Flavoring agents in pharmaceutical formulations

Flavoring agents in pharmaceutical preparations such as oral syrup, oral suspension, elixirs, emulsions, lozenges, chewable tablets, effervescent tablets, dispersible tablets, and ODT are used to impart not only flavors but also impart a pleasant taste. They are used to improve patient compliance or palatability of pharmaceutical dosage forms. Generally, flavoring agents (pharma grade) are available in two forms a) powder and b) liquid form. The word flavor refers to a mixed sensation of taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound, all of which combine to get an unrestricted number of gradations in the perception of a chemical substance. The 4 primary tastes a) saline, b) sour, c) bitter, and d) sweet appear to result partly from psychological action and partly from physicochemical. [1]

Definition of Flavoring Agent

According to USP, a flavoring agent is a single chemical entity or a blend of chemicals of synthetic or natural origin that can produce a taste or aroma (i.e. fragrance) when consumed orally or smelled.[2] Flavoring agents are one of the excipients in some pharmaceutical formulations. Also, flavoring agents are known as Flavorings or Flavorants. Remember that flavor is American English spelling and flavour is British English spelling.

How to use flavoring agents

Solid powder flavoring agents are added in the blending stage of dry granulation or after wet granulation during tablet manufacturing. Flavoring oils and liquid synthetic flavors are coated to get dry flavors powder. While during only wet granulation, liquid flavoring agents or flavor oil are added. More frequently liquid flavoring agents are used in a pharmaceutical liquid dosage form and topical pharmaceutical dosage form such as cold cream. Flavoring agents may be used individually or in a combination of two or more flavoring agents in a different ratio. Approximate 0.5% to 0.75% liquid flavoring agents or flavor oil are used without interfering with tablet characters.[3]

Classification of Flavoring Agents

On the basis of sources

A. Natural flavoring agent

Natural flavoring agents are either a single type or blend of flavoring agents obtained by a physical process such as roasting, heating, or chemical processes such as extraction, distillation, enzymatic, or microbiological processes from plant parts or animal origin. They may exist as an essential oil, oleoresin, spirits sometimes known as essences (alcoholic or hydroalcoholic solutions of volatile substances) or extractive, distillate, protein hydrolysate, or any product of roasting, heating, or enzymolysis. Examples of natural flavoring agents are complex volatile oil (anise oil), aldehyde (vanillin), ginger oil, peppermint oil, and lemongrass oil.

B. Artificial or synthetic flavoring agents

Artificial flavoring agents are chemical compounds synthesized by chemical processes that may be organoleptically, chemically, and structurally indistinguishable from a naturally present flavoring agent. For example, Methyl salicylate (Wintergreen flavor) is obtained from a chemical reaction of salicylic acid and methanol in the presence of H+ ions from H2SO4 and heat.

C. Natural and Artificial flavoring agents

These are a blend of one or more natural flavoring agents and artificial flavoring agents to enhance flavor balance and intensity. For example, a blend of esters, aldehydes, ketones, and lactones with natural essential oils.

On the basis of physical form

A. Solid flavoring agents

These are natural or/and artificial flavoring agents which are available in solid form. For example, mango flavor powder, chocolate flavor powder, and pineapple flavor powder etc.

B. Liquid flavoring agents

These are natural or/and artificial flavoring agents which are available in liquid form. For example, essential oils such as peppermint oil, orange oil, methyl salicylate, and lemon oil etc. You may also read, Tablet Binder : Types and Examples with concentration


List of flavoring agents in pharmaceutical formulations [1, 3, 4, 5, 6]

 Name of Flavoring agents Chemical Name and Use Concentration
1.VanillinVanillin is an organic compound named (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde). As a pharmaceutical excipient, vanillin is used in tablets such as caffeine tablets and polythiazide tablets, solutions (0.01–0.02% w/v), syrups, and powders.
2.Ethyl Vanillin0.01% in oral syrups, It has a flavor and odor approximately three times as intense as vanillin.
3.Menthol (USP), Racementhol (BP)Menthol is broadly used in pharmaceutical preparations, especially for antacid tablets, suspension, and expectorant tablets. It is capable to exert a cooling or refreshing sensation and is used in topical preparations. 0.02–0.05% for inhalation, 0.003% for oral suspension, 0.005–0.015% for oral syrup, 0.2–0.4% for Tablets, 0.05–10.0% for Topical formulations, 0.4% for Toothpaste, 0.1–2.0% for Mouthwash, 0.3% for Oral spray.
4.AppleManzanate (Ethyl 2-methylpentanoate)
5.BananaIsoamyl Acetate  also known as Isopentyl Acetate
6.Coconut flavorγ-Octalactone
8.GrapeMethyl Anthranilate
9.carawayCarvone & Limonene
10.PearEthyl Decadienoate
11.FruityEthyl Propionate
13.WintergreenMethyl Salicylate
14.CherryAllyl Benzoate
15.PineappleAllyl Hexanoate or Allyl Caproate
16.AniseAnethole, Anisaldehyde
18.Oranged-Limonene, Ethyl Butyrate
19.PeppermintIn peppermint flavor, not less than 5% of menthyl Acetate and less than 50% of total menthol must contain.
20.Mango [4]It is a combination of the following chemical flavor: 3-hydroxy-4,5- dimethyl-2(5H)-furanone, ethyl-2-methybutanoate, (E,Z)-2,6-nonadienal, 1-(E,Z)-undecatriene, γ-octalactone with Cultivar compounds as flavor modifiers such as ethyl butanoate for (fruity mango).
21.Spearmint or MintKetone 1-Carvone, Limonene, Cineole are responsible to impart this flavor.
22.GingerGingerol, d-Camphene And ß- Phellandrene
24.LavenderLinalyl Acetate
26.RoseGeraniol and l-Citronellol
27.PeachAldehyde C-14 Peach, or Gamma-Undecanolactone,
28.RaspberryRaspberry Ketone (4-(4-Hydroxyphenyl) butan-2-one)
29.StrawberryEthyl Methylphenylglycidate
30.Chocolate FlavorCocoa, Cocoa liquor (the essence of the cocoa bean)
31.CardamonLimonene, Cineol
32.Wild cherryPrunasin is the main ingredient to impart wild cherry flavor.
33.MethionineFor oral pharmaceutical formulations as a flavoring agent.
34.MaltolSweet, ethereal, fruity, butterscotch buttery smell. The acceptable daily intake for lactic acid is 12.5 mg/kg body weight.
35.Ethyl MaltolIts flavor and odor are 4–6 times as intense as maltol. Ethyl maltol at concentrations of about 0.004% w/v is used in oral syrups. It provides a caramel-like odor and taste but in a dilute solution, it provides a sweet, fruitlike flavor and odor.
36.Denatonium BenzoateIt has been used as a flavoring agent in placebo tablets, in a topical formulation, and in an anti-nailbiting preparation.
37.Ethyl AcetateIn pharmaceutical preparations, ethyl acetate is used as a solvent and a flavoring agent. It is also used in artificial fruit essence. It has Ether-like, sweet, flavor-like nail polish remover.
38.Ethyl LactateFlavor enhancer and used for iron-containing liquids preparations to reduce the metallic taste. It has salty-smelling odors.
39.Monosodium GlutamateFlavor enhancer and use for iron-containing liquids preparations to reduce the metallic taste. It has salty-smelling odors.
40.Citric Acid MonohydrateAs a flavor enhancer for its tart flavor and acidic taste.
41.Dibutyl SebacateUsed as a synthetic flavor and flavor adjuvant, up to 5 ppm is used in ice cream and nonalcoholic beverages.
42.Adipic AcidAlso, known as hexanedioic acid used to give tart flavor.
43.Capric acidAs a flavoring agent in pharmaceutical preparations for providing a citrus-like flavor.
44.Malic AcidIt imparts a slight apple flavor and is used to mask bitter tastes and provide tartness [5]
45.Fumaric AcidPrimarily used in a liquid pharmaceutical dosage form as an acidulant and flavoring agent.
46.Sodium MetabisulfiteAbove approximately 550 ppm at concentrations, it imparts a noticeable flavor to preparations.
47.Thymol/Thyme oilMainly used in cosmetics to impart a sharp, almost minty flavor.

Selection of flavoring agents

The selection of appropriate flavoring agents for a drug product depends on the nature of active pharmaceutical ingredients to improve palatability by changing the unpleasant taste and odor of drug products. A person is more sensitive to odor than to taste. So, flavorants are selected on the basis of the taste and odor of flavoring agents and the drug to be formulated. To mask the unpleasant and high intense odor of API, you should use flavoring agents with high intensity. You may also read: Sweetening Agents for Pharmaceutical Preparations

Table-1: Selection of flavoring agents on the basis of taste of flavoring agents (Never use any bitter taste flavoring agent to mask a bitter taste drug)

Flavoring agents Taste of Flavoring agents
Wild Cheery, Mint, Walnut, Chocolate, AniseBitter taste (Flavoring agents that contain free bases such as alkaloids and amides for example amphetamines give a bitter taste. Polyhydroxy compounds with a molecular weight greater than 300, aliphatic thio-compounds, halogenated substances, and High molecular weight salts may have a bitter taste.)
Peach, Wintergreen, Butterscotch, Apricot, MapleSalty taste (due to the presence of anions and cations for example KBr, NH4Cl, and sodium salicylate).
Licorice, Raspberry, Citrus flavor,Sour taste (Caused by hydrogen ions, and Sour taste is proportional to the hydrogen ion concentration)
Vanilla, Fruit, and Berry flavorSweet taste (due to polyhydroxy compounds, polyhalogenated aliphatic compounds, and alfa-amino acids).

Table-1: Selection of flavorings on the basis of the taste of drug to be formulated

Types of DrugsPreferred flavoring Agents 
Antacid, H2 receptor blockersPeppermint, Mint, Anise
AntibioticsCherry, Maple, Fruit-Cinnamon, Pineapple, Orange, Banana-Vanilla, Strawberry, Raspberry, Vanilla, Butterscotch
AntihistaminesApricot, Grape, Cinnamon, Cherry, Honey, Raspberry, Wild Cherry,  Peach-Orange,
AnalgesicCherry, Raspberry
Vitamin COrange, Lemon Flavor
Multi-vitaminMango, Fruity Flavor
BarbituratesBanana-Pineapple, Cinnamon-Peppermint, Orange, Peach-Orange, Strawberry, Banana-Vanilla,
ExpectorantsAnise, Apricot, Clove, Custard-Mint-Strawberry, Cherry, Strawberry-Lemon, Fennel, Coriander, Pineapple, Orange-Lemon.
AnathematicMango, Chocolate, Vanilla
Electrolyte-solutions geriatricsCherry, Mango, Lemon, Raspberry, Wild Cherry, Mixed Fruit, Wild Strawberry Flavor, Grape

Functions of flavorant

  • To provide a pleasant odor and taste of drug products (medicine).
  • To increase the palatability of a pharmaceutical preparation.
  • Psychologically increase the quality of the drug without improving particular therapeutic effects.

Flavoring agent vs Fragrance

Flavoring agents are single or blends of chemical compounds that are consumed orally and appreciated by both smell and taste while fragrances are single or blended chemical compounds only for external use and appreciated only by smell.

Generally, flavoring agents are vital excipients for chewable tablets, orally disintegrating tablets, dispersible tablets, oral solutions, and oral suspensions to mask the unpleasant smell as well as taste and to make the product more palatable, thus increasing patient compliance. On the other hand, fragrances are used in an external pharmaceutical dosage form such as cream, ointment, and cosmetics preparations.

Flavoring agents in pharmaceutical preparations are non-toxic and safe for oral administration. On the other hand, fragrances are toxic for oral or parenteral administration.

Read also,

In conclusion, remember that men are less sensitive to odors than women. There is a precise link between chemical structure and taste but no precise link between chemical structure and odor.


  1. Remington, Joseph P, and Paul Beringer. Remington: The Science and Practice of Pharmacy. 21st edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2005.
  2. The United States pharmacopeia The National formulary. Rockville, Md.: United States Pharmacopeial Convention, Inc. (USP 21 – NF 16).
  3. Lachman, Lieberman, H.A. and Kanig, J.L., The Theory and Practice of Industrial Pharmacy, Lea and Febiger, New York, 15th edition; 2013.
  4. WIPO (PCT). Mango flavor compositions, patent no.: WO2014130649A1; 2014.
  5. Allen LV. Featured excipient: flavor enhancing agents. Int J Pharm Compound 2003; 7(1): 48–50.
  6. Rowe, R. C., Sheskey, P. J., Owen, S. C., & American Pharmacists Association. Handbook of pharmaceutical excipients. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 2006.