Flavor (American English) or flavour (British English; see spelling differences) is the sensory impression of food or other substances, and is determined primarily by the chemical senses of taste and smell. The "trigeminal senses", which detect chemical irritants in the mouth and throat, as well as temperature and texture, are also important to the overall gestalt of flavor perception. The flavor of the food, as such, can be altered with natural or artificial flavorants which affect these senses.
Although the terms flavoring and flavorant in common language denote the combined chemical sensations of taste and smell, the same terms are used in the fragrance and flavors industry to refer to edible chemicals and extracts that alter the flavor of food and food products through the sense of smell. Due to the high cost or unavailability of natural flavor extracts, most commercial flavorants are "nature-identical", which means that they are the chemical equivalent of natural flavors, but chemically synthesized rather than being extracted from source materials. Identification of components of natural foods, for example a raspberry, may be done using technology such as headspace techniques, so the flavorist can imitate the flavor by using a few of the same chemicals present.
Flavorings are focused on altering the flavors of natural food product such as meats and vegetables, or creating flavor for food products that do not have the desired flavors such as candies and other snacks. Most types of flavorings are focused on scent and taste. Few commercial products exist to stimulate the trigeminal senses, since these are sharp, astringent, and typically unpleasant flavors.
The compounds used to produce artificial flavors are almost identical to those that occur naturally. It has been suggested that artificial flavors may be safer to consume than natural flavors due to the standards of purity and mixture consistency that are enforced either by the company or by law. Natural flavors, in contrast, may contain impurities from their sources, while artificial flavors are typically more pure and are required to undergo more testing before being sold for consumption.
The color of food can affect one's expectations of the flavor significantly. In one study, adding more red color to a drink increased the perceived sweetness, with darker colored solutions being rated 2Ц10% better than lighter ones, though it had 1% less sucrose concentration. Food manufacturers exploit this phenomenon; different colors of Froot Loops cereal and most brands of gummy bears often use the same flavorings.
Food manufacturers are sometimes reluctant to inform consumers about the source and identity of flavor ingredients and whether they have been produced with the incorporation of substances such as animal byproducts. Some flavor ingredients, such as gelatin, are produced from animal products. Some, such as glycerin can be derived from either animal or vegetable sources. And some extracts, such as vanilla, may contain alcohol. Many Jews, Jains, Hindus, and Muslims adhere to religious dietary laws, and vegans to personal convictions, which restrict the use of animal byproducts and/or alcohol in foods unless subject to oversight and inspection by their respective religious authority or moral beliefs. In many Western countries, some consumers rely on a Jewish kosher pareve certification mark to indicate that natural flavorings used in a food product are free of meat and dairy (although they can still contain fish). The Vegan Society's Sunflower symbol (which is currently used by over 260 companies worldwide) can also be used to see which products do not use any animal ingredients (including flavorings and colorings).
Most flavors represent a mixture of aroma compounds, the raw material that is produced by flavor companies. In rare cases, a single synthetic compound is used in pure form. Artificial vanilla flavors vanillin and ethylvanillin are a notable exception, as well as the artificial strawberry flavor (ethyl methylphenylglycidate). The ubiquitous "green apple" aroma is based on hexyl acetate.
Few standards are available or being prepared for sensory analysis of flavors. In chemical analysis of flavors, solid phase extraction, solid phase microextraction, and headspace gas chromatography are applied to extract and separate the flavor compounds in the sample. The determination is typically done by various mass spectrometric techniques. A flavor lexicon can aid the development of objective language for food.