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“Water” versus “Milk” flavors

November 4, 2016

I had long noted that there seem to be flavors that are better suited for milk-based products and some better for water based products. So milk would be ice cream (solid, frozen), pudding (solid, not frozen) as well as flavorings like Quik (liquid—milk), and egg creams (carbonated liquid). Water would be sherbet (solid, frozen), gelatin (solid, not frozen), Kool Aid (liquid), and soda (carbonated liquid).

I run across this article explaining:

Here’s Why Grape Ice Cream Isn’t a Thing

Grapes have a high water content, so when you try to use the fruit as a base for ice cream, chunks of that water therein tend to freeze. Chefs whipping up small batches of homemade grape ice cream can avoid this problem by pureeing the fruit, but it’s much harder to manufacture large volumes of ice cream when it’s flecked with bits of ice.

Of course, other fruits, like cherries, are also mostly water—and Cherry Garcia is one of Ben & Jerry’s most popular flavors. In short, it’s possible to make fruit ice cream on a larger scale, but the demand has to be there to make the hassle worthwhile (and for that matter, profitable).

And as Cohen explained, most people don’t even think to associate grapes with ice cream—so if Ben & Jerry’s made a grape-flavored dessert, it’s likely that nobody would buy it. Since cherry and vanilla are such popular flavors, it pays for the company to make Cherry Garcia.

The ice cream (and egg cream and Quik) flavors are chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Banana is another common flavor for the milk products. Strawberry is a major flavor of Kool Aid and gelatin (but not pudding). I’ve always wondered why, as it seems to be an anomaly (though it is also common as mousse, which is like a thicker version of pudding that’s also commonly chocolate and vanilla as well. Meanwhile, butterscotch is the other common pudding flavor).
The strawberry “water” products to me don’t taste as good as the milk-based products, or the other fruit flavors of the water flavors, and needed not to be a separate flavor from the other berries. (Other ice cream flavors are nuts like butter almond or pecan and pistachio. Then, there’s mint and egg nog).

Cherry and grape, along with orange, lemon, lime and most other berries are more common sherbet/gelatin/Kool Aid/soda flavors. Cherry Garcia was the anomaly. For a mainstream store brand like Breyers, it was always cherry-vanilla. Then you have orange sherbet — vanilla ice cream blends.
Lemon “pudding” is really merengue pie filling, and a totally different consistency from chocolate vanilla and butterscotch (and obviously more water based).

Peach is the one that is good either way (ice cream, Kool Aid, soda and other water-based drinks, etc. Also tastes good as a Royal instant pudding mix I tried once!)

Cake on the other hand is a medium that commonly handles both sets of flavors (except grape; and while Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker once had cherry, that I don’t think I’ve seen in a long while. It too was pretty similar to strawberry). So cake leans slightly to the “milk” side (chocolate and vanilla being the most common flavors), and strawberry common as a mix (though comes and goes as a snack cake flavor. Little Debbie has a new set of strawberry cakes out for the holidays, I saw recently. Hostess had strawberry cupcakes before the shutdown). But lemon and orange are also very common (and well tasting).

Then there’s yogurt, which is dairy, but also mixed in the categories of flavors, with mainly fruit, but also vanilla. (Chocolate is more rare, though).
So since the Royal line that includes peach are really Greek yogurt flavors, it also includes cherry, and even blueberry in addition to strawberry and vanilla.

“Chocolate water” would basically be YooHoo, and I don’t think that tastes good. Occasionally, small companies will have chocolate soda.
I once took grape Kool-Aid and tried to make “grape milk” (after this PSA commercial called “magic cow” suggested you could make flavored milk with “drink mixes”), but it was nasty. The powder doesn’t even mix with the milk well. (My parents flipped at me wasting a whole container of milk for that. I wondered if the pre-sweetened version in the can which seemed more soluble would work better, but never tried it after that).

Never thought of why different flavors were more suited to milk or water, but them explaining the water content in the fruit is interesting. Chocolate and vanilla aren’t even fruits, and so have no water (the same with the nuts). Banana as well is rather dry. Strawberry seems to have less water than grape, cherry and the citrus fruits. Peach seems to be inbetween. (So I wonder why they forced strawberry as a common Kool Aid and Jello flavor, then. If it was demand, as they explained, then I wonder why that fruit).

  1. Ryan Anderton permalink

    This is an interesting line of thought. I’ve been a chef and mixologist for 5 years and while the idea of certain flavors going with water and milk or not isn’t a new concept to me (my process being more one of iNtuition), it is one I have never explored in depth before. So allow me to ramble off ideas and see if anything can be made sense of after.

    As a forward, I will be talking about flavor in both an objective sense (certain tastes that pair well, have a good balance of acidity and sweetness) and in a subjective sense (the personal preferences and expectations of the consumer). While I fully believe there is such a thing as objective flavor, the subjective nature of consumers’ perceptions will always create exceptions (“Umm, actually I like the taste of curdled milk, so you’re wrong when you say vinegar and milk isn’t a good flavor pairing.” -some dipshit probably)

    First of all, let us abstract what the structure of a drink is, then define what factors contribute to the sensory experience of flavor as perceived by the consumer.

    A drink’s structure (in terms of how the flavor is constructed) has 3 abstract elements:
    The core which is the main flavor which is the ‘star’ of the show.
    The balance which enhances the core, usually through acidity or sweetness.
    The seasoning which adds another element of flavor to compliment or contrast the core.
    Furthermore, an additional 4th element to consider is the build of a drink, which is it’s body, concentration and order of flavors. The order of flavors is done in terms of top note (first flavor), middle note (flavor throughout), and base note (after taste). All these factors make up the objective and essential nature of the drink.

    Now the subjective experience of the consumer is a matter of the senses. Keep in mind that not all the senses are used equally, or at all when experiencing a drink. They are, in approximate descending order of importance; taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing. Taste, smell and touch all contribute to the kinesthetic sensory information and is the only tangible way a consumer actually perceives a drink. Smell, touch, sight and hearing all contribute to the pre-perception a consumer has of a drink which builds expectations and thus changes the subjective experience of a drink. An example is if you were to serve someone a glass of water with red food dye in it and not tell them it’s just water. They would build expectations of it to be a sweet drink because people associate the color red with sweetness. It is also important to note that these expectations vary from person to person and it’s based on their history, however these expectations can be cultural and thus apply in general principle. Really this is just a placebo effect at work.

    Also an important note is the concept of the three elementary solvents. They are, in ascending order of density: alcohol, water, fats/oils

    Now, with that out of the way, we can begin.

    My theory on why certain flavors work with milk and not water is that water has no flavor and a very neutral body while milk has a flavor and a heavy body. Therefore any drink involving milk has certain restrictions on what can accompany it in order to be both objectively and subjectively ‘good’, as the whole flavor must include the flavor of milk as the core or balance taste, the middle and base notes, and full body feel. Water has no restrictions on taste, as it simply takes on the flavor of what is infused, it is restricted to be of a medium body, unless altered by other ingredients. Also, by using certain flavors as the base in ways they are not properly supported by the balance, seasoning and structure, a drink can be made which is both objectively unbalanced in taste, and subjectively decided to be bad by being “not how it’s done”.

    Let’s expand that line of reasoning using a single ingredient; chocolate. Chocolate flavor infused in water is objectively considered ‘bad’ by most people and I would tend to agree. Raw chocolate, in essence, is bitter and earthy (much like coffee which is why they pair well) with a great concentration of flavor. The taste is all in the top note, which isn’t changed when it is infused in water, and the drink then relies on chocolate as the core flavor. To conclude, chocolate water is a bitter earthy taste which is experienced rapidly. A flavor profile like that is comparable to ginger tea. When compared with the cultural conception that chocolate is sweet the juxtaposition of expectations further enhances the bitterness. Even if it is balanced by sugar the body becomes syrupy resulting in the chocolate flavor being experienced mostly in the top and middle notes, with plain sweetness being in the middle and base notes. This isn’t ideal as saliva is needed to break down the drink but isn’t first stimulated by acidic or salty top notes, leaving a sticky and generally unpleasant mouth feel

    Chocolate milk on the other has the core chocolate flavor balanced by the milk and sugar. This creates a simple yet drastic change to the flavor profile. The body becomes fuller and more importantly fat/oil based, allowing the chocolate and sugar flavor to both be in the middle notes, with the milk flavor being in the base notes due to the flavor being carried in a fat, rather than water. This results in a slower release of flavor so the consumer can taste the rich earthiness of the chocolate flavor without it overwhelming the senses. Just for fun, an example of a good top note pairing for chocolate milk is a seasoning of nutmeg.

    Now in saying all this, it’s not like you can’t get funky with flavor profiles. I once had a beer which was a chili chocolate fudge stout. It wasn’t milk based, but the full body of the stout balanced the chocolate which was contrasted by the spiciness of the chili. There is no real unifying theory as to what ingredients pair well with what. I just rely on intuition to guide it and tie it all together with some technical knowhow. Others just go to tried and true classics. Really at the end of it all, beyond the post rationalization of analyzing flavor, there really is only one metric and that is enjoyment of the experience.

    Hopefully this can give you some understanding as to how the various properties of a drink’s ingredients contribute to the flavor and experience as a whole. As you can see it is simply a matter of milk and water (and alcohol for the record) having pre existing properties which limit the ingredients which pair well to create an objectively ‘good’ drink. I don’t know why it took me over 1000 words to come to that conclusion. It seems pretty self explanatory in retrospect. Thank you for prompting this of me though. It actually was a really good brain exercise to write my knowledge down.

  2. Very interesting, and thanks! Now that I think of it, chocolate does have an oiliness to it. (It is, after all, “fatty”. Funny, as just yesterday, I apparently sat against a small segment of a chocolate bar, and had to scrub it off my pants, though this was white chocolate, but it still has the same consistency). And then, of course, there’s milk chocolate, which of course is already aligned with milk.

    We see so much “chocolate” everywhere, and rarely think what it actually is; but cocoa is basically a nut, and as mentioned, nuts seem to go with milk more, such as pistachio, almond, pecan, and even peanut, though I don’t like most peanut butter flavored sweets (Hazelnut, however, is one of my favorite cake filling flavors!). And then, coffee as well (and all its own variants), which is a big ice cream and cake creme flavor.
    Nuts of course, are very oily. So I guess the issue is ultimately one of our old opponents, oil vs water. (Banana is very “fatty” as well. The citrus fruits have oils, but it’s a much thinner, acidic kind of oil, and not what we would call “fats”). So in order to have a grape or citrus that would go with mikl, it would have to have a lot of fat. But what would that be like? It would change the taste significantly. The same with a water-compatible chocolate or banana without the fat.

    Never thought of alcohol as a third kind of liquid, but I guess it is. Wines often have flavors added to them (like punches, the “coolers”, etc.) but they’re already tied to fruit, obviously. Though beer is grain, and I don’t see coming in drink flavors). I guess strawberries and peaches might have some amount of fat as well (but not as much as bananas and nuts)?

    I myself had also come to associate flavors with music, in terms of “attack”, “sustain” and “decay”. This came about from thinking about why I always hated the diet drinks with the old articificial sweeteners saccharin and aspartame. The “attack” comes as normal, but the “decay” is sudden, where the taste drops off rapidly, and you can’t even savor it (i.e. “sustain”; and perhaps what you’re calling the middle and base “notes”[?]). All that’s left is this dry chemical taste.
    Yet this is now so popular, that the big companies still keep rehashing their diet sodas, and just putting more aspartame in them, instead of moving to stevia or monk fruit, which I find are not as harsh in “decay” (even with stevias’s noted “bitter aftertaste”. At least it’s not a “chemical” feel. The aftertastes are further smoothed out adding [0 net carb] sugar alcohols such as erythritol or maltitol, as is being done in sugar free candy bars and even some cakes more. But that “diet” taste is the worst with drinks, IMO).

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