Behind the scenes of natural flavors

It was enough to smell the scent of herbs such as sage or parsley or the flavor of spices such as chilli pepper or cinnamon to give rise in humans to the desire to take advantage of the natural aromas contained in these ingredients to enrich the taste of foods.

Over time the aroma extraction methods have evolved and improved but Europrodotti has always respected the basic principles that inspire them: offering a final product of the highest quality while respecting the environment and the health of consumers.

The different types of food flavourings

Read the list of ingredients on a food package and you will discover that flavorings are almost always present. But why are they used? The fundamental reason is the important role they play in flavoring and enhancing the taste and aroma of any gastronomic preparation. Not just sausages but almost every type of food: from appetizers to gourmet dishes to cheeses and desserts. Without aromas typical products and regional dishes would not exist. Because their contribution adds those sensorial nuances that make succulent specialties such as Casentino ham, Calabrian 'Nduja and Valtellina Bresaola.

However aromas are not all the same and not only for the taste buds of gourmets and connoisseurs of good food. European and Italian legislation distinguishes the following categories of food flavourings:

  • natural flavours;
  • nature-identical flavours, of artificial origin;
  • aromatic preparations of plants or of animal origin;
  • flavorings obtained by heat treatment;
  • smoke or smoking flavourings.

The strictest rules concern natural flavours, the only ones that can be used for organic products, which are obtained from plant and animal substances through physical, enzymatic or microbiological processes. These technical terms actually represent extraction methods used by man since ancient times and which allow all the properties of spices and aromatic herbs to be preserved in a natural way. Let us therefore delve deeper into the most common extraction and production processes of natural flavours.

The production and extraction processes of natural aromas

Steam distillation

Distillation is one of the oldest aromatic extraction processes. The first traces of its use date back to the ancient Egyptians in the fourth millennium BC. Even though equipment has evolved in these six thousand years the fundamental principles of distillation have remained the same: vaporization, condensation and separation.

The main distillation processes are:

  • water distillation or hydrodistillation;
  • dry steam distillation.

In water distillation the herb or spice is mixed with water and heated in a closed container. The steam released when boiling contains the essential oils of plant products. The vapor is then cooled, condensed and collected. The final stage consists of separating the aroma from the water using a solvent.

In dry steam distillation the plant substances are not placed directly in the water but on a grid above the boiling liquid. In this way it is the water vapor that collects and transports the oils and aromatic essences.


In maceration herbs and spices are immersed in a solvent based on water, alcohol or oil for a period of time that can range from a few days to several weeks. The solvent penetrates the herbs and spices, pushing the aromatic substances out. The extraction process continues until the push exerted by the solvent ends due to the achievement of an equilibrium situation within the compound.

The compound is finally squeezed, filtered and centrifuged to separate the aroma from the impurities.

Pressurized hot water extraction

Pressurized hot water extraction is used to extract flavors from spices such as black pepper, ginger or cloves. The spices are ground and placed in a container called extractor along with alcohol or vegetable oil. The mixture is then heated and subjected to pressure to accelerate the passage of the aromas to the solvent. The use of pressure increases the yield of the process compared to distillation.


Percolation consists of depositing a layer of herbs and spices in a container called percolator. Solvent, usually a mixture of water and alcohol, is dripped onto it. The liquid filters collecting the aromas, slips away both due to the effect of gravity and the thrust of the subsequent drops and is deposited in a tank below the percolator.

This procedure requires a careful study of the rate of fall of the solvent. If it is too rapid the liquid would not have time to collect the aromatic substances and if it is too slow it would lead to an increase in time and costs linked to the greater quantity of solvent used.

Mechanical pressing and squeezing

Mechanical pressing and squeezing can be used both as a stand-alone extraction process and as a phase within other procedures to separate aromas from plant residues.

Plants and spices are cleaned, cut, inserted into a press and compressed by a piston. In the past the piston was operated manually while today electrical or hydraulic devices are used. The process ends when all the liquid has come out of the compound.


Pyrolysis is used to produce smoke flavors, also known as smoking flavourings. These flavors are used to give a smoky taste not only to foods such as meat, fish or cheese but also to soups, sauces and chips.

This process is based on the decomposition of wood through rapid heating in the absence of oxygen.

Compared to traditional smoking these flavorings offer advantages from a sensorial point of view, with a stronger aroma and taste, and from a conservation point of view, because they have bactericidal and antioxidant properties.


Even if enfleurage is only used in the cosmetic field to obtain fragrances from flowers it is important to mention it to complete this review. This technique consists of spreading flower petals on a glass plate covered in grease which acts as a solvent. Once upon a time animal, pork or bovine fats were used while today vegetable fats are preferred.

The flower petals are spread by hand on the fat and after a few days of rest they are replaced with other petals. The operation is repeated approximately thirty times until the fat has been impregnated with the fragrance. The result is the pommade, a scented ointment whose quality is linked to the number of enfleurage cycles.

The natural aroma contained in spices and aromatic herbs is a precious treasure that increases the culinary value of our dishes and recipes. Europrodotti's mission is to extract aromas from leaves, berries and seeds by combining the most advanced technologies and machinery with the virtuous processes that we have inherited from our ancestors. Only by harmoniously combining development and tradition can we offer an excellent product to those who love food.

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