How to Test Flavour Concentrates for DIY Mixing

Knowing your flavours will improve your mix

Updated October 2018

How do the above custards differ? Could one work better for a bakery recipe and one for a fruit based? The short answer is yes, however, the only way to know for sure is either trial and error, or by testing and comparing them. You could rely on other peoples flavour notes, but where’s the fun in that?

Besides, one person may mainly taste vanilla, while one only some cream and egg. What's important is what you taste, and whether you feel the flavour is suitable. Only you can decide that..

Preparation – What we need 

As the science behind the perception of flavour is a joint effort by both our nose and mouth, we must ensure that both are in good working order before we proceed, so don’t bother if you have a cold or are ill.

  • Bottled water or Filtered water
  • PG-VG Base
  • Pipettes
  • Shot-glasses or small glass for each flavour
  • A spit glass
  • Plain bread or crackers
  • Notebook for taking notes
  • An RDA – Rebuildable Dripping Atomiser is preferable
Wine tasting
Wine tasting is similar
Some pointers to help you get the most from the process-
  • Shake each bottle of flavour before you mix your test batch
  • If you smoke, wait a while until the taste has subsided
  • Ensure there are no lingering flavours in your mouth
  • Keep hydrated and sip on water during the testing
  • Have a piece of plain bread or cracker between flavours
  • Only test 3 or 4 similar flavour profiles over a one hour period, then return later
What percentage of flavour should I use?

I always start by testing higher concentration flavours at 1%. FlavourArt and Flavorah are generally perfect examples of this. Lower concentrations such as TFA, Flavor West and Capella can generally be tested at 5%. If in doubt, start with 2.5 to 5%.

Testing Stage 1 – Aroma

pineapple
Aroma of Pineapple

Sweet, sour, earthy, citrus, juicy, floral, buttery, ripe, unripe. roasted, tropical, leafy

Aroma of Coffee 

Earthy, robust, floral, pungent, spicy, fruity, winery, sweet, sour, nutty, moist 

coffee diy

Aroma plays a major role in determining a flavours characteristics, and whether or not it's going to be compatible for a given recipe..

Test Base – Water or PG-VG?

For both the aroma and taste test I use filtered water. Water is more practical when you test a lot of flavours, as well as it being neutral and not imparting anything that PG and VG offers. 

Aroma Test

I use a 5 ml base of water and each flavour drop equals a percentage point- 1% = 1 drop. 2%= 2 drops and so on.

1) Place 5 ml of water into the glass.
2) Place 1 single drop of flavour into the glass
3) Mix and blend with a pipette or pour into a bottle, shake and return to the glass
4) Test the aroma from the glass
5) If need be, increase the percentage, but you should taste test first

Focus on the aroma. Inhale a few times. What do you smell? Can you recognise more than one or two ingredients? Is the flavour authentic in nature, and does it remind you of its real counterpart – Is this apple like a real apple?

Make some notes on what you think about the flavour. Is it authentic, is it mild or strong? Rich or mellow? Is there one dominant scent followed by a secondary? Write anything you can. If you’re struggling, put the flavour away and try later.

Testing Stage 2 – Taste

pineapple
Taste of Pineapple

Sweet, tart, fruity, waxy, citrus, Jammy, juicy, plum, fermented, oily, tropical, leafy, ripe, unripe

Taste of Coffee 

Acidity, bitter, earthy, robust, citrus, smokey, chocolate, malt, berry, 
nutty, caramel, butter 

coffee diy

Taste is when both flavour and aroma merge, and while the two can reveal similarities, taste looks to identify sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Although one could judge a flavour based on either taste or aroma, omitting one will reveal only part of a flavours characteristics

Taste Test

1) Using a Pipette or dropper, place a couple of drops on your tongue and focus on flavour.
2) Take about 1/3 of the mix into your mouth and swirl it around, not forgetting to inhale as that is critical.
3) Repeat this process

Review your thoughts and update your notes. Do they differ in some ways to the aroma test? They should. Keep your notes on aroma and taste separate. As an example, here are my basic flavour notes for FlavourArts Mandarin. 

I ‘m surprised that I can actually taste the outer peel. It’s a perfect blend of the whole fruit. Very authentic. Sweet, citrus, tangy, pulpy. Can taste and smell the fruit and peel. I can also taste the seeds. Slightly under-ripe, not really too sweet. I think it would pair well with creams, vanilla and other fruits. Ice cream could work too.

Testing Stage 3 - Vaping

For this stage, you will need a fresh bottle with 5 ml of PG, not water.  One could use a 50-50 blend with VG, but I prefer straight PG. The main reason is that steeping is needed with many flavours, and as PG is a flavour carrier, they’re best steeped in PG.

Vaping flavours is actually a combination of taste and aroma. No matter if you direct lung or MTL, be sure to experiment with inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Make sure you have separate notes for the vaping stage.

Although any type of e-cigarette or Mod can be used here, be aware that if it’s not a rebuildable atomiser, you’ll need a fresh coil for each flavour. Yes, you could rinse and dry them, and or test similar profiles on each given coil, but if you’re serious about flavour testing you need a dripper. 

I use the Vandy Vape Pulse 22 BF & fused claptons – 2x27g TM N80 and 1x40g N80, with cotton wicks. Wattage is at 20 & 35.

Tips to help with flavour notes

  • Improve your skills by testing 3 similar flavour profiles side by side. Say 3 Vanillas or 3 Caramels, and make notes on the differences. Practice this, it helps a lot!
  • Know that aroma makes up for some 80 percent of how we perceive flavour
  • Don’t test too many flavours in one session. I tend to limit it to around 6
  • If possible, taste test the actual food-liquid or tobacco type that the flavour is supposed to represent
  • Practice and practice more

Steeping Flavours

As I’ve mentioned, testing flavours when blended in a PG or VG base, often won’t reach their potential until they’ve been steeped. This is why it’s good practice to plan ahead, steeping your 5 ml batches a week before you plan on testing them. At times you may need a 2 week steep, especially for many tobaccos, custards, creams and bakery flavours.

Make sure to do a side by side comparison, using a freshly made batch against the steeped batch, often you will discover more nuances and elements that were not present from the freshly made bottle.

Resources

If you wish to study flavours and pairings, or wish to have a handy reference, here’s a link to download a great book called The Flavor Bible (From e-liquid recipes.com). If you’re not confident about describing flavours, start reading mine or notes from prominent mixers on the DIY forum on Reddit and also at e-liquid recipes.com. Set up a free account and participate, ask questions and become familiar with how flavours are described.

There are numerous methods to tasting, but whatever you do, don’t place any credence on tasting concentrates straight. They’re too overpowering and will not provide you with an accurate representation of the profile.

If you follow these tasting steps with each concentrate you buy and keep up with your notes, you’ll have a better understanding of your flavours, which in turn will make you a more proficient mixer.

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