gradients used in foods must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most common soft drink flavoring materials are on the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list.
It is well established that our perception and memory for flavor is primarily based on our sense of smell. Taste receptors on the tongue play a role but are not as sensitive as the olfactory receptors found in our nasal passages. This is why the volatile essences or "top notes" are so important to successful flavors.
Colors are also important ingredients in beverages. Consumer acceptance and even flavor perception is dependent on the appearance of the product. Until recently, the choices of stable color ingredients have been limited to about a dozen useful in soft drinks. As our scientific understanding of chemistry advances, more choices are becoming available, allowing a rainbow of colors to be offered. The regulation of colors can present some contradictions: the natural color component of red cranberries can be used in a cranberry drink and labeled "natural"; however, the same natural color ingredient used in cherry flavor must be labeled "artificial color."
Preservatives are found in most soft drinks to prevent spoilage, protect flavors, and extend shelf life. Soft drinks are generally packaged cold to maintain carbonation, and they cannot be heat processed to eliminate spoilage yeast and mold spores. Although conditions in modern bottling plants are sanitary, the total elimination of microorganisms is nearly impossible. Agents that prevent microbial growth in soft drinks include C02, acids, and some flavoring materials. Beyond these, many formulas include a preservative to prevent spoilage and assure product safety. The most common are sodium or potassium benzoate, salts of the common benzoic acid found in fruits and berries. Another type of preservative is an antioxidant (such as vitamin C), which protects sensitive flavor ingredients from oxidation and the resulting development of off-flavors. Sequestrants (such as citric acid) prevent chemical reactions by binding with the metals that act as catalysts.
Other functional ingredients include foaming agents, emulsifiers, clouding agents, and gums. Foaming agents stabilize the foam "head" on a glass of root beer or sarsa-parilla. Emulsifiers stabilize oil-in-water emulsions critical to oil-based flavors, such as citrus flavors. Clouding agents make beverages cloudy or opaque to appear more natural, like orange juice. Gums can have a variety of functions including improving the mouth-feel of diet drinks.
Table 2 compares the ingredients in popular soft drink flavors.
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