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For example, if I were able to identify the flavour compounds of bacon or cabbage, could I take just those ingredients and create the flavour?

Is identifying the flavour compounds something that has been done extensively by food scientists?

I realise that food companies have been trying for a long time to create synthetic flavour, but they are presumably trying to do it cheaply for mass production.

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    possibly of interest : theconversation.com/… – Joe Jul 8 '15 at 0:16
  • How do you think chip brands make so many flavors? They do it all chemically. – Catija Jul 8 '15 at 3:13
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It's a little hard to understand exactly what you're asking, but flavor and fragrance scientists have been at this for a long time, and yes, there are people who specialize in flavor research, using methods like "collecting headspace" (gathering flavor compounds) and analyzing those with techniques such as gas chromatography. They work to figure out what the "most relevant" compounds are in a particular food. Seasoned professionals are usually able to recognize and name specific flavor compounds by smell.

But with a few exceptions, most of those chemicals aren't super easy to just buy off of a shelf somewhere without consulting with IFF or a similar company. (You can buy artificial vanilla, for example, and methyl anthranilate, the dominant flavor from concord grapes used in artificial grape flavoring, as a bird repellant). So for most of us without labs for fermenting synbio vanilla, we will find it more cost effective to use the original ingredient.

Most foods have hundreds of distinct flavor compounds and fooling the tongue, and especially the nose, isn't super easy. But it can be done in some cases, sure. It's worth noting that a great portion of how we experience flavor comes from texture in addition to the flavor compounds, however. Even when you buy a flavored chip that is meant to taste like steak or mango salsa or whatever, you'll often find it a bit off, perhaps the food industry's equivalent of the "uncanny valley" problem, thanks to texture and context differences.

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    As an example -- Jelly Belly tried making a 'pepperoni pizza' flavored jelly bean. It was so foul, that they ended up using it as basis for the 'vomit' flavor for the "Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans". – Joe Jul 7 '15 at 23:51
  • It's very hard to make flavours, that why even today artificial banana flavour taste of a long extinct banana variety – TFD Jul 8 '15 at 9:59
  • Hehe, artificial banana flavour is what I had to think of already when reading the title... one variety is just a single chemical compound, isoamyl acetate, you can buy it in some regions.. and yes, it smells intensely of artificial bananas, through a sealed bottle. Most fruit aromas come from a few esters each (jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/…, and these are present in the actual fruit too and not just a possible petrochemical mock-up.). In fruit liquors, a lot of the aroma is from more complex alcohols the fruit ferment into. – rackandboneman Nov 5 '15 at 21:03

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