Unlocking Exotic and Unique Flavors Using Biotechnological Approaches

Aromatic and delicious food is what everyone lives for. For this purpose, different culinary techniques and the addition of flavouring compounds are being increasingly exploited.

Aromatic and delicious food is what everyone lives for. For this purpose, different culinary techniques and the addition of flavouring compounds are being increasingly exploited. While chemically synthesised flavours such as ethyl maltol (caramel flavour) and allyl caproate (artificial pineapple flavour) add to the goodness of food, they can also prove devastating for the health and the environment.

It is also impossible to leave them out of food, as food tends to lose its flavour upon cooking, making such compensation necessary.

Chemically synthesised substances can be replaced with plant extracts, but this approach lacks sustainability. The need for safe and sustainable flavourings can thus be fulfilled by biotechnology, which not only makes the process safer but can also unlock exotic, novel flavours to further elevate our dining experience.

Estimates suggest that flavoring industry will be standing at a valuation of 17.4B$ in year of 2027.  This growth is attracting biotechnological startups and industry giants to step foot into flavouring-compound synthesis.

Multiple studies have been carried out to explore the potential of microorganisms as flavour-synthesis factories. Microorganisms are a source of multiple valuable compounds, most of which remain unexplored. This makes these tiny creatures alluring to the eyes of industrialists.

Microbes have excellent transformation capabilities; they can consume substrates as nutrient sources and convert them into other value-added products. Let’s explore the culinary expertise of these tiny creatures.

Have you ever thought about turning agricultural waste, such as bran from rice and wheat, etc., into delicious ingredients? Perhaps not, as it seems really far-fetched. However, biotechnology is miraculously converting this waste into wealth. It is difficult to think of using bran in cakes and desserts, but this has been made possible by the use of Bacillus bacteria.

Not only bran, but leaves, grass, and wood can also be used for this purpose, as these are rich in lignocellulose, a source of ferulic acid. This acid can be turned into vanillin (vanilla flavor) by microbial transformation.

This eliminates the need for vanilla pod-based extraction, which is cumbersome and not sustainable. Similarly, different GRAS (generally regarded as safe) bacteria can be engineered to produce benzaldehyde, which can be added to sweet and savoury foods to give them a fruity touch.

Talking about sweets, chocolate is everyone’s favourite, especially when there is a touch of nuttiness or a slightly roasted lavor. Such flavour is usually imparted by Milliard’s reaction during cooking, but as we have now moved on to ovens from stoves, production of such flavour is limited.

For this purpose, we can add pyrazines, which are the compounds synthesised by Corynebacterium when they are provided with amino acid-rich soyabean medium for growth.

Pyrazines can be added to savoury items like corn, bell peppers, etc. to unlock an exotic flavour profile. For non-vegetarians, grilled chicken can be made even better by pyrazines, and if you are missing the buttery flavour, just sprinkle some diacetyl ketone synthesised by fungi.

These flavouring compounds can also be added to our traditional biryani and quorma masalas to further elevate the flavours and transform the culinary world.

Not only will the diners enjoy a delicious and healthy meal, but they will also be able to appreciate the sustainable practice of using these “microbial masalas.” These masalas will give them some smokiness to make them feel at home in the streets of Lahore, and soon after, a spice kick will make them remember Karachi’s hot and spicy cuisine.

Another factory of unique and unusual flavours is “Basidiomycetes,” which lives up to the expectations of being “fungi” by making the dining experience more fun.” BBQ is the epitome of smoked goodness, but what if you learn that you are putting yourself at risk of cancer by consuming it?

That’s right, conventional wood chip incineration produces polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are potent carcinogens. BBQ made this way is not worth the risk, but here, basidiomycetes come to rescue your health by producing 4-VG, a compound with a smoky flavour.

Hence, fungi allow you a guilt-free meal. The same fungus can also give you multiple other flavours, like pineapple and grapefruit. So if you want to level up your kebabs, make sure to sprinkle this micromagic on them.

An exciting venture in this journey is the isolation of enzymes for cost-effective production. Think of enzymes as miniature workers working in tiny microbial factories. You can take them out of the factory and make them do all the work without having to maintain the factory requirements.

Lipases are a type of enzyme that breaks down lipids. Upon immobilization,  they have shown the ability to convert valeric acid into two different flavours, namely, pear and green apple.

Conclusively, biotech-based approaches not only prove safer but also tastier in terms of flavorings. The unexplored plethora of microbial metabolites provides the opportunity to produce novel tastes and replace currently unsustainable products. Moreover, by providing different types of substrates, microbial transformation can be employed to produce more novel flavourings.