3 Decades of Naturals Research in F&F

This year’s recipient of the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association Excellence in Flavor Science Award was Regula Näf, who spent 29 years at Firmenich before she retired in 2005.

During her acceptance speech, Näf graciously thanked her many eminent colleagues and outlined how the analysis of natural products has furthered—and will continue to further—the F&F industry. Näf spent her career discovering new compounds, identifying missing notes, improving compounds’ performance in applications and identifying substances in natural materials in order to clear them for use in nature-identical flavors. Some highlights:

In 1974, Näf participated in a publication outlining 68 new compounds—including theaspiranes, methyl dihydrojasmonate and alpha-damascone—discovered during an extraction and analysis of brewed black tea.

In 1995, Näf and her colleagues published a paper looking into agarwood oil, which she described as the “most beautiful perfume … sweet, balsamic, woody, reminiscent of incense.”

In 2001, Näf and Alain Velluz worked on a paper identifying trace (but potent) aldehydes in mandarin and tangerine peel extracts, including (2E,4E,7Z)-2,4,7-decatrienal, (2E,4Z,7Z)-2,4,7-decatrienal and (Z)-4-dodecenal. The aldehydes have proven valuable in flavor compositions in combination with orange essence oil.

In 2004, Näf participated in a publication, in collaboration with Roger Corbaz of the Fructus arboretum, which investigated the composition of numerous apple varieties, including Gravensteiner and Taffetas (analyzed both intact and “smashed”). In addition, the work included reconstitutions of several apple types, including Theintz and Gravenstiner. Meanwhile, Firmenich submitted a “from the named juice” apple flavor to a client, which ultimately rejected the flavor based on the presence of gamma-decalactone. Näf and her colleagues went back and checked their work, noting the presence of gamma-decalactone in six varieties of apple, including Bovarde and Framboise. Thus, the validity of the submission was no longer in dispute.

Between 2004 and 2006, Näf took part in research into the volatile constituents of linden flower nectar as it moved from the flower to the stomachs of honeybees to the hive where it ripened into honey. Nectar from the flower was collected and analyzed by GC/MS. Collaborator Boris Bachofen caught bees returning to hives full of linden flower nectar. Using pressure, Bachofen forced the honeybees’ stomach contents back out of the mouth for collection. (The unpleasant-sounding process reportedly did not harm the bees.) The stomach contents of 25 bees were dissolved in water and extracted. The work identified a number of new terpenes.

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