Taste Your Juice??? Umm...Nope
Cracking that fresh bottle of e-liquid or mixing up that brand new recipe, it smells so good. You fill up your tank or dripper and take that first hopeful puff expecting to be wow’d with that wonderful flavor. And…nothing. You’re vaping sweetened air with no flavor. The level of disappointment is heart crushing when you’re vaping something that tastes like nothing and you’re expecting the amazing aroma you could smell in the bottle. So what is going on when this happens? Let’s take a look at some different reasons why flavors can be muted or non-existent.
Before I get into the different reasons why there could be flavor muting, let me point you in the direction of one of my previous articles were I cover the physical and psychological system of taste and smell. Please check out The Language of Flavor Part 2 — read in the first section to get a better understanding of how your olfactory system works. Flavor muting of every type of flavor may indicate a physical issue with your orthonasal olfactory sense.
Problems With The E-liquid
Over The Threshold
Flavor Muting could happen with both your own mixes, other people’s recipes, and commercially produced e-liquid. Each molecule used to create an aroma compound has it’s own individual threshold at which it can be detected, both at the lowest end and the highest end. These thresholds are usually expressed as parts per million or parts per billion. The one thing we don’t know when mixing commercially available flavoring compounds is the ppm and ppb of each molecule used in that compound.
When creating a recipe you may think that you need to use more and more flavoring in order to taste it. In some cases this is true, depending on the company producing the flavoring compound — if it tends to be a weaker flavor more may need to be used — but for most flavorings the general rule is “less is more.” This is especially the case when layering the same type of flavoring and when combining flavorings that share similar molecules. Take for instance you’re combining strawberry with creams. You’ve got 3 different strawberries, and 4 or 5 different creams and all of a sudden you can’t taste anything but sweetened air. There are a lot of molecules that could be shared by these flavors like gamma-decalactone, furfuryl octanoate, gamma-nonalactone, and strawberry furanone. For example, Strawberry Furanone is a very strong aroma molecule and has to be used in very low ppm in a strawberry flavoring. Considering that there could be several hundred different molecules in each strawberry flavoring in different combinations, when layering multiple strawberries careful attention must be paid to how much is being used of each flavoring. Flavorings that are really strong, means they have higher ppm/ppb of those flavoring molecules, so using more of the really strong flavors may end up muting the entire mix and that flavoring profile out completely. It could also result in off flavors as well.
We all have slightly different receptors in our nasal passages, some of us are more sensitive than others. But the general thresholds for perceiving aroma molecules still matter even if you have less sensitive orthonasal receptors. In fact, I think it is even more important for those who have less ability to perceive, because they are not only flooding their system with too much of a molecule — which results in olfactory fatigue even if you aren’t physically perceiving it — they are also muting other flavors that may actually be perceived at the same time. That is what I call overlapping olfactory fatigue — which is when one molecule has caused significant olfactory fatigue, it can in fact mute out all flavoring molecules or specific similar molecules.
If you haven’t read it all already Know Your Flavors is part of the solution — getting to know your individual flavor compounds helps you be a better mixer and helps you avoid using flavorings in too high of percentages when blending them together.
If you have a recipe or are using someone else’s recipes that seem to have high flavor percentages, especially when combining similar flavors or same flavors, and the overall flavor when vaped is muted and muddled, the easiest solution is to lower the percentages. Don’t be as concerned with your total flavor percentage because that is actually less meaningful than your individual flavoring percentages. If you are using one shot or single flavorings obviously lower the total percentage of that single additive.
If you have done these things and you are still having a muted flavor problem, check out the other possible issues.
Too much Sweet
Ahhh…we all love a lil’ bit of sugar, don’t we? Obviously, sugar can’t actually be used in e-liquid, but what we do use is called sucralose. It is the most popular type of sweetener for e-liquid throughout the industry. There are problems with sucralose.”Sucralose is made by a multi-step process that starts with ordinary table sugar (sucrose) and replaces three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms.” (from the site sucralose.org) Now this might not be a bad thing in terms of eating it, but as we have seen in vaping sucralose sweeteners are one of the largest contributors to carbon buildup on coils. I know in experimenting with it, vaping sucralose for me causes throat irritation and wheezing for me (though I have reactive airways already with allergies, things irritate my throat far easier.)
I don’t know the science behind why sucralose would cause flavor muting in e-liquids, there is no info in the food world about this subject and science hasn’t started looking at vaping sucralose in ways other than saying it might be bad. The flavor muting aspect of sucralose is purely anecdotal, but it is something many of us have experimented with and determined it is definitely happening.
Depending on the amount of flavorings and the recipe itself, a small amount of sucralose can enhance the flavors by adding the sweetness level needed to perceive the aromas in the way we expect to. It can also round out rough edges of the flavors where there might be too much sharpness, or bitter notes, the sucralose smooths them out. However, even at low levels — below 2% — sucralose will eventually cause carbon buildup on coils, worse so if you are using Flavor West flavors that contain natural sugars that shouldn’t be vaped. Carbon buildup can contribute to flavor loss and off flavor notes.
When I see recipes with sucralose at 3% or 5% or even a few commercial juices that have released their recipes with 9% sucralose, I am just shocked. That’s so much. At those levels it changes the way flavors are perceived in drastic ways. Adding more sweetness does not make a recipe better, in fact it can mute certain aromas completely and after steeping can leave an e-liquid tasting like a muddled sugary mess.
I did a few experiments with my Banana Creampie recipe, a recipe that does not contain any sucralose. I know this flavor well and it steeps out fully at 4 weeks to a smooth banana creamy pie that is just sweet enough. I tried adding in 0.5% sucralose (in the form of TFA Sweetener — which also contains other molecules) and it made it significantly sweeter. It wasn’t bad, but it was far sweeter than what I was used to, no flavor muting noted. I added 1% sweetener and I started to notice a loss of the general fruity background notes that lay under the banana notes. At 3% sweetener the banana flavor started to suffer and the pie crust was losing it’s flaky pastry notes. After 4 weeks of steeping 3% sweetener had significant flavor muddling and muting. At 5% sweetener the muting started to happen at 1 week steeping and continued to mute and turn into a sweet sugary mess. The recipe was no longer vape-able. I should also note that TFA Sweetener is what is referenced above. CAP Super Sweet caused muting as low as 1.5% levels. I don’t have any other sweeteners on hand, so these were the only two I tested this recipe with.
For me that test showed me how bad the flavor changes can get when high levels of sucralose are used. Low levels can work with certain recipes and flavors, but it isn’t always necessary. But we do have an alternative now in Erythritol — a sugar alcohol that vapes far cleaner and does not cause the same type of flavor muting that sucralose causes. Because it is not as sweet in a vape as sucralose, and it is VG based (I mix my own at 20% in a VG base) in the test I did with the same Banana Creampie recipe, adding in 5% Erythritol to the recipe sweetened in a clean way without flavor muting or carbon buildup on the coils. It was still a little too sweet for me, if I were going to add it to this recipe to vape beyond just my experiments I would cut it back to 3%.
So if you’re mixing other people’s recipes that are utilizing sucralose sweeteners, or you’re experimenting with creating recipes and you try using a high percentage of sucralose sweetener in order to fix off flavors in a recipe, you may end up with a muted mess of a recipe. Commercial juices that cause you to go through coil after coil and taste super sweet, but doesn’t taste like much else, might be because far too much sucralose has been used. Seek out juices and recipes that use less or no sucralose if you are having this sort of muting issue with super sweet flavors.
Consider experimenting with Erythritol powder. The commercially prepared solutions of Erythritol seem to be at a 5% dilution. I find this level to be too low to be effective as a sweetener replacement for sucralose without using extremely high percentages (like 8% or 10% @ a 5% dilution solution) I use a 20% dilution in VG and it works very well at percentages of 1% to 5%, and since it is VG based, it’s not adding PG like sucralose based sweeteners to my recipes. I like this aspect. I will be writing an article on mixing up the Erythritol powder ( I may even do a video instead) in the coming weeks.
There are some flavorings that are not extremely concentrated, so using low percentages of these flavors may result in very weak flavor profiles in the resulting e-liquid. Flavorings that come to mind like this are TFA’s Dragon Fruit. It is a very mild dragon fruit flavor, more like a less than ripe natural dragon fruit. Whereas INW Dragon Fruit and CAP Dragon Fruit are rather realistic, but very ripe dragon fruit flavors that are more concentrated than TFA’s version. TFA’s Dragon Fruit is still a good flavor and has many purposes, but using it as a main profile dragon fruit may result in what might seem like a muted flavor, but in fact is just a weak flavor profile.
There are other flavors out there that are really mild, some blended flavors sold by companies intended to be single flavor mixes (like one shot styles) may also be on the weaker side and require 10% or up to 20% total flavor of just that single flavor, which is not suitable often as a recipe mix. Though flavors like OSDIYS’s Lucky Shot flavor’s recommended useage is 10-15% it can be used at much lower percentages to have a creamy/graham cracker/cookie note, but it won’t be the main flavor profile.
This is where knowing your flavors comes into play. Test single flavors and get to know them in order to know how they will work in a recipe either as a main flavor profile, as a supporting flavor profile, or as an additive flavor.
Problems Other Than E-Liquid
How You Vape Can Cause Muting
Equipment can have a large impact on how flavors are tasted. I’ve gone through all sorts of RDA’s, Tanks, Sub-tanks, and they all taste somewhat differently. How each of us tastes liquid will be different, but the less sensitive you are in your retronasal system the more likely that you won’t taste as much when using high airflow and large bore tips. High airflow and chuff caps, or large bore caps give you loads of vapor but less flavor overall, as it is being diluted with lots of air and the aroma volatiles are not as concentrated. The tighter your airflow (not meaning just Mouth To Lung style, but tighter Direct Lung set ups) and the smaller the bore hole of your drip it, the more concentrated the vaporized aerosol will be that enters your mouth, lungs, and up into your nasal passage (where we actually taste our juice.)
Heat can also play a factor in flavor, sometimes warmer is better, sometimes cooler is better. There are just so many options when it comes to vaping equipment that it can be difficult to know which ones might work for you and you’re ability to perceive the aromas of the vapor.
My personal preferences is moderate airflow, not wide open, but not extremely restricted, and a medium sized borehole drip-tip or a narrower drip-tip. I both build coils — plain 24 gauge at around 0.5 ohm to 0.8 ohm, though when I have time I build some fused claptons. I use these on my various RDA’s, my two favorites are the Velocity and Aeronaut, and my tanks, I like the Aromamizer, the Joytech Ultimo with the notch coils and ceramic coils, and I’m liking the new Cleito 120, though it is a bit low ohm’d for my taste and the drip top is huge, so I find I get less flavor from it even with the airflow closed down.
If everything you vape seems muted or flavorless, it is possible the equipment you are vaping on isn’t quite right for you. It can get expensive trying out a ton of styles of atomizers, but sometimes it’s the only way to find the right one for you. If you buy some that you don’t like, maybe find a vape exchange group where you can sell off your slightly used unliked pieces of equipment or even trading equipment with others.
Yes, flavor muting can be caused by your own senses. Olfactory Fatigue is when you’ve been exposed to the same aroma molecule over and over again and your brain shuts off its perception of that aroma chemical. It can happen to multiple molecules at the same time that make up a specific flavor compound. But when you think about it, if you are having trouble tasting Strawberry because you’ve vaped it constantly for the last two weeks, you may also find other flavors that share similar molecules to also end up muted because you’re brain has shut off the perception of those specific parts of the whole flavor compound.
This becomes a problem if you’re common vape is a strawberry and cream based flavor profile, you could shut off your ability to perceive all creamy notes that are involved in those flavor compounds or all strawberry notes. If you try to vape a blueberry and cream flavor, or peaches and cream, all of a sudden everything starts to taste muddled and muted, or like there is nothing creamy about them, then you’re ability to sense those specific creamy notes has been shut off causing flavor muting to occur.
The only solution to olfactory fatigue that actually works is to avoid the flavors that you’ve become blind to and vape flavors in a totally different flavor profile, so that you avoid the molecules that you are blind to. This means for the folks with limited flavor supplies you may want to pick up a few flavors that are completely outside of your main profile grouping. Fruit flavors, candy flavors, even a tobacco might be a nice change if you’re a heavy pastry vaper. If you always vape strawberry, try a melon flavor, or an apple, or some of the tropical fruits like Lychee, guava, papaya, mango, dragon fruit (CAP or INW,)or guanabana (FLV). The farther from the blinded flavor you can get the better your chances are that your olfactory blindness to that molecule will settle down and you’ll taste the flavors again.
One thing to remember, once you have become desensitized to certain flavor molecules the faster your olfactory fatigue will set in. So if you’ve been vaping some variation of strawberry/pastry/cream flavors for the past year and you just can’t taste them anymore, switching flavors will likely only give you temporary ability to taste those blinded flavors. I’ve done this to myself, I vaped FlavourArt Cam T tobacco flavor in various recipes for like 2 years straight. I couldn’t taste it anymore. I stopped vaping it for about a year, vaping other tobaccos and other profile types, and even now I get maybe 3 or 4 days of tasting Cam T before I become blind to most of the flavor profile of the tobacco. I’m also getting blinded to FA Soho. It’s not as bad though as the blindness to Cam T. I can taste Soho longer after I’ve switched flavors than I can Cam T.
When my olfactory fatigue is really bad I go with menthol and anise. It’s strong, and it’s not a normal flavor that I vape. I often use my Green Eyed Daemon recipe as a palate cleanse. Some people hate anise based flavors with a passion, I understand that, but take the concept of using a strong flavor — maybe incorporate a little mint if you hate menthol, and use it as your palate cleanser for times when you can’t taste any of your juices. Be sure not to use sweeteners like sucralose in your palate cleansing recipe, because that can potentially make things worse and will not make the palate cleanser effective.
In Your Medicine Cabinet
This may not be something within your control, but some medications have the potential to cause flavor muting by inhibiting your olfactory system. This isn’t usually listed as a side effect because drug companies haven’t really looked at this as a symptom that people may be concerned about. In fact, the medical community as a whole doesn’t seem overly concerned as to whether or not people can taste or smell aromas. Pretty much any medication that lists dry mouth as a symptom (which is a LOT of medications) it has the potential to affect your olfactory system. Your nasal passage relies on moisture to transmit the chemical information to your brain, when your mucus membranes are dried out from a medication it has the potential to cause distortions in your ability to transmit the information from the aroma molecules through the nasal bulbs to your brain. Drinkings lots of water and even spraying your nose with saline may not help if it is a medication causing the problem.
There are no solutions to this if you need those medications, it is simply a side effect you will have to live with. The only option is to continue to sample single flavors in order to find any that you can actually perceive. Usually people can find a few flavorings that they are able to use, but their range may be limited depending on the severity of the side effects. If you are only on medications temporarily, your olfactory system should go back to normal by about 6 weeks after the medications are stopped.