Flavor’s New Frontier: Unpacking the Molecules of Flavor in E-Cigarettes and E-Liquids

Technology has drastically changed how we do almost everything, from communicating via text message to dating through online apps and even how we smoke tobacco. Whether at a restaurant or a concert or even just walking down the street, the thick sweet clouds produced by e-cigarettes seem to be everywhere. The wide spectrum of smoke “flavors” has attracted considerable interest from the foodie crowd. One such person is Chef Jason Stevens, a James Beard award winner and the brains behind e-liquids at Cloudride, a new vape juice company.

So what is vaping? Defined as inhaling tobacco-free vapor through electronic devices, many smokers have begun turning to vaping as an alternative to cigarettes. The vape juice creates the smoke and is a tobacco-free liquid that contains varying amounts of nicotine—and sometimes none at all.

In 2011, Chef Jason Stevens gained notoriety for winning the “America’s Classic Restaurant” James Beard award for Watts Tea Shop in Milwaukee. The restaurant was also named one of the world’s ten greatest old dining institutions by The New York Times Style Magazine. At the time Stevens was a habitual smoker. After spending hours standing over fires in a loud and stressful kitchen, a cigarette was a sweet relief. But when a friend offered Stevens his e-cigarette, he got into it. Using his own extensive culinary background, Stevens brought his skills and knowledge of flavors to combine juices and come up with inventive blends. Picture the boyish Stevens in flannel PJ’s, his face calculating, squeezing eye droppers of e-liquids into beakers alongside piles of annotated cookbooks. Walter White meets Julia Child.

Chef Stevens quickly became a strong presence within the vaping community by both creating and reviewing juice blends online. So when the owner of Cloudride, needed someone at the helm to create flavors that would sell, he knew who to call. During his time at Cloudride, Stevens has crafted two flavor series: the “Classic Collection,” which offers options like Ooh Berry, Chocolate cake, and Watermelon Menthol; and more recently the “C9” collection that combines flavors like ylang ylang with vanilla and coconut (Lovin’ Ylang) or aged oak wood and sugar (Smokey Oakey).

Lovin’ Ylang is a blend of ylang ylang, vanilla, and coconut
Lovin’ Ylang is a blend of ylang ylang, vanilla, and coconut

While many vapers advocate the potential benefits such as its cost effectiveness and no terrible lingering odor and breath, vaping culture continues to face considerable pushback. The most pronounced worries are that candy or sweet flavored juices might appeal to—and might in fact be geared towards—children. But Chef Stevens and others in the vape community insist that they would never want these in the hands of minors. Adults, they argue, enjoy the sweet flavors too. As a matter of fact, vocal members in the vape community point out that vapers strongly support laws against the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

Critics also point to the lack of regulation—mostly in regards to nicotine levels. As of now, the FDA has yet to produce a clear consensus on the health impacts of producing and consuming e-cigarettes. There is no doubt that nicotine is not good for you but recent studies have shown that aerosols (including nicotine) delivered through e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco products.Ultimately, as Chef Steven says, yes there are health issues but it’s better than smoking cigarettes. Plus, they taste better, they’re more creative and have ultimately created a space for vaping enthusiasts to actively participate in exploring and creating a variety of new and fun flavor options.

Chefs have been stepping out of the kitchen and applying their experience and skills to new and exciting projects. I mean, who would have ever thought a former James Beard award winner would be tinkering with flavored liquids to produce entire collections of vape juices. We are in a time and age where really anything in the food world seems possible.

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