Flavor Chemicals

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Flavor chemicals are generally consumed in only tiny amounts, but a few may cause problems when overindulged in. Safrole, the main aromatic in oil of sassafras and therefore of traditional root beer, causes DNA damage and was banned as an additive in 1960 (root beer is now made with safe sarsaparilla or artificial flavorings). Myristicin, the major flavor contributor in nutmeg, seems largely responsible for intoxication and hallucinations that result from ingesting large amounts. Glycyrrhizin, an intensely sweet-tasting substance in true licorice root, induces high blood pressure. Coumarin, which gives sweet clover its sweet aroma and is also found in lavender and vanilla-like tonka beans (Dipteryx odorata), interferes with blood clotting.