Pilot Experiment: the Effect of Added Flavorants on the Taste and Pleasantness of Mixtures of Glycerol and Propylene Glycol



The US Food and Drug Administration banned most “sweet” flavorants for use in cigarettes due to the concern that sweet flavors appeal to young, beginning smokers. However, many of the same flavors, including fruity and confection-associated aromas (e.g., vanilla), are still used in e-cigarettes. Sweet flavors may have a number of effects, including enhancement of the taste of other ingredients. The current work focused on the impact of model flavorants on the taste of a mixture of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine, solvents used in most e-cigarettes and related products.


A device delivered mixtures of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine into the mouth in parallel with puffs of clean air (control) or odorized air. Aromas included two “fruity” esters (“pineapple” and “banana”), two confection-associated aromas (“vanilla” and “caramel/malty”), menthol (not a “sweet” aroma, but commonly used in e-cigarettes), and a “burnt” aroma not expected to enhance flavor. Twenty young adults, aged 18–25, rated the sweetness, bitterness, and pleasantness of all stimuli (within-subjects design).


Both fruity aromas significantly enhanced sweetness, both confection-associated aromas significantly enhanced pleasantness, and the caramel/malty aroma significantly reduced bitterness. Menthol and the “burnt” aroma had no measurable effects on the taste of solvent mixtures.


Some flavorants modulated the taste of solvents commonly used in e-cigarettes in ways consistent with an enhanced sensory profile.


If similar effects occur in actual products, improved flavor profiles could facilitate continued use, particularly in non-smokers experimenting with e-cigarettes and related products.

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This work was funded in part by P50-CA-179546, NIH/NCI/FDA, University of Pennsylvania Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul M. Wise.

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This work was funded in part by P50-CA-179546, NIH/NCI/FDA, and in part by funds from [the authors’ institutions, not specifically listed to comply with double-blind peer review].

Conflict of Interest

PMW currently receives research funding from major food, beverage, and food ingredients companies. None of these companies provided funding for or were in any way involved in the current research. AAS has active research grants from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has previously been funded by NIH and FDA, as well as a peer-reviewed GRAND grant sponsored by Pfizer (2008–2011). HN has recently been hired as a full-time employee by Kerry, a flavor and nutrition company. PDR declares that she has no potential conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments. All procedures were approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the University of [not included here to comply with double-blind peer review].

Informed Consent

Written, informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in the study, using IRB approved forms, before any study procedures were performed.

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Rao, P.D., Husile, N., Strasser, A.A. et al. Pilot Experiment: the Effect of Added Flavorants on the Taste and Pleasantness of Mixtures of Glycerol and Propylene Glycol. Chem. Percept. 11, 1–9 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12078-017-9231-9

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  • Flavor
  • E-cigarettes
  • Vaping
  • Abuse potential