Where Do Your Flavors Come From?
Knowing what you’re putting into your lungs is essential for any safety-conscious vaper. Vaping is likely to be safer than smoking even in the worst case scenario – for example, even a juice that’s chock-full of diacetyl doesn’t have the sheer quantity of harmful ingredients you’ll find in cigarette smoke – but asking “What am I vaping?” is still a good idea, because many ingredients can represent an avoidable risk in e-liquid.
At Black Note, we try to make this question as easy as possible to answer. For one, we offer a lab report confirming that our juices don’t contain ingredients such as diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, acetoin, acrolein and diethylene glycol, but our flavors are pretty easy to trace too. As a naturally extracted tobacco (NET) e-liquid company, we make our flavorings in house by steeping carefully-selected tobacco leaves in a base mixture – with no added heat – for six to eight weeks, and we don’t add any artificial flavors, colors, dyes or additives.
But what about other companies? Where do the ingredients come from for your favorite non-tobacco juices? While some companies may make their own extracts – particularly so for things like menthol – the majority depend on the same flavoring companies do-it-yourself mixers use.
In effect, juice companies use their flavor-crafting expertise to produce delicious e-liquids, but if you want to know the source of the flavorings in your juice, the answer is companies like Capella, Flavor West, LorAnn, the Perfumers Apprentice and many others. Here’s a quick look at the biggest companies responsible for the flavorings you’re vaping – or using in your own DIY mixes – which also covers how much information they provide about the ingredients in the flavors.
The Perfumer’s Apprentice/the Flavor Apprentice
The Flavor Apprentice is a division of the Perfumer’s Apprentice, and they carry a wide variety of flavors that can be used in e-liquids. They originally got started in 2004, and as the name suggests, their original audience was perfume-makers, but they’ve since expanded into offering food flavorings.
They don’t use diacetyl in any of their flavorings, but acetyl propionyl and acetoin are used for custard-like notes. If you browse through their flavors by section, you’ll see that any flavorings with either of these ingredients present are marked as such, and you can even look at the components of the flavorings via the spec sheet page. If you’re interested in one component in particular, you can search by it’s CAS number to see all flavorings with the ingredient present (the CAS for acetyl propionyl is 600-14-6 and for acetoin it’s 513-86-0). For specific flavorings, you can see a full list of its components and how much of each there is in there.
For DIY mixers, this means you can be pretty sure about what you’re inhaling if you check the flavorings out on their website, and if you know a company uses the Flavor Apprentice, it should offer some assurance that there’s unlikely to be diacetyl in the juice.
Capella is one of the most widely-used flavor companies, and originally got their start as a coffee company, who branched out into flavorings in 2005. They now offer a bewildering array of flavorings, split into sections such as desserts, nuts, fruits, spice and liqueurs.
The company doesn’t use diacetyl, and they’re currently in the process of removing acetyl propionyl and acetoin from their flavorings (with a list available so you can check the status of specific flavors). They offer MSDS sheets for their flavors, and also list non-flavor ingredients on the page for each individual flavor (ordinarily just PG, but some contain other ingredients such as alcohol).
Overall, they’re a reputable company and the fact that they’re taking steps to remove acetyl propionyl and acetoin puts them in good standing with most mixers.
Flavor West is another of the most widely-used e-liquid flavoring companies in the e-liquid industry, and they first got started in 2012. They split their flavorings into natural and artificial flavors, natural flavors, with base liquids (PG, VG and nicotine) and even caffeine available. They test their flavorings to ensure there is no diacetyl present, and many flavorings list the acetoin content and acetyl propionyl content, but the full list they released doesn’t provide much useful information in terms of testing limits, and not all of the flavors they’ve released are included.
The results are also expressed as percentages, which effectively means “parts per hundred,” and therefore would need multiplying by 10,000 to become a ppm or μg/ml value (more info on this is available in this article on understanding e-liquid lab reports). This would suggest that Pumpkin Spice, for example, mixed down to 10 percent of an e-liquid, would contain 242 ppm of acetyl propionyl, which is not an acceptable amount. If you’re mixing, you can use the document as a guide to ensure your mixes are safe, but without knowing the minimum detection limit, it’s hard to be sure.
Overall, they provide some information, but it’s nothing approaching the sort of disclosure the Perfumer’s Apprentice offers, so safety-conscious mixers and vapers might prefer to avoid them. Incidentally, there are suggestions that Thug Juice from Mount Baker Vapor is built on Flavor West’s Jungle Juice, although they’ve denied that they use the company.
LorAnn Oils originally got started in 1962, meaning it’s been manufacturing and distributing flavorings and essential oils for over 50 years. They carry a wide range of flavors, classed as “super strength flavors” and “natural flavors” (with the latter ones being suspended in a PG and VG mix), with several fruity, sweet and beverage-based flavors available. The flavors all contain no diacetyl, but they don’t really cater to vapers, and so there are some issues. One of which is that there is no real indication of whether acetyl propionyl or acetoin are used, and a vaper has been informed that some flavors do contain them, but with no information about which specific ones.
Additionally, there are oil-based flavors mixed in with vape-safe flavorings, and lipoid pneumonia is a potential risk from vaping oils. Although this is likely a little more complicated than simply “don’t vape anything that says oil on it,” it is still good advice, overall. Really, if it’s water-soluble, it’s probably safe to vape (but there is ultimately still a lot of uncertainty with many flavorings). There is a useful list of the flavorings from LorAnn that are considered safe for vaping and ones which aren’t.
As for ingredient listing, LorAnn don’t really offer much information. Using the list referenced above should help you steer clear of anything potentially risky, but overall the information provided is really minimal here.
FlavourArt is another popular e-liquid flavoring company (available to buy in the U.S. here and elsewhere), based out of Italy. The company takes purity very seriously, and don’t use diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, acetoin, preservatives, sweeteners or colors in any of their flavorings, making them a great choice for safety-conscious vapers. They have a wide range of flavors available, ranging from tobaccos to sweets, fruits and blended mixtures, as well as offering a small selection of “ready to vape” options. The website doesn’t offer much else in terms of ingredients listings, but the fact they’re free from the main chemicals of concern should be satisfying to most vapers and DIY mixers.
Which Suppliers to My Favorite E-Liquid Companies Use?
This is a very difficult question to answer, because – as you may expect – companies aren’t exactly eager to reveal their suppliers, and most will use several. The best advice, if you’re concerned about the potential flavors you’re inhaling, is to check “clone” recipes of the juices. These are vapers’ best guesses as to how to produce a particular flavor, and even if they aren’t completely accurate, they should give you a general idea of the type of flavors likely included in a juice. In some cases (as with Thug Juice, mentioned above), the recipe is really quite easy to work out, so these can offer valuable clues as to which supplier a company uses.
The best advice – if you’re really concerned about vaping things like diacetyl – is to simply avoid custard-based flavors. A Perfumer’s Apprentice blog post puts it like this:
“Pretty much by definition, a vanilla custard flavor, no matter who makes it, will have both acetoin and acetyl propionyl (or diacetyl) in it. Just like it would be hard to bake a cinnamon cookie with no cinnamon, it would be really hard (pretty much impossible) to create a vanilla custard flavor with no acetoin or acetyl propionyl (or diacetyl).”
Diacetyl imparts a buttery flavor, too, so being cautious about butterscotch and similar buttery flavors is also good advice.
For DIY mixers, having a knowledge of the different e-liquid flavoring companies, what they offer and how many of their juices are likely to contain ingredients you shouldn’t vape just makes sense. But for ordinary vapers concerned about what they’re inhaling, looking at flavoring companies can give you a good idea of the specific chemicals likely hiding behind the “natural and artificial flavorings” listed on the bottle. For these purposes, the Perfumer’s Apprentice is a great site to check, offering more information about the specific ingredients in their flavors than any other company listed here. There are many flavoring companies used by vapers, though – with a big list available here – so it’s also worth checking in some other places if you want more information. You might not be able to be certain about what you’re inhaling, but you can use it to get a general idea of what’s in your juice.
List of DIY Flavoring Suppliers (with unwanted ingredients present in highlighted juices)
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