In the food industry, the use of flavourings in various formulations is quite common. In this entry, we will analyse the use of these products in the production of baked goods and some aspects to consider when choosing them.

First of all, it should be noted that although we usually refer to them as aromas, some of them are also complemented by substances that can affect the taste of the products, either by adding a touch of acidity, sweetness, bitterness, or saltiness, or by enhancing the original flavours.

In many preparations, we may want to incorporate natural products that are valued for some organoleptic characteristic, such as their colour, aroma, or flavour. For instance, it is common to add pieces of fruit in yoghurt production. However, incorporating these natural products can be logistically complex (short shelf life or the need for frozen storage) or excessively expensive, and it also forces us to introduce various nutrients that are not desired and can cause problems in our preparations. In other cases, the aromas we seek are found in fractions that are difficult to consume, such as citrus peels, or in natural products that are highly valuable. On the other hand, the flavour industry has advanced significantly, and today we have various types of aromas, tailored to numerous preparations and specific cases.

Reasons for Using Flavourings

Nowadays, the main reasons for using flavourings in the production of baked goods are as follows:

  1. Expanding our product range with a variety of aromas and flavours. An example is the wide range of biscuit fillings with multiple flavours. It should be noted that the baking industry, at least in Spain, is not very fond of these variations. Both consumers and the industry are quite conservative and prefer the usual flavours, derived from the raw materials and the fermentation and baking processes. However, in recent years, some breads with spices or essential oils have proliferated. The pastry industry, especially the biscuit sector, is somewhat more open to these practices. However, it does not come close to the extensive use of these substances in the snack or even carbonated beverage industries. It should also be noted that Spain does not use these practices as much compared to some Asian countries, where it is a common practice. In these cases, it is important to note that adding aroma alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by other attributes that remind us of the product associated with that aroma. A well-known example is offering strawberry yoghurts with the same strawberry flavour/aroma, where some were coloured pink, and others were left with their original (whitish) colour. Tasters clearly found that the pink strawberry yoghurts tasted more like strawberry than the whitish ones, although the actual flavour was the same, as demonstrated in a blind tasting. Similarly, we should not add strawberry or lemon flavours to a base that lacks a touch of acidity. In summary, if we incorporate an aroma that the consumer associates with a familiar product, we must pay attention to these details.
  2. Compensating for the loss of natural aroma due to processing. In other cases, we want to incorporate the natural product, but part of the volatile substances are lost during processing, resulting in a loss of aroma. In this case, we can use flavourings to compensate for these losses.
  3. Enhancing the nutritional profile of some products. Some aromas are clearly associated with sweet flavours. In our minds, products with these aromas are often classified as sweet, which can help reduce the sugar content to some extent (though not entirely), as our minds will do the rest. Conversely, it can be challenging to introduce these flavours into savoury products, although more people are willing to try new sensations.
  4. Replacing a more expensive product with a more economical option. We want the consumer to find the aroma of the original product, which was likely included for its aroma. In some cases, the inclusion of certain products is technologically challenging, and we can use flavourings to replace them. For example, we can replace honey with another sweetener and honey flavouring or incorporate cheese flavour, an ingredient difficult to include in biscuit production.
  5. Improving the resemblance of substitute products to the originals. For reasons of allergies or intolerances, or simply consumer preferences, flavourings can help make substitute products more similar to the originals. There is a significant rise in the use of flavourings in meat or fish analogues. Texturised proteins can imitate textures to varying degrees of success, especially in products made with minced meat. However, they may need aromatic assistance to resemble the originals more closely. In baked goods, the typical example is gluten-free bread, whose aroma and flavour differ from wheat bread. While other aspects like texture still need improvement, incorporating flavours can help improve the taste of these breads or at least make them more similar to wheat bread. Another interesting alternative is to give these types of bread a unique personality through different aromas so that no one seeks their similarity to regular wheat bread. We can add seeds and spices or other types of ingredients and flavours. This approach can also help when substituting eggs in products for allergic individuals, among many other cases.
  6. Marketing and consumer attraction. Lastly, aromas can be used to create a pleasant and typical scent of the products sold or produced in a commercial space, point of sale, or bakery. It can also be beneficial for the consumer to be enveloped by the product’s aroma when opening the packaging. There are specific applications for these purposes.

Natural Flavourings

Many substances in nature have a high aromatic power. Among them, spices are perhaps the most well-known. These spices can be used directly in bakery, pastry, and biscuit products. Moreover, their aromas are protected by tissues and cellular structures, better tolerating certain processing conditions like heat and being released during chewing.

Another highly aromatic natural product is essential oils. Some herbs with high essential oil content can be used directly in certain formulations. However, it is more common to extract these oils from the herbs or other parts of the products, such as citrus peels. These oils can be used directly in various preparations or mixed with other flavouring and seasoning substances.

Today, there is also a wide range of freeze-dried natural products, where much of the typical aromas and flavours are preserved in a concentrated form. These include not only fruits and vegetables but also cheeses, meats, and products derived from fermentation or enzymatic hydrolysis. The main issue with these products is their high cost compared to other alternatives.

We can also extract aromas from natural products using physical extraction methods, such as pressure, distillation, or solvent extraction. This allows for the extraction of floral aromas or those from certain herbs, like mint.

All these aromas are considered natural and are much closer to the originals than artificial ones, but they are usually much more expensive. On average, natural aromas can be ten times more expensive than artificial ones, though there are exceptions with greater or lesser price differences.

With some natural “aromas” or substances containing high levels of them, we must be cautious when including them in a fermentation process. Some spices or essential oils are known for their antimicrobial properties. This can be advantageous for reducing microbial growth in final products like muffins or long-lasting breads, as long as we accept those aromas. However, it can be problematic in bread fermentation, as these substances also reduce yeast fermentative activity. In such cases, they can be added to the surface after fermentation or baking, encapsulated, or included in fillings or creams. Notable products with high antimicrobial activity include cinnamon, cloves, and rosemary and thyme oils, among others.

All these aromas or their mixtures can be labelled as natural aromas.

Artificial Flavourings

Science has made significant efforts to identify chemical substances associated with the aroma of certain compounds. Generally, these studies have been based on chromatographic analysis of volatile components and expert taster evaluations of the identified compounds. Not always is the compound in the highest concentration the one most identified with the product’s aroma. Thus, some product aromas can be decently imitated using a single compound or a mixture of several. In other cases, variations of these compounds have been found that, although not identified in the natural products, still resemble them and can be used in new formulations. Flavourists also work with these substances, obtained through chemical synthesis.

Natural aromas are more complex and rich, but many good imitations can be achieved. Additionally, in some products, many people are unaware of the natural aroma and are more familiar with the artificial aromas they identify as normal, such as the violet aroma in certain sweets.

Thus, these techniques provide a wide variety of products at much more competitive prices than natural aromas, albeit generally of lower organoleptic quality.


The volatility of aromatic compounds is a very important factor. All aromas are volatile, but the temperature at which they volatilise can vary greatly. Generally, highly volatile aromas (with lower volatilisation temperatures) are not suitable for baked goods production. These products would volatilise during baking, and while they might impart pleasant aromas in the bakery or factory, they would be barely noticeable in the final product. An exception is products baked in front of customers or in a nearby bakery. In these cases, the presence of volatile compounds can appeal to customers, giving an impression of freshness or artisanal quality. This can be interesting for pre-cooked products that are to be baked at the final point of sale, for example.

Aromas associated with thermal treatments (coffee, cocoa, smoked, roasted, etc.) generally tolerate heat better. Spices and essential oils also usually tolerate heat well. Conversely, fruit aromas are often very volatile and would evaporate during baking. In these cases, flavour companies have tools to protect these aromas, such as encapsulation. Traditionally, these issues have been addressed by spraying them on the surface, as in some biscuits, or incorporating them into creams and fillings, like in wafer rolls or filled pastries. Surface spraying only works for thin products like certain biscuits; otherwise, depending on the bite, the aroma concentration can vary greatly. In the case of fillings, aspects such as colour and pH must be considered.

Highly volatile components can also be useful inside packaging to be perceived quickly upon opening.

Other Considerations

When developing an aroma, other aspects such as excipients and additives used must be considered. Some aromas are mixed with fats, others with water or alcohol (liquid solvents), and others with solid excipients like sugar, salt, maltodextrins, or others. These solvents facilitate their incorporation into certain products, dilute the aromas for easier dosing, or even contribute to the product’s flavours. Using oils or fats may require antioxidants, while solid solvents may need anti-caking agents, etc.

The release time in the mouth is also important. Some aromas have a very good initial impact but quickly dissipate, others are more persistent, and some change over time. To refine these aspects, flavour houses also have elements to help regulate these nuances.

In conclusion, developing commercial aromas is a complex task, and it is advisable to work with a reputable flavour house. These companies have a collection of basic aromas but can also collaborate on specific projects with businesses, depending on the quantities of the product to be agreed upon. However, in Spain, at least, the use of aromas is much less common than in other countries, especially in the case of baked goods. Therefore, there are many opportunities for developing new products.

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