Acetaldehyde and Flavor

My Fear

Acetaldehyde FEMA 2003 is an aroma chemical that I am scared of. Why? Because I did not follow standard lab safety protocol. I sniffed a bottle of acetaldehyde 100% (neat) directly. (Never, never smell a bottle directly in a laboratory!!! Use the “wafting technique”. )

What happened? I nearly passed out and I fell into a chair. I felt sick, had trouble standing up and lost my sense of smell for awhile. This is my only encounter with neat acetaldehyde (20 plus years ago). Now, I avoid it like a child avoids a burner after touching a hot stove. I am afraid of it.

Confronting my Fears

Occasionally, I decide I have to use acetaldehyde because it is important in good flavors. Many flavors benefit from acetaldehyde: whiskey flavor, chocolate flavor, vanilla flavor, apple flavor and citrus. But, I believe this chemical is needed to add freshness and authenticity to a raspberry flavor.

So, for flavors like raspberry, I face my fear and formulate with a dilution of acetaldehyde. Or perhaps, because it’s in a diluent of alcohol, I use an “acetal”. The acetal seems like a safe and acceptable replacement for acetaldehyde, John Wright agrees.

Aldehydes react with alcohols to form hemi-acetals and acetals. These are chemical reactions in equilibrium that return to aldehyde form. My understanding is that in a beverage (acidic/water environment), acetals will return to aldehydes and alcohols.

By Ryan Neff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Chemistry

The chemistry of acetaldehyde is important when developing formulation strategies. Patents and studies on delivering freshness:

The Safety

Acetaldehyde is naturally present in our environment, and it is also a potential carcinogen. The dose makes the poison, so use caution when handling and when formulating.

Precautions, like “wafting” as opposed to direct inhalation influence a safe outcome. Training staff how to handle and use materials like acetaldehyde is important for their safety.


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