Vaping, which is short for “vaporizing,” requires a liquid to vaporize. That liquid is called “eliquid” or, in more common parlance, “juice.” Vape juice has one base element and three optional elements. The essential component is vegetable glycerin (VG). To that can added whichever options in whatever proportions the vaper chooses: propylene glycol (PG), flavorings, and/or liquid nicotine.
In the early days of vaping (before 2012) propylene glycol was often the dominant base in eliquid. VG gradually won out over PG, however, for two reasons: VG produces much more vapor and is generally considered the safer alternative (since some people are allergic to PG). Also, distilled water was sometimes used to cut eliquid (to thin the viscosity of the liquid), but that practice seems to have waned in recent years.
To the base liquid — whether VG, PG, or some combination of the two — flavorings are typically added. This opens up an entire universe of taste possibilities. Companies that have made food flavorings for decades have seen a whole new market open up for vaping flavors.
The issue that arises is this: ingesting flavorings is different from inhaling flavorings. Chemical flavorings that are safe to eat may or may not be safe to inhale, even in the tiny amounts that vaping typically uses. We just don’t have a good handle on the long-term safety of inhaling flavorings.
While that gets sorted out (through scientific studies), retail eliquid has exploded into a huge marketplace with an amazing (and sometimes bewildering) array of flavors, which can be broken down into fundamental taste categories.
Vape Juice Flavors
Basically, eliquid flavors (whether as single flavors or combined to produce more complex flavor blends) can be categorized in much the same way that we would divide food groups. Desserts are probably the most popular eliquid flavors, with Fruits in second place, followed by other categories that occupy more limited market segments.
The Dessert category includes both of the most typical types of desserts: bakery goods (such as pies, cakes, and pastries), and dairy desserts (custards, ice cream, and other creamy confections). In fairness, these are reminiscent of food desserts rather than true replicants. Apple pie eliquid cannot possibly provide the actual mouthfeel of eating real apple pie, and ice cream vaping juice is only vaguely similar to real ice cream.
When dessert eliquids are well-made, with the best combination of flavorings in winning recipes, they get close to the taste of the desserts they’re designed to imitate. That is, however, a hit-or-miss proposition.
Three specific flavors need to be mentioned, since they are used so often in real desserts: vanilla, caramel, and chocolate.
Vanilla is arguably the single most popular flavoring in the entire pantheon of eliquids. Not just a single flavor, vanilla comes in a wide array of subtle differences — vanillan, vanilla bean, Madagascar vanilla, Tahitian vanilla, vanilla bourbon, etc. Combined with dairy, vanilla can be outstanding — Bavarian cream, Catalyn cream, Vienna cream, et al.
Caramel is basically cooked/burnt sugar. Caramel flavoring lends a distinctive sweetness, body, and taste to vaping juices.
Chocolate, in all its various types (milk chocolate, dark chocolate, bitter chocolate, Mexican hot chocolate or molé sauce, truffles, cocoa, etc.) is a flavor that human beings love and crave. Unfortunately for vapers, chocolate doesn’t translate well as a vaping flavor. Unlike vanilla, which adds a tasty element to so many eliquids, chocolate succeeds as a vaping flavor only in rare instances. The typical complaint about chocolate flavor eliquids is that they taste like Tootsie Rolls rather than true chocolate.
Fruit flavors are immensely popular, second only to Desserts. The great thing about fruit flavors is that they can be replicated quite accurately, much more so than with desserts. Also, fruit eliquids can be delicious even when simple. Almost any single fruit flavor can be turned into a tasty vaping juice, whether tart, sweet, or both. Two-fruit combinations are very common. Further, fruit flavors are used to augment dessert flavors, such as Blueberry Cheesecake. Desserts and fruits go together beautifully, like a horse and buggy.
Many beginning vapers who turn to ecigs to quit smoking initially use tobacco-flavored eliquids. Most often, these flavors are synthetic, made from lab-based chemistry, but tobacco flavorings can also be extracted from natural tobacco in much the same manner that fruit extracts are made.
After quitting smoking (which the vast majority of vapers achieve, and many very quickly), tobacco flavors tend to lose their appeal, either sooner or later. The more experience a vaper has, the greater the likelihood of moving away from tobacco-flavored eliquids and into the other categories of eliquid flavorings.
Candy flavors are a subset of vaping eliquids that appeals strongly to the younger demographic of vapers, many of whom grew up during the consumer explosion of candies from the 1980s on. Besides the ubiquitous caramels, all the most popular candies have been imitated: Skittles, Pop Rocks, etc. Along with Breakfast flavors, the appeal of Candy flavors is largely a trip down memory lane into childhood pleasures.
Cereals have become a major staple in vaping flavors. These are usually complex flavor combinations that often include not just grain flavorings, but also tart or sweet fruits (alone or in combinations that frequently include banana), and dairy (as a creamy or milky component). Even 2-3 years ago, breakfast vaping eliquids were limited mostly to pancakes and waffles (sometimes with maple and butter flavoring), or cinnamon rolls. Recently, however, the children’s cereal replicants exploded into the retail eliquid marketplace and carved out a significant niche.
Floral flavors occupy a specialty niche in vaping. The aromatic profiles of flowers are distinctly unlike food flavors and are something of an acquired taste among vapers. When well-made with high-quality flavorings and/or organic extracts, however, they can be sublime.
Drink flavors include the alcohol/liqueur family: rum, whiskey, brandy, etc. Also, certain fruits might qualify here, such as mango or lychee smoothies. The choices are staggering. Normally used as components in complex flavor blends, the drink flavorings can lend unique taste elements to otherwise mundane flavor blends.
Novelty flavors include many savory foods that one might not imagine as tasty vapes: bacon, clam juice, cheeseburgers, pizza, etc. Many vapers turn up their noses at Novelty eliquids, but these odd flavorings remain part of the marketplace, if only as comic relief.
An Alternative Approach: Unflavored
Since flavorings are one of the health concerns in vaping, an increasing number of vapers have sidestepped the issue entirely by vaping unflavored e-juice. This is essentially VG, either with or without nicotine. When vaporized, VG provides an inherent though slight sweetness, which can be quite pleasant to vape. We wouldn’t call it “tasty,” because it has no added flavoring. It is, however, a perfectly acceptable and really quite enjoyable way to vape: simple, easy, and cheap. (VG can be purchased for roughly $30/gallon. That’s enough to last a long, long time, even for someone who vapes non-stop every day. For moderate vapers, a gallon of VG might be enough to provide unflavored eliquid for perhaps a year or maybe more.