New Recipe: Pretty petunias are cherry good

However, the flavoring is often a combination of aromatic and flavor compounds discovered through the study of plants in laboratories that have little to do with cherry trees.

But now a team of Purdue University researchers has discovered the molecular recipe for one of the most coveted compounds by the flavor industry: benzaldehyde. The compound is key to some of the most popular flavors including cherry, almond and raspberry. It is second only to vanillin in terms of economic value to the food industry.

“Benzaldehyde is what gives that pleasant almond-like scent and is part of the aroma of many fruits,”​ said Natalia Dudareva, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry in Purdue’s College of Agriculture, who led the team.

“That scent attracts pollinators and, in addition to those fruits, it is found in other plants, including petunias.”

Biochemists figure out molecular ‘recipes’, or biosynthetic pathways, to make compounds for use as different flavors for the products we consume. However, when steps in the molecular recipe can’t be found, chemicals are often substituted for commercial production, she explained.

“When chemical reactions are added in to fill the gaps, it can be a problem,”​ Dudareva, who is also director of Purdue’s Center for Plant Biology, said. 

“It is much better and safer to use an entirely natural pathway to a flavor compound, but it is difficult to discover all of the steps. Benzaldehyde has an especially puzzling biosynthetic pathway, and it wasn’t completely revealed until now.”

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