Canning, freezing and dehydrating processed foods destroy their natural taste. This means these types of foods need to be “repaired” in order to provide the flavour, consistency, and aroma of the original food.

And here is where “the flavour industry” comes into place. In fact, without the flavour industry, fast food will not exist.

The fast-food industry “reasoning”

The fast-food industry is well aware that customers are not concerned with how healthy the food is; it is the taste that is critical in bringing customers back. In fact, the taste is even more critical than price and convenience.

Artificial flavours not only guarantee a desirable taste, but they also provide texture and smell. The flavour industry is responsible for giving chips, bread, crackers, cookies, ice cream, breakfast cereals, and many other processed foods the flavours of which we are so fond.

I know you would like to believe that these foods that taste so good are the result of elaborate preparations in the kitchens. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In addition, you need to assume that if artificial colouring is adding for taste and consistency, then food manufacturers need to add also artificial aroma. Otherwise, the original food will be too insipid.

Our perception of flavours and odours

There are only four values that your tongue can sense -sweet, salty, sour, bitter– while your nose can detect thousands of different odours. Therefore most artificial flavours have both taste and smell concoctions to trick all of us.

Dozens or sometimes hundreds of chemicals combine to create the taste and smell in real food. In the case of fruits, however, just one or a few chemical components are responsible for their taste and smell. For example, the chemical Octyl Acetate is the main component in orange flavour, while isoamyl acetate is the main component of banana flavour.

Manufacturers recreate in the laboratories these chemicals and by adding them to the processed food, they make sure the product tastes to some degree, like orange or banana.

To make the artificial flavour closer to the real thing, food manufacturers add other chemicals in the correct proportions. Of course, the precise mixture of chemicals added to a portion of food is kept as a secret, not only from the competition but also from consumers.

Take a look at what a mixture is needed to recreate a strawberry flavour is one of those strawberry milkshakes you may think it tastes so good:

Typical Artificial Strawberry Flavor

Amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglydi-hydroxyphyenyl-2-butanone, alpha-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptane, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl, alcohol, eosw, rum ether, gamma-unde-calactone, vanillin, and solvent.

And you thought that the colour and flavour in that tasting shake came from strawberries!

Are natural flavours any better?

Natural flavours are not necessarily any better than artificial ones and they can contain as many chemicals like artificial flavours. However, artificial flavours are the favourite of food manufacturers because they are cheaper to produce than natural ones. And you know how it works: if it is cheaper, food manufacturers will use the cheapest version regardless of the effect on your health.

Scientific advances may have created extremely convincing artificial flavours, but they’ve never exactly right. Something is always off, and if you listen carefully to your body, it will tell you that something is wrong with that “food” after you ingest it. It may be a stomach upset, a rash, etc. just listen to your body.

Artificial flavours saved the day for McDonald’s French fries

After McDonald’s was highly criticized for the high amount of saturated fat contained in their fries, the company’s CEOs decided to replace the cottonseed oil and beef tallow they were using to cook their French fries with pure vegetable oil. The problem here was that the fries didn’t taste so “good”. So, the flavour industry came to the rescue with their artificial flavourings. Now McDonald’s fries taste “great”.

Final words

The most important thing to remember when you buy processed fast food is that you see, smell, and taste comes from added chemicals. Although we are used to seeing lists of ingredients on packaged foods stating all the added flavourings, few of us stop to think about why they are there. Our food’s artificial flavours, sometimes referred to as “natural flavours”, determine how foods really taste.

Keep also in mind that manufacturers of processed foods make their final decisions on how to prepare food based on their profits, not your health or your family health for that matter.


I am Andy Carpenter and I would start by saying that I have a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science conferred by California State University, Los Angeles and that I am certified as a Registered Dietitian.

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