Can flavouring agents really affect food safety?


Flavour is how we perceive food as it is a combination of taste, smell and touch.Everything we smell or taste is a response to chemicals that are naturally present in all foods. However not all flavorings in food are natural and some can be derived from chemicals and so they have been standardized in the FSSAI regulations to ensure food safety. Even if natural, food flavorings are used only in small amounts and are not intended to be consumed separately.

Food Acts of various developed nations have described two types of flavoring, natural and synthetic where as in India FSSAI has classified flavors into three categories.

First is natural flavoring substances which are extracted from plants, herbs and spices, animals, or microbial fermentation. Essential oils, herbs, spices and sweet and sour foods are also used as natural flavorings. Natural flavorings can be either used in their natural form or processed form for human consumption (oil extracts). For the sake of food safety, nature-identical or artificial flavoring substances cannot be used along with natural flavorings in foods.

Secondly we have artificial flavoring agents and these are chemically similar to natural flavorings but may not be an exact copy of natural flavorings. They imitate the natural flavors but come from substances that might not be edible but are processed to create chemical flavorings like amyl acetate used as banana flavoring and ethyl butyrate for pineapple.There are hundreds of permitted chemical flavorings and the FSSAI has to approve all flavorings used as ingredient in processed foods. There are also a number of chemicals the FSSAI has not permitted for use in foods because of food safety concerns. Since the past few months flavor enhancer, mono-sodium glutamate has been in the FSSAI news but the regulations have clear standards about how it can be used and in which product it is not permitted at all.

The third type is nature-identical flavoring agents obtained by synthesis or are isolated through chemical processes. The chemical make-up of nature- identical flavorings is exactly like their natural counterparts. These flavoring agents cannot contain any artificial flavoring substances.

In the food processing industry flavorings play an important role and so FSSAI has regulations for them. They are used to create flavors for food products that do not have desired flavors such as candies, ice-creams and other snacks. Flavorings in processed foods come mostly from artificial flavoring like artificial strawberry. Most vanilla flavoring comes from synthetic version of vanillin as the natural version derived from an orchid native to Mexico is very expensive.  Artificial grape-flavor comes from a chemical in concord (purple) grapes – not the red or green grapes we’re used to eating.

Artificial flavors are also used to add extra taste to processed foods that have lost their natural flavor with proceeding, like artificial lemon, butter or berry flavors. Artificial flavors are preferred in food industry as they cost less.From the viewpoint of food safety, artificial flavorings are considered safer because they are thoroughly tested before they are permitted for use.

Food Business Operators are responsible for using food additives like flavoring agents in food. They must ensure that they buy the food additives from the licensed & reputed ingredient suppliers. Also, FBOs need to strictly adhere the regulations to ensure that only permitted flavoring agents should be used in the specified foods and in the recommended quantities.


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