Is There A Difference Between Flavourings, Extracts And Essences?

Is There A Difference Between Flavourings, Extracts And Essences?


We understand that as a layman, you must be using these terms interchangeably. But, have you ever thought that there existed a differentiator between the three terms? An array of terms that are used for food flavourings can be confusing and highly misleading at times. Elaborating an example of VANILLA here. Firstly, you cannot compare Vanilla extract and vanilla essence/ flavour. Vanilla extract is made from actual/ real vanilla beans whereas essence or flavour is just pure chemical. Everything in vanilla essence or flavour is chemically manufactured and the truth is there is absolutely no real vanilla in it. Vanillin is the primary component of the vanilla beans which is synthetically manufactured to make it taste and smell like real vanilla, to imitate the real vanilla. It goes for all the other essences as well.

So, what do we actually understand by the terms ‘FLAVOURS’, ‘ESSENCE’ and ‘EXTRACTS’?

A food flavour essence and an extract are both flavouring ingredients. Both are mainly used in a number of recipes to give them the flavour profile/ aroma of the original ingredient. Commonly available essences and extracts are of spices, nuts, herbs, fruits, some flowers, etc. the best known are extracts or essences of almond, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, lemon, nutmeg, orange, peppermint, pistachio, rose, spearmint, vanilla, violet and wintergreen.

While referring to food ingredients, an extract is made by combining oil from the ingredient with an alcohol. This creates a stable, longer-lasting flavouring agent. Alcohol us used as a binding agent for preserving the flavour’s strength. Ethyl alcohol and vodka are most commonly used to make extracts while alcohols such as gin, brandy and rum may also be used.

An essence on the other hand, can have two distinct meanings. It can either be an imitation extract or it can be highly concentrated form of pure extract. The food flavour manufacturers should specify this difference on the label of the bottle. Concentrated essences are essentially very strong extracts that can be twice to even four times as strong as normal extracts.

Natural essences are obtained by extracting the essential oil from the blossoms, fruit, roots and the other parts of the plant or the whole plant. There are four main methods to produce essences:

  • Expression
  • Absorption
  • Maceration
  • Distillation

Imitation essences are chemically created substances that aim to replicate the flavour and/ or taste of the original ingredient. They usually do not have delicacy of the natural flavour; however, they provide a close alternative that is more convenient than actual ingredients or extracts, especially when the ingredients or extracts are not easily available or are too expensive.

Still many people find that imitation essences tend to have an artificially produced taste that does not match with the original taste of the ingredient or with pure extract. Many flavour manufacturers in Delhi recommend using the ingredient, ingredient paste or pure extract, even though these tend to be quite expensive. Moreover, at times, imitation essences tend to be weaker than natural extracts. Hence, many people recommend doubling the amount of imitation essence used as opposed to the extract.

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