Skip to content

A Food Science Perspective- How 4 Ingredients Build Flavor


Simple ingredients like sugar, salt, & fat play a complex role in taste & texture of foods.

People love food. You don’t need to look far to find blogs, books, articles, podcasts and documentaries on food and cooking. And what’s not to love? I studied nutrition because I liked learning about food and health. In my spare time, I enjoy preparing meals with my family and friends and watching food documentaries. Despite all of the resources available on food, it is difficult to find factual, easy to understand, information on food science. I reached out to some of our food science gurus to explain the basic roles of a few ingredients used in cooking; salt, sugar, fat, and acid.


Dillon Friday, Sr. Technologist: Science and Technology
Kyle Kent, PhD, Senior R&D Manager

Here is what I learned about the role these ingredients play in food texture, structure and safety:

  1. Salt plays an important role in enhancing flavors in foods. The mechanism of flavor enhancement is not well understood, but there is a clear correlation between overall product liking and salt level. If the salt level is too low, the products are shown to have less overall flavor, aroma and liking. Salt enhances basic tastes as well as flavor perception.Our preference for salt has a long standing history, and yet, there is a lot we do not know about it. Historically, salt was used for preservation and a salty taste meant the food was safe to eat. Now, with modern processing, salt is not always necessary for food safety. However, our preference for the taste still remains.
  2. Sugar is best known for the sweetness it brings to food, but it also plays other roles in cooking and food preparation. Sugar directly binds to a sweetness receptor on our tongues called T1R2+T1R3. Upon binding, the molecule starts a cellular signaling cascade response that ultimately signals to our brains that we are eating something sweet. These sweet receptors reside on every one of our taste buds. Natural and artificial high intensity sweeteners like stevia, aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose also can bind to T1R2+T1R3, which is why they are often used as an alternative to sugar. However, these high intensity sweeteners bind to different portions of T1R2+T1R3, resulting in a different sweetness experience than that of sugar.Apart from giving a “sweet” signal to our brains, sugar also masks bitter and sour tastes, however this mechanism is poorly understood. If you want to try a kitchen experiment eat a tomato (sour) and then take a slice of the same tomato and sprinkle a little sugar on it. The second tomato slice will not be as tart.Sugar also provides texture and structure to baked goods, and certain sugars like glucose react with proteins to create desirable flavors and the brown color through a process known as the Maillard reaction.
  3. Fat provides flavor and a creamy texture to foods known as mouthfeel. There is not a well-known taste receptor for fat like there is for sugar, which is why it is difficult to mimic in many dishes.Like sugar, fat also has a structural function in foods. Saturated fats such as lard or butter, are important in creating the flaky texture found in many baked goods. Saturated fats remain solid at room temperature and can provide products (icings, fillings, dips, etc.) with added texture that consumers prefer. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil and canola oil are usually liquid at room temperature and can provide a source of fat and mouthfeel in products, but not the same texture or structure as saturated fats.
  4. Acid may not be a specific ingredient, but it plays an important role in flavor and food processing. Acidic ingredients like acetic acid, found in vinegars; citric acid, found in citrus fruits; and malic acid, found in apples, give foods a tart flavor. For example, although fruits are known for their sweetness, they also contain naturally occurring acids that are important to their flavor.Acid is crucial to food safety in many products. Most microbes (microscopic bacteria that can cause food poisoning) cannot live in acidic environments, so acid is often added to foods to increase their shelf life or make them safe to eat with less heat processing.

I enjoyed picking the brains of some of our food science and technology experts. The more I learn about food, the less I feel like I know. That is one of the reasons I enjoy working at Campbell. I am surrounded by experts with a wealth of knowledge on everything from food safety and product development, to food history and culinary techniques.

Campbell understands that people want to know more about the ingredients in their food and the choices behind the food we make. We are committed to help provide information that makes it easier for consumers to make decisions about the foods they eat. For more information on the ingredients we use in our products, visit

Stay Curious,


Meet the Experts

Lindsay Watts, RD
Lindsay is a nutrition communications analyst at the Campbell Soup Company where she coordinates health professional and consumer communications. She also works with internal and external partners on retail health and wellness programs. Prior to her role at Campbell, Lindsay worked as an in-store retail dietitian. She received her Bachelors of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University and completed her dietetic internship with Pennsylvania State University. 

Dillon Friday, Sr. Technologist: Science and Technology
Dillon is one of Campbell’s flavor and ingredient chemistry experts. He works on many flavor projects with Campbell to improve nutrition and enhance the flavor of our foods. Some of his previous projects included sodium reduction, flavor analysis, and flavor troubleshooting. He graduated with a degree in biology from Gettysburg College and will finish his PhD in Biochemistry in June 2017 at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

Kyle Kent, PhD, Senior R&D Manager
Kyle is the Senior R&D Manager for the V8® Beverage business.  He received his PhD in Food Science & Nutrition from The Ohio State University in 2004, and his career has included roles as a nutrition champion, entrepreneur, wellness program coordinator, food science instructor, and food scientist.  Kyle’s product experience includes a wide range of dairy products, fermented foods, chicken stock & broth, and beverages. 


Join our mailing list

Sign up to get the latest company news. Delivered from our family to yours.