delicious flavors that consumers crave.
In recent years, however, consumers have placed increasing pressure on manufacturers to reduce the use of artificial additives in their foods and beverages. As a result, more and more manufacturers are expanding their use of natural flavor sources, including extracts. A long-time staple for food producers but now more popular than ever, extracts help deliver great flavor, naturally. Read on to learn more about these important flavor sources.
What are extracts?
According to the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, an extract is “a solution that includes essential elements of a complex material.” A flavor extract, therefore, is composed particularly of compounds that create flavors. Sensient Flavors, which specializes in designing custom flavoring systems, takes the definition one step further, describing extracts as compounds that are prepared from components or matter directly extracted from a particular botanical or group of botanicals.
For example, the difference between peppermint extract and peppermint flavor is that peppermint flavor is synthesized in a lab (using either natural or artificial ingredients) while peppermint extract is, in fact, the essence of a peppermint plant that has been drawn from the original source using one of several extraction methods.
What are some important things to know about extracts?
As extracts become more widely used in food and beverage products, it’s helpful for consumers to understand more about the nature and use of these ingredients. Some useful things to know about extracts include the following:
- Extracts help manufacturers provide clean label flavors.
One of the biggest reasons why today’s food manufacturers are turning to extracts for their flavoring needs is that extracts help satisfy consumer demands for clean label products (that is, products that are made primarily from easily recognizable, natural ingredients and that contain few to no artificial additives). Because they are derived directly from natural, typically plant-based sources, extracts are perceived as very “clean” by a majority of consumers, according to a recent poll from Sensient Flavors.
- Extracts offer a number of useful benefits.
In addition to their status as natural, clean label ingredients, extracts offer a number of other benefits:
Taste retention—Compared with their source botanicals (fresh herbs, for example), extracts hold onto their flavor profile and taste for a much longer period of time.
Diverse applications—Depending on how they are manufactured (for example, whether they are soluble in water or in oil), extracts can be used in many different food and beverage applications, making them a very versatile flavor ingredient.
Significant flavor range—Almost any botanical you can think of is suitable for extracts, including herbs, fruits, vegetables, spices, teas, coffees, and cocoas. This means that there is almost certainly an available extract that can help flavor just about any food or beverage product.
- There are many different ways to obtain extracts.
Because every extract is different, flavor companies have developed a variety of technologies and methods that allow for extraction while maintaining the maximum flavor and other desirable properties of the source botanical or ingredient. These methods include:
Liquid carbon dioxide extraction—Using carbon dioxide gas in low-temperature, high-pressure situations is an effective way to extract phenolic compounds such as gingerols and shogaols from ginger, resulting in a highly concentrated, fiery tasting extract.
Traditional percolation—Because it relies on gentle filtration, traditional percolation is a good method to use when producing extracts from delicate botanicals. For example, the light, floral extracts that come from chrysanthemum flower petals need to be produced through traditional percolation, as higher heat or pressure methods would destroy the fragile flavor compounds.
Molecular distillation—Distillation doesn’t only produce spirits; it’s an excellent method to capture the volatile flavor components found in some fruits and spices. In this method, the distillate passes through a cooling column, separating moisture from flavor and leaving behind an amplified flavor extract.
You probably have extracts in your home right now.
Extracts aren’t just used by major players in the food industry, they are also widely employed by home cooks and bakers. Perhaps the best example of this is vanilla extract, which you likely have in your kitchen. Widely recognized as the world’s most popular flavor, vanilla is used in many different foods, both sweet and savory. To create vanilla extract, vanilla beans—the seeds of a type of flowering orchid found in a handful of tropical areas—are steeped in alcohol, producing a solution that contains as many as 250 taste and aroma components.