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Ingredient Guide: Flavourings, Essences and Syrups

Explore new dimensions of flavour in your baking with delicious flavourings, edible essences and sweet syrups.

One thing we love about cupcakes is their ability to take on so many different flavours. In our development kitchens at The Hummingbird Bakery we get to play around with all sorts of different ingredients to create new and exciting cupcake flavours.

To do this, we often use edible food flavourings, essences, extracts and syrups – and it’s so easy, any home baker can give it a go.

Flavour can come from wet ingredients or dry ingredients, for example, we use a sprinkle of cocoa powder in our famous Red Velvet cakes to give an added depth of chocolate.

Liquid essences are handy to have in the cupboard and are an economical means of adding variety to your baking as they have a long shelf life and a small bottle can go a long way.

Flavourings can broadly be divided into artificial (or synthetic) flavourings and natural flavourings. In natural essences, often an essential oil has been extracted from the plant or fruit, but when a synthetic essence is made the flavour is achieved by combining various existing chemicals to create a blend of flavours identical in smell and taste to the natural ingredient.

Want to experiment with some new flavours at home? In this Ingredient Guide, we will be looking at some of the liquid flavourings, essences and syrups that can be added to your baking:  

Flower Essences

Baking with flower essences can add a subtle, perfumed flavour to cake sponges, cookies and frostings. Violet, lavender and rose essences are some of the most popular flower essence flavours.

Fruit Essences

Using a fruit essence rather than fruit itself can give a more intense flavour. It also means fruit doesn’t have to be added to the sponge which can alter both the texture and colour.

Strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry are all delicious berry essences, while orange and lemon bring a sharper citrus flavour.

Banana essence gives a powerful synthetic banana flavour, so add little by little so as not to overdo it.

Candy Essences

Capturing the sugar rush of the candy shop is easy with flavoured candy essences like bubblegum, butterscotch, marshmallow and candy floss to pick and mix in sponges and frostings.

Nut Essences

For a delicious nutty flavour, a splash or two of nut essence can transform your cakes and cookies. Almond and hazelnut work especially well when paired with other ingredients in your cake such as fruit and chocolate.

If you have a nut allergy, avoid nut essences as you would any nut ingredients.

Vanilla Essence, Extract and Vanilla Bean Paste

As flavours go, it doesn’t get simpler than vanilla. A good quality extract or essence will give added vanilla notes to your sponges and frosting, ideal for baking up a batch of classic vanilla cupcakes in a rainbow of frosting colours.

Artificial vanilla flavouring can taste quite synthetic, so we don’t recommend using this unless you’re specifically seeking a more artificial-tasting vanilla flavour. Vanilla bean paste is a much thicker mixture of vanilla beans, sugar and water and can be used sparingly as an alternative to vanilla extract.

Other essences commonly used in baking include coffee, rum, brandy and coconut.

Syrups

Syrups are much less concentrated than essences so are often needed in larger quantities when used in baking. These may be natural plant syrups such as maple syrup or a concentrated, flavoured syrup.

Drinks manufacturers like SodaStream sell concentrated soft drink syrups in flavours like cola and lemonade – these can also be added to cake mixtures and frostings to create fun flavours.

A word of warning – make sure the flavourings, essences, extracts and syrups are all completely edible and are suitable for baking with before using.