Extracts and Flavorings

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

extracts and flavorings for preparing sweet confections and baked goods are essences drawn out from plant material that intensify and enhance the food and drink we consume.

Various means are employed to extract elements from the seeds, roots, stems, skins, juice, and blossoms of plants. These elements are then concentrated into essences, syrups, and oils, or into solids, which need to be pulverized. Many of these methods were used in the ancient world and are basically simple: simmering and boiling in liquid; pressing and squeezing; steeping, infusion, and maceration. Distillation is more sophisticated, as it requires boiling a liquid and then, by means of an enclosed vessel—a still—catching its vapor, which condenses into a purer form, or essence. The Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, and Chinese understood this process as long as two millennia ago and used it much as we do today, to make alcohol, medicine, and perfume in addition to essences for flavoring.