August 2016

Why Does it Taste so Good? The Secrets of Flavor in Vaping

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By IAN JONES

Banana split, blueberry pie, bubblegum and biscuit. The range of e-liquid flavors is endless. But where do they come from and how are they made? We asked some of the major names in the flavor industry about the secrets behind the amazing tasting e-liquid we vape everyday, and their concerns for the future.

Practically all e-liquid companies use artificial flavorings to make their juice, employing flavor experts to create top-secret recipes using the thousands of concentrates on offer. Many e-liquid home brewers have set up successful juice companies based on their own carefully-designed creations. And practically all these companies use easily-available concentrates originally designed for baking, sweets and drinks.

Strong, simple tastes such as vanilla and strawberry were obvious choices in the early days, but as vape technology progressed, consumers demanded more complex and exciting flavors. This led to major names in the flavoring industry, such as Flavour Art and The Flavor Apprentice and Capella’s Flavors, developing their range of concentrates to match demand amongst vapers and juice-creators, and eventually saw the rise of dedicated vape-based flavor companies such as Flavorah.

As well as these artificial concentrates, flavors can also be made by the process of natural extraction, though this is largely limited to experienced flavorists. This is a complicated process where the aroma of an item is extracted by soaking it in PG or VG. This can be done successfully with tobacco, and also works well with coffee, vanilla and various herbs and spices. Fruits are generally unsuitable for making natural vapeable flavor concentrates, as the resulting sugar content will burn the coil – plus there is a risk of dangerous oils also being extracted during the process. This procedure is not recommended for inexperienced vapers, and while a small number of companies offer naturally-extracted concentrates, artificial flavors are much more common.

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But how are these artificial flavors made? Flavorah’s Brendan Woodward spoke to us about the process. “Flavorah is blended from scratch in a food laboratory, using an industrial food flavoring process that gives precise quality control, regardless of whether the batch is for five gallons or fifty five gallons.”

“We have several flavor chemists involved. Individual flavor chemists tend to specialize in certain groups of flavorings. For instance, one is really good at bakery and tobaccos, and another teas and fruits.” Along with this crack team of aroma-experts, Flavorah uses feedback from customers and the DIY recipe crew to develop new flavors. Their popular new cupcake batter and honey bee flavors came directly from this process.

When creating a new flavor concentrate, these expert chemists meticulously combine different molecules in order to synthesize a particular aroma. Practically any flavor can you can think of can be synthesized, leading to strange (and understandably rare) e-liquid flavors such as smokey bacon or pizza. An artificial flavor such as blueberry will have slight deviations depending on the company that produce it. Whether it comes from TFA or Capella, it will be instantly recognizable as blueberry, but will have a slightly different taste, affecting recipe blends in subtly different ways.

While the term ‘artificial’ can ring alarm bells, Massimiliano Mancini, head of Flavour Art Italy, says that these concentrates are actually safer than natural flavorings. “When making a flavor, the flavorist begins by researching what chemicals nature uses to make the desired flavor. He then selects from the list of flavor components found in, say, real apples, eliminating those chemicals that make little contribution to taste or are not permitted owing to toxicity. Nature has no restrictions on using toxic chemicals, whereas the flavorist does.”

The result is identical to its natural counterpart, but without any dangerous elements. Not only this, artificial flavors are more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective. “Natural coconut flavorings, for example, depend on a chemical called massoia lactone which comes from the bark of the Malaysian Massoia tree, “ Mancini explains. “Collecting this kills the tree because harvesters must remove the bark and extract it to obtain the lactone. This pure natural chemical is identical to the version made in an organic chemists laboratory, yet it is much more expensive than the synthetic alternative.”

However, some flavor companies are reluctant to promote their concentrates for vaping. Lorann concentrates are much-loved by vapers seeking vibrant sweet tastes for their juice, but a representative told Vape Magazine: “All of our flavors are intended for use in the food and beverage industry. We do not advertise, promote or recommend our flavors for use in e-cigarettes, hookah or other tobacco products.” There are safety reasons behind this as a small selection of Lorann flavors are unsafe to vape, but it should be noted that the recent FDA Deeming Regulations are placing flavor companies under growing pressure. There is a risk that flavor companies are being forced to distance themselves from vaping, or dramatically limit their range of concentrates due to inspection costs.

Brendan at Flavorah shares this concern, believing there is a way to both safeguard the creative freedom of vaping, while ensuring safety standards are met. “A great innovation would be the establishment of a clean list of flavoring compounds for e-liquid. Working on a comprehensive GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list of ingredients for inhalation products would represent a massive step forward for the vape industry, and would assure vaping is untangled from the inaccurate labeling and regulation as a tobacco product that has just occurred under the deeming.”

The recent diacetyl scare suggests there is a need for increased safety measures, but even this has been exaggerated by a media searching for vaping scare stories. Diacetyl is a compound found in many dessert-based flavorings as it gives a rich buttery taste. In very high amounts, much higher than typically vaped, it can cause lung disease known as ‘popcorn lung’, so-called as it was first discovered in workers at a Missouri popcorn plant in 2000. However, an average tobacco cigarette contains over 100 times more diacetyl than in the equivalent vape, and has been shown to have minimal risk of causing popcorn lung in vapers.

The variety of flavors is a major aspect of why vaping is so pleasurable and exciting. Ensuring these concentrates are safe to vape is an important factor, but there is a risk that draconian restrictions could hold back future innovations and exciting new flavors. It’s reassuring to note that all the leading flavor companies we spoke to place safety as a top priority, hopefully safeguarding both their future and the progress of flavor development in vaping.