Willy Wonka novelty lab or just a little disturbing?
Chemists working in flavour laboratories are responsible for developing the taste of a wide range of food products found in your local supermarket. From canned soups to frozen dinners and candy, flavour chemists have spent a great deal of time engineering and refining tastes and influencing your culinary pleasures.
The perception of flavour is very much based on what we think a food or beverage should taste like according to its visual properties. For example, benzaldehyde is a chemical that has a naturally pleasant almond-like odour and is therefore commonly used as a flavour additive. What is interesting about this compound is that it will be perceived differently by your brain depending on what substance it is in. If it’s added to an acidic red liquid your brain will detect a cherry flavour but it is also used as a bitter-almond additive.
Scientists are able to design the chemical equivalents to the flavours of most real meals. There are often two areas in the lab: a kitchen to taste the food they want to replicate and a work bench to extract the vital chemicals that make up the specific flavour. Check out this video that might whet your appetite.