October 28, 2021, 07:08:08 AM
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Topic: Why can't you reverse engineer ingredients of commercial beverages?  (Read 2283 times)

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Ben Klesc

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Any advice from chemists in the professional field right now?

I am a chemical engineering student, and I was interested in performing a deformulation of a commercial beverage which is 65 years old to find the original recipe (flavor) of a soda that was discontinued long ago.

I've now decided I would do it myself because I have reached out to multiple professional companies that offer services, and keep getting the response back "we won't do beverages", or "we are unable to deformulate food or beverage products". I couldn't tell you why, and perhaps its because they don't want to get into legal trouble. The company that made the soda no longer exists so I'm pretty sure it would be okay.

I thought it would make a neat school project. However I have found almost no professionals in the field to turn to offering this service for guidance or help. What kind of equipment is involved in isolating ingredients and flavors in a beverage? Is there another reason why my requests have been turned down before I begin this myself? Is it even worth trying to dissect an original recipe out of a carbonated drink which has been sitting for six or more decades? Very few are interested in supporting my project.

Update 7/26/21: I'm pretty sure it's not a matter of not having the means. I've contacted very reputable companies which advertise on their company websites they can in fact deforumulate food and beverage products, but when I call them and bring up my idea they tell me "they can't help me" or "it's impossible". I disagree. 
« Last Edit: July 26, 2021, 09:15:26 PM by Ben Klesc »

Offline DrCMS

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Re: Why can't you reverse engineer ingredients of commercial beverages?
« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2021, 04:11:34 AM »
Reverse engineering a beverage is possible but may not be possible to legal supply it anymore.  Food standards have been improved over the years so that things that were OK in the past are now illegal.  The cost to reverse engineer something like this is definitely over 5 figures and probably in 6 or 7 figures.  If you approached the company I work for as a student asking this I would very politely tell you to f&#$ off and stop wasting my time.

Ben Klesc

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Re: Why can't you reverse engineer ingredients of commercial beverages?
« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2021, 02:17:10 PM »
Oh wow. I figured it was something more like that and I'm just being given the runaround. Well good to know before I waste anymore of my time or money. The drink in question is Chelmsford Ginger Ale. Founded in the 19th century, went out of business in the 1940's when the company folded and the original recipe and flavor died with it. It was apparently the greatest ginger ale in the country. They were as large as Coca Cola at one point. My neighbor has an unopened bottle and approached me. My town where this was originally made would love to have the original recipe but it was lost. There is a local store that tries to replicate it but locals say it doesn't taste the same.

My budget is $4,000. Some methods I can think of are Gas Chromatography / Mass Spectroscopy (GC/MS), Liquid Chromatography / Mass Spectroscopy (LC/MS), Ion Chromatography (IC), Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR), Gas Chromatography / Flame Ionization Detection (GC/FID), Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA), Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC), Scanning Electron Microscopy / Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (SEM/EDS), Gel Permeation Chromatography (GPC), Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS), High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), SVOC Analysis, Ultraviolet / Visible Spectroscopy (UV/VIS), Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP), X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), Rotary Evaporator Concentration, and Soxhlet Extraction Distillation just to name a few. There are quite a many ways to get this done.

I may purchase my own GC machine. That would be a fun project.

So it's not a question of whether it's scientifically possible, it's a question of whether it can be legally done. That's not something I took into consideration. I wasn't sure if I was being denied because carbonated beverages break down ingredients over time making it difficult. Many I reached out to outright told me they don't offer the service, even though it says on their website they work with beverage companies and manufacturing firms. Plus entrepreneurs. I told one company I was an entrepreneur starting a new business and they hung up the phone. No joking about that.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2021, 02:40:52 PM by Ben Klesc »

Offline Corribus

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Re: Why can't you reverse engineer ingredients of commercial beverages?
« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2021, 04:55:48 PM »
Not to dampen your enthusiasm, but it looks like you are just listing a lot of random instruments. Half of those won't do anything for your purpose, which makes me think you don't know what they are, which makes me think you don't know what you're doing. $4000 won't go very far if you don't have equipment or laboratory infrastructure. And finally there's also the likelihood that, even if you somehow pull off a miracle and manage to decode whatever is in the bottle, there's a good chance what's in there now isn't what was in there originally. Chemistry doesn't stop because a container is sealed - assuming the seal, usually made of rubber, is still even good - and 70 years is a long time for chemistry to happen. This is particularly the case if the container is glass, the glass is transparent, and the bottle wasn't stored in absolute darkness and low temperature.

(Aside from the possibility of old formulations not meeting current food regulations as mentioned by DrCMS, there's also the possibility that someone still holds the legal rights to produce this particular product - either the brand name or the formulation. You'd want to research that before you invested time and effort into it.)
What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?  - Richard P. Feynman

Ben Klesc

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Re: Why can't you reverse engineer ingredients of commercial beverages?
« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2021, 06:51:39 PM »
Not to dampen your enthusiasm, but it looks like you are just listing a lot of random instruments. Half of those won't do anything for your purpose, which makes me think you don't know what they are, which makes me think you don't know what you're doing.

I have never attempted to reverse engineer ingredients before. Now that I've been pressed on this, one of the companies I tried is Avermeen. Off their website they write a list of equipment they use for deforumulation. I'm trying to get a gauge here if this is something that would be possible to do yourself in the home and what equipment I would be able to purchase if I wouldn't be able to pay someone else to do it. I'm not a professional, don't have a lab but may be able to use the university's lab. Thought it would make a fun school day project.

What instruments are typically used during a deformulation analysis?

https://www.avomeen.com/scientific-applications/product-deformulation-service/

Just looking online I'm finding gas spectrometers for under three grand. Again this is all hypothetical and fantasy, and not talking about seriously doing this. Just flirting with the idea and seeing what others think about it. The seal itself is in a glass bottle with a cork.

And finally there's also the likelihood that, even if you somehow pull off a miracle and manage to decode whatever is in the bottle, there's a good chance what's in there now isn't what was in there originally. Chemistry doesn't stop because a container is sealed - assuming the seal, usually made of rubber, is still even good - and 70 years is a long time for chemistry to happen. This is particularly the case if the container is glass, the glass is transparent, and the bottle wasn't stored in absolute darkness and low temperature.

That's very much what I was inquiring about and that is what I believed. The bottle has been in possession of one owner in their temperature controlled room but it is 70+ years old clear glass. I'm not even sure how accurate it would be if I did somehow find someone to provide the service I'm willing to pay for.

Also I've heard mentions this would not be food safe for modern standards or against the law. I'm more doing this to document history for a book I'm writing. Not looking to market a product or make money off of my findings.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2021, 07:14:51 PM by Ben Klesc »

Offline wildfyr

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Re: Why can't you reverse engineer ingredients of commercial beverages?
« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2021, 08:02:49 PM »
I know you think we are a bunch of killjoys but deformulating a beverage, especially one likely with a lot of plant derived ingredients, is really difficult. Like, there are labs full of PhDs at Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc who have been doing for this for decades and have every necessary instrument and it still is a real project for them to take apart a competitors formula.

Offline Borek

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Re: Why can't you reverse engineer ingredients of commercial beverages?
« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2021, 03:04:34 AM »
Also note that even knowing what is the composition is not necessarily a recipe for replication - especially in the case of things made with the biological process like fermentation.

Yes, in theory mixing exactly the same chemicals as detected in the same concentrations will reproduce exactly the same solution, but it can be for many reasons impractical - some of the compounds can be prohibitively expensive to buy in a form pure enough. The best way to reproduce the original taste is to repeat exact procedure using exact products - and while definitely knowing the chemical composition of the beverage gives some hints, it won't answer questions like "how long", "in what temperature" etc.

Plus, even knowing exact recipe is not guaranteed to yield the same taste, as many things have changed in the meantime - we are growing different varieties of all plants involved, we use slightly different yeast and bacterial cultures, that all influences the final taste making the reverse engineering extremely difficult, if not impossible.
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