Airdate: Jan 21, 2009
Scientist: Joan Harvey
KSC Flavor - Recreating the Banana
How do you mimic the flavor of a fresh banana?
“I’m gonna try to make the perfect yellow banana.”
Banana trees grow in warm climates and yield mature fruit months after blossoming. But in northern New Jersey Joan Harvey can whip up a fresh banana flavor in under 10 minutes. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Joan is a flavorist with a major candy company, and she draws from a library of flavor compounds when formulating new creations. You may know these as “natural and artificial flavors” listed on ingredients labels.
“I’m looking for hexenyl acetate, and it’s found in apples, it’s found in pears, it’s found in bananas, it’s found in grass. In the U.S. we use them as artificial ingredients, where in Europe anything that’s found in nature can be called nature identical.”
Hexenyl acetate is one of a handful of ingredients that Joan uses to mimic the perfect yellow banana flavor. She quickly pulls chemicals off the shelves and quickly reacquaints herself with their aromas in preparation for a new candy formula. Like music, flavor consists of notes, individual qualities that stand out.
“This compound, it’s a little heavier banana note. It reminds me of as it’s going brown. This compound, isoamyl alcohol, has a more green banana note. And vanillin. It smells creamy and sweet. I’m going to use this to balance all the other compounds together. And these last two are ethyl esters that will give me the lift of the banana flavor.”
Joan Harvey is a participant in the Kids’ Science Challenge, and if you know of a 3rd to 6th grader with an interest in flavor, have them check out kidsciencechallenge.com.
Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.