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The Language and Principles of Flavor Creation

Frank Fischetti, veteran flavorist and consultant.

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured, Editor
Posted: May 12, 2009

Ars sine scientia nihil est. Art without science is nothing, the old Latin motto goes. Flavor creation requires both. Veteran flavorist and consultant Frank Fischetti recently highlighted these dualities during the 9th Annual West Coast Flavor Industry Forum in Anaheim, California.

Flavor Components and Challenges

Flavors, Fischetti noted, serve three purposes: the simulation of named flavors, character fixation/maintenance, and the enhancement of flavor impressions and acceptability. And all flavor compounds, whatever the application, comprise just two parts—the flavor portion and the diluent. “The solvent system should be the most important part,” Fischetti said, “because it makes your flavor usable. It’s not the flavor materials that make the flavor work, it’s the solvent system.” The longstanding problem for flavorists, he added, concerns the descriptors used for the flavor materials in the flavor portion. “We have no vocabulary,” he said. “We can’t talk to each other. What does ‘green’ mean? cis-3-Hexenol? Galbanum? There are different kinds of green; which green is it?”

During his talk, Fischetti outlined five key concepts that serve to better elucidate flavor creation: characteristic threshold value, flavor impact item, flavor contributory item, flavor differential item and flavor impact group.

Characterization of Materials

“Why do we characterize materials?” Fischetti asked. “For greater retention. Greater retention means greater creativity.” Here, he said, it is crucial for flavorists to sustain a ppm-oriented frame of mind. “How many of you in your laboratories talk about ppm?” he asked the audience. “Most flavor chemists talk in percentages. At use level, no material is used at percentage quantity. We don’t think in these terms, and we should.” In addition, he stressed the importance of tasting materials multiple times at various levels and in various media. “You can’t taste a chemical one time in one meeting,” he said. “You’ll never define that chemical. You have to taste it in various media and then take the collective characterization. Benzaldehyde has a character of cherry and … it’s a character impact item of almond. How do you distinguish between the two? ”

Fischetti then presented the concept of a characteristic threshold value procedure for categorizing materials. This concept considers flavor materials at “realistic” levels that take into account flavor materials appearing in finished products at ppm levels, not percentage quantities. Materials can be tasted at different levels in various media to determine both character and the “contribution it makes under what condition of use.” In some cases, a flavorist will realize that certain materials fall below threshold upon application. This process of evaluation also allows the flavorist to separate materials into the categories mentioned earlier: flavor impact item, flavor contributory item and flavor differential item.

Character Impact Item

The first two ingredient categories can be considered the science end of the flavorist’s job. Fischetti explained that these characteristic ingredients are essential and necessary to the named flavor. By Fischetti’s own definition, a character impact item “is a material when smelled and/or tasted is reminiscent of the named flavor. Flavorists derive from these materials a great deal of the target flavor’s organoleptic effect. In other words, they are “characteristic, essential and necessary for the flavor.”