Artificial Flavors: Alchemy? Danger?
It all comes down to a handful of basic ingredients. Sugar, corn syrup, water, vinegar, and flavoring. The first four are the vital components of old-fashioned, Victorian-era, handmade candy. Heat 'em up to 300 degrees, pour it out onto a silicon-lined heat-safe surface, wait for it to cool, and pull it. A very difficult but rewarding skill to learn. (Be safe! Learn from a pro or else don't try this at home!)
The flavoring is where things get tricky. It goes in right before you hit 300 degrees so it doesn't have time to burn or boil off. Most flavorings are really potent, so you just need a bit. On one occasion, I opted for a natural peppermint extract and an artificial vanilla extract.
Finished cooking. Poured it out onto my silicon. Smeared a bit of food coloring on one side so I could make big twisty green and white candy sticks. All was going well and I decided to try a slightly warm piece right off the counter. I lifted the swirled candy to my mouth and tasted it.
Really. Coconut. I don't get it either.
It got me wondering, first and foremost, how the heck it happened. Then it made me ask "In what world would I eat something with mint and vanilla and expect to taste this?" Knowing the mint extract was real made me wonder about that artificial vanilla. Was it made of coconut? Is coconut flavoring made of vanilla? What chemicals could be in this crap to make it change flavors so drastically?
My mind is still boggled, but I still had the candy and shared it with friends. My last batch, though, used an orange extract made with just alcohol and pure orange oil. Simple. Understandable. Real. Its companion, an artificial almond extract, is also sitting on my pantry shelf. The orange oil is real - do I trust its companion? What secrets lie in this flavoring? And like all good things, can the imitation be as safe and good as the real thing?