Flavouring and Flavour enhancers – E numbers 600-699
Our ‘taste’ experience is created in the brain using a combination of taste and smell (either before or during eating) and even sight. We also have a taste expectation before we even try something based on these visual and olfactory aspects along with our past experiences.
The food industry uses flavourings to actually impart flavour or enhance it (either by intensifying it or supporting it without adding another taste). Common everyday flavour enhancers like salt and sugar are used to bring out the flavour in savoury and sweet foods by supporting the original taste. Others like lactic acid and citric acid are used to assist in the creation of specific sour or fermented tastes.
Lab created artificial sweeteners (see sweeteners etc. post) and other flavour enhancers routinely come under fire from health groups as they are thought to break down into toxic and neurotoxic chemical compounds when inside the body and cause harmful inflammation and increase the risk of many common chronic diseases.
The most famous (or infamous) flavor enhancer is monosodium glutamate/E621. A Japanese scientist (Kikunae Ikeda) noted there was a taste that he seemed unable to place within the usual four already established and accepted tastes – sweet, sour, bitter and salty. So he isolated and discovered this extra ‘taste’ in 1908, named it umami and added it to the existing four. He derived it from seaweed originally although it is made from ‘bacterial fermentation’ nowadays (like vinegar and yoghurt are). The additional taste of umami that MSG provides is a much sort after extra element in foods and other more ‘natural’ versions are available to provide this much desired flavour layer.
MSG has been much vilified for it’s reported side effects (the so-called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome but now more known by the more PC term of MSG symptom complex) although repeated testing has reported it as safe to use. Just as a point of interest the initial person who sparked the MSG backlash (a certain Robert Ho Man Kwok) made a passing remark about feeling awful after a Chinese meal but cited many possible elements of the meal that could have triggered the reactions, but for some reason MSG became the target and the others were never blamed similarly. I am continually amazed at the levels of sodium overall in Chinese take away style food and always feel peculiar after it whether there’s MSG or not. Anyhoo…
Natural flavourings are costly and often inefficient to extract so imitation copies are made and provide a cheaper, more stable (for longer term storage) and more reliably consistent additive. Flavourings are added to a wide range of foods and usually in very small amounts just to give a particular taste or smell. Flavourings are technically additives but they don’t have E numbers because they are controlled by different laws. An ingredients list will say if flavourings have been used (sometimes adding natural when appropriate), but individual flavourings are usually not named. Food legislation requires that a product that is not flavoured wholly or mainly by the one advertised on the packaging (in words or in images) must clearly say ‘flavoured’ or ‘flavour’.