For years cherry flavor has been a crowd favorite amongst consumers in the food and beverage industry. Cherry flavors have always been popular in whatever form they take and are often part of a core set of flavors, such as watermelon, strawberry, apple, grape, and most significantly, cherry. Even in traditional and alcoholic beverages, cherries have always been popular among consumers, and the flavor never ceases to be sold. As predicted in our 2022 Beverage Trends, we anticipated cherry playing a larger role as consumers continued desiring familiar flavors that would transport them back to a time of comfort. Ringing true to our predictions, this year, nearly 7% of all incoming beverage requests have included the desired cherry component. So, why are cherry flavors so popular? Is it an eye-catching color? The symbolism? Or are there chemical compounds specifically designed to make us want more.
What Makes Cherries so Sweet?
The flavor we often associate with cherry-flavored products on the market may not exactly taste like a cherry on a tree. As with most fruit-flavored candies or beverages, what you taste can be derived from the flavor chemistry of the named fruit, but often, the levels and types of these materials used can be accentuated. A flavor chemist can create a flavor profile of any given fruit based on analytical data which resembles the chemical makeup found in nature; this is true for every kind of fruit-flavored beverage — from bananas to blueberries, for example. Additionally, creative liberties can be taken for additional flavor notes to be added. For example, our customer may want some berry or vanilla notes which may not be contained in the chemical makeup of the actual fruit but can accentuate or steer the direction of the flavor profile for the benefit of the finished product.
The dominant aroma chemical in cherries is benzaldehyde, which people often associate with cherry flavor. Benzaldehyde can also sometimes make the cherry flavor in beverages taste different from the actual fruit. Benzaldehyde is found in low levels in the aroma chemical makeup of cherry fruit; however, this material has become the benchmark of what a cherry flavor should be perceived as and is used in higher concentrations for more impact, which isn’t always truly representative depending on the varietal of cherry you are making. Additionally, because of its tenacity, benzaldehyde is used in pharmaceutical products to mask off-notes, cough drops, and syrup, which causes people to associate it as medicinal.
Other materials are found in more significant amounts; however, benzaldehyde is powerful and has a dominant character making it the primary compound people identify as the traditional cherry taste.
Other compounds which make up the cherry flavors are:
- Eugenol, which tastes like clove.
- Linalool has a floral and woody flavor.
- Hexanal (cis 3-hexenal/trans-2-hexenal) which has a grassy taste.
- Phenylacetaldehyde makes a honey-like sweet flavor.
So why is cherry flavor so popular? Its ruby color derives thoughts of treasure and good fortune as used in paintings and religious stories, and its symbolism alludes to sexuality in a way that makes the fruit even more appealing — a connotation marketers have used to sell cherry-flavored products for years. While cherries have other desirable aspects, the most compelling verdict is that the compounds found in the cherry and the additional ingredients designed by flavor architects create an irresistible taste. Ultimately the cherries’ endurance is because of their flavor. Whether it be to quench your thirst, satisfy your sweet tooth, or mask the bitter taste of liquid medicine, the cherry reigns supreme.
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