A stint at Givaudan opened my eyes to the world of chemically-infused flavors found in so many foods, be it non-perishables on the supermarket shelve or that seasoned steak you ordered at the restaurant. We live in an age where people have the attention span of a fruit fly, where instant-gratification is a common theme. Foods and their production processes have conformed to this high-speed phenomenon. People want it cheap, good and fast.
For instance, the truffle flavored fries sold at Macs have no ingredient component close to the real truffle. Rather, the powdered-flavor is mimicked by the chemical, 2, 4-diethiapentane, one of the many odorants found in truffles, a prized mushroom famous for its exorbitant prices. Fake as it was, it actually tasted reasonably good for $3.10 a box.
To answer consumers’ demands, flavor companies like Givaudan have been developing essences that come close to the real thing, such as truffle flavor as mentioned above. Truffle dishes attain their swanky names by having truffle oil – a mixture of olive oil and 2, 4-diethiapentane – drizzled on it. Again, no trace of real truffle inside. Some unsuspecting consumers may not realize what they have been ingesting. I suppose the answer to the gap between the steep prices of genuine plant-derived essences, and the availability of palatable dishes at reasonable prices, comes in the form of chemical flavors. As long as consumers stay indifferent or ignorant to the potential side-effects of such chemicals (which have not been proven), flavors are here to stay.
Here’s what Joe Bastianich, a restaurateur and TV personality, had to say of flavored truffle oil.
It’s made by perfumists. It’s garbage olive oil with perfume added to it, and it’s very difficult to digest. It’s bad for you. It’s bad for New Yorkers. It’s bad for the American people. So, stop it.
But again, what’s bonafide comfort food without (flavored) truffle fries? Temptation got the better of me even after being fed all those facts.