The industry uses aromatic additives to increase the attractiveness of food. However, their safety and the abuse that is made of them is being reviewed. So here are 10 facts you should know about artificial scents.

Beyond the nutritional properties of a food, what ultimately causes it to be included in the diet or rejected is its aroma. Scent sensors at the top of the nose, in collaboration with the taste buds on the tongue, decide whether to go ahead after the first bite.

Researchers estimate that more than 100,000 aromatic substances are found in food. Each is made up of a complex spectrum of volatile compounds. 600 compounds contribute to the unmistakable aroma of vanilla.

This in the case that the aroma is natural, because if it is artificial, all the merit corresponds to a couple of molecules created in the laboratory from substances derived, in most cases, from the oil industry.

Our senses of taste and smell can hardly distinguish between a natural aroma and another compound in the laboratory by chemical synthesis or with the help of transgenic yeasts and fungi.

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A glance at the list of ingredients does not help to discover the origin of an aromatic substance. Under the same heading, “aroma”, can be found a substance obtained from an animal, a plant or by a yeast with modified genes.

ARE ARTIFICIAL AROMAS ABUSED? WHY?

An average European consumes around 120 kg of food per year that includes different types of flavorings. These can in no way be considered harmless. In fact, the European Union evaluates 2,800 substances to see if they exceed the latest safety criteria.

Flavoring additives end up in packet soups, deep-frozen pizzas, sweets, dairy products, and many other foods. It is difficult that today there is any product of industrial production, not ecological, that escapes from the “tuning”.

Flavorings are used to increase the attractiveness of food and to supplement the destruction of delicate natural components during transportation and storage of ingredients.

It also influences that consumers have opted for intense tastes. In addition, they want their preferred tastes to be available all year round – regardless of the natural food season – and without any variation.

HAVE ANY FLAVORINGS BEEN BANNED?

Seven flavorings are prohibited in Europe, including E-216.

The European Union continues to collect more toxicological information to reassess the safety of many others. Some are likely to be banned in the medium term.

WHAT ARE NATURAL SCENTS?

They are those obtained by physical, microbiological and enzymatic processes from fruits, spices, seeds and products of animal origin.

The raw materials are usually the essential oils of vegetable origin, in which the concentration of the aromatic compounds of the food is multiplied by one hundred.

WHAT IS A NATURAL IDENTICAL SCENT?

It is a laboratory-made copy of a natural molecule. However, the “really natural” aroma is the result of the mixture of various compounds. For example, the strawberry flavor can be derived by recombining molecules of potato or corn and that of vanilla, from a by-product of the paper industry. Therefore, the consumer experience is not identical to that provided by a true natural aroma.

The law no longer allows the adjective “natural” to be used in copies. Only when the label specifies that it is a “natural strawberry aroma” can you be sure that it comes from the fruit.

SO WHAT IS AN ARTIFICIAL SCENT?

It is a laboratory creation that looks like some natural aromatic compound.

It is a molecule that does not exist in nature and is made from chemical substances that may have their origin in the petrochemical industry.

It is listed simply as “aroma” on the food label.

WHAT IS A “SMOKE” AROMA?

Smoking is a traditional preservation medium that confers a pleasant flavor. The aroma is obtained by concentrating the smoke from burned wood and can be added to foods that have not been smoked.

The safety of several of these additives is under review.

ARE ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS ALWAYS ASSIGNED AN E CODE?

Under the categories of “aromas” or “natural aromas” are included more than 2,000 substances: natural, artificial and copies of natural.

These substances are not assigned an E number and do not appear by name in the ingredient list except for flavor enhancers, such as monosodium glutamate.

DO ORGANIC FOODS CONTAIN AROMAS?

They can include among their ingredients natural aromas obtained from organic raw materials. Therefore, copies made in the laboratory, artificial flavors and those obtained by methods that use transgenic are excluded.

WHAT FLAVORINGS SHOULD BE AVOIDED?

It is advisable in general to avoid any food that includes aromas and does not specify that they are natural.

Some authors recommend especially rejecting the additive E-510 (ammonium chloride), due to its effects on the hormonal system, and flavor enhancers (E-620 to E-625).

WHAT HEALTH RISKS CAN FLAVOR ENHANCERS HAVE?

They are often used to camouflage the poor quality of the product.

In sensitive people they can cause the “Chinese restaurant syndrome” (pressure on the temples, headache, neck stiffness).

Fertility and learning problems, hunger attacks, and obesity have been found in laboratory animals.

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