First a Warning
If you haven’t read my Spoonful of Sugar article, I do warn against using sweeteners all the time. Sucralose’s safety for inhalation is questionable, considering that when heated may release a chlorine molecule that could be harmful, and some preliminary testing done by FlavourArt’s ClearStream studies have shown that it is possibly tissue damaging and the reason they will never use sucralose sweeteners in their flavorings. But I am also all about choice and if folks wish to use sweeteners I’m going to share some information that may help new mixers looking to get that same “commercial” taste in their DIY. Proceed with your sucralose usage at your own risk and understand it may have some level of risk if used all the time.
Creating That Commercial Taste
The vast majority of commercial e-liquids contain some sort of sucralose sweetener, whether it is just already present in the flavorings being used (some do contain sucralose outside of adding extra labeled sweetener) or if it’s been added in the form of one of the many branded sweeteners. There is a small handful of commercial e-liquids, like Tea Time, that are specifically designed without additional sucralose – and I would assume not using sucralose containing flavors – but there are very few that actually don’t contain some level of sweetener.
What does sweetener do for these commercial e-liquid? Sweetener does quite a bit for the difference between commercial e-liquid and DIY recipes you’ll find online. Where most DIYers tend to use small amounts or no sweeteners, commercial e-liquids tend to have far higher amounts of sweetener than most people would imagine to be in their liquids. The most commonly used sweeteners are Flavor West and Capellas, with TPA coming up in a 3rd place. Capellas Super Sweet is the sweetener that gives you that bold sugar lips sensation and in commercial juice may be used anywhere from 0.75% to 4% maybe even 5% depending on how the rest of the mix is being designed. Flavor West is also quite common and can be used upwards of 5%. TPA’s sweetener, being the weakest one of all of them, plus it includes Maltol, will be more likely found in bakeries and tobaccos at lower levels up to about 3%, unless purposeful muting is desired.
Speaking of purposeful muting, that is often what sweetener is used for, to mute and pull down off notes and harsh top notes. This is especially helpful for the commercial e-liquids where they tend to push flavorings far higher than DIYers usually do for a very specific reason. So the MAJORITY of people can taste it and that it’s full flavored. So when you’re pushing Capella’s V1 Custard to 10% and throwing in 10% TPA Strawberry for a strawberry custard, they may put 3% or 4% CAP Super Sweet in it in order to tone down the strawberry and thicken the custard with a thick gooey layer. It can also make things like strawberry seem more vibrant, with the sweetness levels turned up even when it is purposefully muting the strawberry layer. You are getting muting on the top floral notes and an enhancement of the darker juicier bottom and mid notes.
It might seem counter-intuitive to say forced muting of flavors with sweetener also adds vibrancy, but that does seem to be the effect that is had. It’s much like making lemonade, the bitter harsh notes of raw lemons without the 2 cups of sugar would be intolerable for most people’s sour/bitter senses. The same works for vaping too. Sweetener softens the harsh, sour, and bitter notes perceived by the tongue and allows the sweet bright taste/smell of the lemon to come through in a more vibrant way in the e-liquid vapor. This works with most every type of fruit that has harsh off notes.
Sweetener Needs to Steep
For many people adding sweetener seems to reduce harshness and off notes in shake and vape recipes, but even sweetener needs to steep. Capella’s Super Sweet can seem harsh, dry and unpleasant vaped freshly shaken and may not seem as sweet as it does in commercial juice. That’s because most commercial juice has steeped…for quit a while…before you’ve purchased it. Unless you’re looking for freshly mixed in the backroom vape shop house juice, the majority of commercial juice has at least a few weeks of steeping time, up to a few months of steeping time by the time you purchase it. Juice is often steeped before bottling mixed in large batches and left to steep in buckets or jugs, for at least 2 to 3 weeks maybe even a month before being bottled. Many companies will also insert gases into the bottles as they bottle them which is why many commercial juices (especially more expensive brands) seem to last longer on the shelf and may not seem to be super steeped when you open them, and may even continue to steep for several weeks after opening.
The discussion for cloning commercial juice is really for another article. Sweetener is an important component for most commercial juice, so if you’re looking for a commercial juice clone or taste, using sweetener at what might seem like alarming amounts, may be what you need to get the taste you seek.
One thing you will notice as juice steeps is that it gets sweeter and flavors begin to meld. Sucralose will gain moderate levels of sweetness as it steeps, but stevia based sweeteners gain significant levels of sweetness as it steeps. This is important to know when adding sweeteners to your mixes. If you want shake and vape sugar lips levels, you will want to choose sucralose sweeteners like Super Sweet (CAP) or Sweetener (FW). But if you intend to steep your juice and want to have a resulting super sweet type of sugar lips taste, a stevia based sweetener at lower percentages will end up being just as sweet as higher percentages of sucralose after it’s steeped for several weeks.
Last Thoughts On Sweeteners
Using sweeteners to create effects in your recipes isn’t quite as simple as just dumping some in, there is method to this madness. A small amount of sweetener can enhance a recipe and bring out nuances and overall realism in the recipe. But, over-sweetening a recipe can leave it muddled, confused, and blandly sweet. Finding the right levels of sweetener for the effect you want will take some practice. Understanding that recipes created by DIYers on recipe sites that either have very little sweetener in them or none at all may not reproduce the type of commercial tastes you are looking for, but just throwing in 3% Super Sweet into them may not either. It isn’t always that simple. Sometimes there are blends of Ethyl Maltol, Ethyl Vanillin, and sweetener to create the overall softened sweet effect. Sometimes it’s using certain flavorings at higher percentages than you’d expect to use in combination with say 1% Super Sweet, or 1.5% FW sweetener that will have a similar sugar lips effect. Some flavorings are bitter and harsh and adding Super Sweet can actually make the harshness worse, where as adding 2% TPA sweetener with it’s caramel notes and less sucralose level will add a mellowing effect and sweetness that will help with the harshness. Sometimes it’s a combination of a Sour and a Sweetener that can bring out bold flavors in fruits. And sometimes a bit of a cooling agent like ws-23 is added in addition to sweetener to create a sweet powdery effect or just a general smooth sweetness.
DIY is all about personal experimentation. No two mixers have the same answers for questions and no two mixers have the exact same experience with mixing. So experiment to find what you like not just with your flavors but your additives like sweetener. It isn’t just the frosting on the cake, it is another ingredient and should be experimented with just like the flavorings.