e-Liquids are available in a rainbow of flavors. You can get everything from traditional tobacco and menthol to mixed drinks, desserts, candy and even roast beef. But, how have the flavors and even the composition of e-liquid evolved over the few years the vaping industry has existed?
Understanding flavor trends in e-liquid requires a little background in the makeup of the product. e-Liquid is made from a handful of ingredients including propylene glycol (PG) and/or vegetable glycerin (VG), concentrated flavoring and optionally, nicotine. Flavoring is the primary characteristic in an e-liquid, but there have also been changes in the mixture of PG and VG.
In the very early days of the vaping industry, standalone e-liquid wasn’t a commonly sold product. Instead, early e-cigarettes came with pre-loaded cartridges. The flavors in those cartridges were almost entirely tobacco variants and the use of VG hadn’t been introduced.
Eventually, consumers realized they could reload the cartridges with e-liquid. The consumer demand prompted overseas manufacturers like Dekang to start selling e-liquid as a standalone product.
The early “factory” e-liquid was the same product used in the refill cartridges. Tobacco flavors of all types were the primary source of flavoring. Many of the tobacco flavors attempted to mimic the flavors of popular major cigarette brands like Camel and Marlboro.
As the popularity of e-liquid took off, consumers started demanding non-tobacco flavors. Manufacturers responded to these demands by releasing simple one-note fruit flavors like orange, cherry and grape. The non-tobacco flavors concentrates came from food flavoring manufacturers like Lorann.
Some consumers also began to explore the idea of flavors. Users of online e-cigarette forums like the ECF began discussing the idea of creating their own e-liquids and experimenting with food flavorings available at retail stores. As the users experimented with flavorings and swapping recipes, more complex flavors began to emerge.
A few forum users also noticed that they had negative reactions to PG and started looking into alternatives. VG was identified as a potential alternative and experimentation led to the discovery that VG produced more vapor than PG but did not carry the flavor as well.
As is often the case with nascent industries, companies started to spring up from the DIY efforts of consumers. One of the earliest is Johnson Creek which initially focused on creating tobacco flavors using VG as the primary ingredient.
Other e-liquid houses would begin to pop up as well. One of these early manufacturers is Pink Spot Vapor. The company was started by bartenders who wanted to try and replicate the complex flavors found in mixed drinks rather than more simple flavors that were popular at the time.
Tobacco flavors still remained supreme even at shops that focused on non-tobacco flavors. Up until about 2013, Pink Spot’s top seller was a tobacco flavor.
Tobacco remains a popular flavor, particularly with people who are initially switching to vapor products. However, consumer demand has driven a virtual explosion of flavor choices.
What is popular with consumers tends to ebb and flow in trends. This is no different than any other consumer product, tastes change (no pun intended) over time.
Clearly tobacco flavors were the first trend, but as flavors became more available, other trends began to emerge.
Originally the popular alternative flavors were simple fruit flavors. Orange and strawberry were particularly popular. Soon after that, simple flavor combinations also started gaining traction. Flavors like strawberry banna started gaining popularity.
Shortly after the more complex fruit flavors came out, cocktail flavors became very popular. Pina colada, margarita and other bar flavors were spotted more frequently.
Other types bar flavors like champagne also started to gain traction. At one point Dekang actually put out a beer flavor. That particular flavor was not popular, other than as a joke flavor people would try just to say they survived the flavor.
As a side note, another flavor called Crab Juice overtook beer as the “challenge” flavor. YouTube is full of videos of foolhardy folk taking on the challenge for laughs (and viewers).
As e-liquid houses grew more comfortable creating complex flavors, the world really began to open up. More general food flavors started to come out. They ranged from things like gummy bears to waffles.
This is the point where candy flavors also began to come into their own. Instead of simple generic fruit flavors, shops were able to create reasonable facsimilies of real-world candy like Sweetarts and Cinnamon Red hots.
In fact, cinnamon became a sort of entity onto itself with manufacturers producing more and more outrageously hot cinnamon e-liquids. The trend was cut short because cinnamon had a way of destroying the early plastic tanks used on many vaporizers.
The candy flavors started sharing virtual shelf space with bakery style flavors. Vapers couldn’t seem to get enough birthday cake and doughnut flavored e-liquid. The combination of sweet along with the buttery undertones of cake batter made for a wonderfully complex and decadant vaping experience.
Bakery e-liquids lost popularity not because people stopped enjoying them, but for safety reasons of all things.
The flavoring agent commonly used in bakery-style flavors or flavors with buttery notes like waffle flavor was safe in food. But it was found to produce severe reactions known as “popcorn lung” in workers who inhaled the ingredient while working with it.
Vendors in general abandoned the flavoring ingredient due to fears of potential health issues and consumer backlash. This, in turn, meant certain flavors that had buttery notes fell out of favor, even those that did not produce diacetyl.
Not that bakery and similar favors have fallen off the map entirely, of course. There have been attempts to replace those flavors with some degree of success. For a while yogurt was marketed as a viable replacement.
Interest in yogurt never really spiked since much like real yogurt and real sweets there’s no comparison. Key lime yogurt just doesn’t have the same appeal as the actual pie.
e-Liquids continue to work in trends with complex fruit flavors currently leading the pack. However, this trend is also seasonal. Some manufacturers notice an uptick in dessert and savory flavors during the winter months while fruit flavors are the preferred summer vape of many.
Indeed, it appears that the dessert flavors’ days are definitely not numbered, it just takes summers off these days.
It seems like desserts especially are here to stay, although perhaps they may soon move to non-pastry desserts. Some flavor houses are working on flavor additives that have much promise in replicating ice cream flavors. Perhaps that will be the next great trend.
Whether it’s ice cream, or something else entirely like beer and cheese flavored tobacco, one thing will be certain. As consumers tastes evolve, so will the ability for e-liquid companies to produce some pretty interesting recipes in their mixing labs.
The same competitive nature that took us from factory-produced tobacco to DIY and the first e-liquid companies will continue to serve the market. Vaping is a consumer-driven world. Even if your favorite flavor has fallen out of vogue, chances are good it is still readily available. Whatever your preference, there’s an e-liquid out there just for you!
P.S. Thanks to the vendors who participated including e-Cigarette Direct and VapeCraft. Also thanks to Dinner Lady for providing some samples of their interesting flavor lines that I used as “research” for this post.