How Do Flavor Chemists Make Meat Flavors Without Using Real Meat?

Understanding Vegetarian Meat Flavors


Over the past decade, vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diet movements have increased greatly. These diets and lifestyles have increased the demand for vegetarian meat flavors. Flavorists spend years learning meat flavor replication, but the science is so complex and sophisticated that many flavor chemists never fully master it.

So how do skilled flavor chemists make meat flavors without using any actual meat derivatives? We interviewed a meat flavor expert to find out!


How do flavorists achieve a meat flavor without using any meat?

"The basis for any 'meatless' meat flavor is to mimic the chemistry found in certain meat profiles. Scientists can achieve this through the use of maillard reactions using sugars, amino acids, yeast extracts, etc."

"Obviously there is a big difference between chicken and beef and also numerous variations of the two. Fat content of particular meat profiles is a key differentiator. A full bodied beef flavor should include some sort of fatty notes to help contribute the expected mouthfeel."

"Another very important building block to vegetarian meat flavors is the volatile compounds that will help deliver the overall flavor profile."


How long does it take for flavor chemists to get skilled at creating vegetarian meat flavors?

"I've been in the industry for 21 years and I don't mind saying it's a continual learning curve. Through trial and error as well as related industry publications you are able to give yourself a good working background regarding what works and what doesn't. But as the industry progresses and customer's demands change, you always find yourself looking to improve on what's come before. You always look to find a way to make even your best flavor successes even better."


Has there been an increase in requests for vegetarian meat flavors over the past decade?

"The food industry has seen a huge increase in vegetarian meat flavors over the past several years. Also, the amount of requests I receive for flavors that are animal-derived have dropped significantly."


What are some vegetarian compounds used to create real meat taste?


"Finding a balance of top note flavors is essential to creating realistic meat-type character. See below vegetarian, non-meat organic chemistry compounds that are commonly used by industrial flavorists to create vegetarian bacon flavors." Click here to learn what a "natural flavor" is. 


These compounds simulate a meaty, smokey bacon flavor:

  • Guaiac Wood Oil Distilled (Bulnesia sarmienti) —mildly woody to smoke  FEMA 2534
  • Butyl levulinate — damson, maple — interesting fruity note useful note in prune and bacon flavors
  • 3-Methyl-2-butanethiol — very interesting roast note in beef and bacon flavors
  • 3-Methyl-2-butenyl thioacetate — burnt, bacon — very strong burnt fat character
  • Guaiacol (2-methoxy phenol) — smoke — excellent raw material in smoke, ham and bacon flavors
  • 4-Propyl 2, 6-dimethoxy phenol — smoke / useful in bacon flavors
  • 2-Isopropyl pyridine — burnt, interesting in smoke and bacon flavors.
  • 2-Methyl 5-ethyl thiophene — roasted, petroleum — unusual note, cool note in bacon flavors
  • 5-Methyl thiophene 2-carboxaldehyde — caramel, nutty almond — interesting in many brown flavors
  • 2(4)-Isopropyl 4(2),6-dimethyl dihydro (4H)-dithiazine — meaty — interesting note in cooked vegetable and bacon flavors.
  • 2(4)-Isobutyl 4(2),6-dimethyl dihydro (4H)-dithiazine — "cooked" flavor, superb for bacon

Above Chemical Information Credit: Wright, John. Flavor Creation, 2nd Edition. Carol Stream: Allured Business Media, 2011. Print.


Interested in our natural meat flavors or clean label meat flavor enhancers?

Theresa Cantafio