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Airdate: Oct 14, 2008
Scientist: Joan Harvey

Science Diary: Flavor - Ingredients

Science Diary: Flavor - Ingredients
By understanding and synthesizing chemicals found in food, flavor scientists have a powerful taste-tool at their disposal.

music; ambience: fruit market, hawker

"Hey, sugar sweet plums, two dollars a box!"

The sounds of farmers market, where it's easy to see that all this fruit actually came from a real farm somewhere. But now head over to the candy aisle of a supermarket and it will be a challenge to make that same connection. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. There isor at least once wasa relationship between a lemon grove and a bag of lemon-flavored candy.

"We'll go out and buy those fruits, and we'll evaluate them Marketing will say, ooh, I like this. And then the flavor group will sit there and go, okay, it has this compound in it, and this compound in it."

Joan Harvey is a flavor chemist at a major candy company, and when it's time to develop a new flavor, she has an extensive pallet from which to draw.

"Go back to the 1800s, and we were consuming products as you either hunted or gathered seeds and leaves, and you added them to your cooking. As the years progress, we went from the actual product, to essential oils, to, I would say in the mid-1950s, we got more into synthetic. We actually understand the chemistry and the makeup of, say, a lemon oil. Lemon oils made it stronger than just taking a slice of lemon and putting it into tea. What we do know about lemon is what the major compound of lemon is. It's a chemical called citral. So we're adding very small amounts of synthetic chemicals to food products."

[ambience: "Hey, try that plum before you buy it"]

Despite advances in synthetic flavors, consumer demand is now driving flavor scientists like Joan Harvey back to back to a so-called natural ingredients.

If you know a third to sixth grader who is interested in flavor science, have them check out our latest project, Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation.