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Going inside the lab behind new flavors

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Over the last decade, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of flavors of packaged foods on shelves. Brands are vying for our taste buds with bolder and bolder tastes — buttermilk ranch pretzels, buffalo blue potato chips, spicy sweet Doritos — just to name a few.

Many of these snacks come from brands you’ve heard of. But the tastes come from companies you haven’t — flavor companies, along the New Jersey turnpike. There are so many of them, it’s sometimes called the Flavor Corridor.

The flavor lab at Excellentia International is reminscent of a high school chemistry class — black lab benches, florescent lighting, fume hood. Company president Tom Buco says the firm imports plant oils from all around the world to make new and more concentrated flavors. Lately Buco’s seen an increased demand for Latin and Asian tastes.

“We see consumers looking for bolder more intense flavors across the food industry,” says Barb Stuckey, a food developer and author of the book “Taste What You’re Missing.”

“From the seasoning on snack chips to the amount of stuff in their ice cream. People just want more sensory stimulation from the food’s they’re eating,” she says.

The taste of strong flavors gives us a boost of pleasure hormones. “It releases endorphins, so we do get a physical stimulation out of them,” Stuckey says. She adds that marketing plays a role too.

“Packaged food companies need news. They need to continually keep their products fresh in the mind of the consumer. And one way to do that is new flavor introductions. And that’s why you’ll see every year pretty much every food manufacturer is going to introduce at least a couple of new varieties,” Stuckey says.

In the snack of Super Foodtown in Brooklyn, shopper Tom Harris admires his potato chip options. “People have different tastes, say like onion garlic, honey BBQ,” he says. “You try em, if you like em you stick with it. There’s not too many that I haven’t tried, I’ll put it that way!”

But on this trip, he stuck with the brown russet originals.

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