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Inspired by this question, I'm curious about what exactly a "flavor" is with regard to effects of the Prestidigitation spell. The relevant text of the spell is

  • You chill, warm, or flavor up to 1 cubic foot of nonliving material for 1 hour.

In general, changing something's flavor involves adding things to it-- adding sugar to tea makes the tea sweeter, adding pepper to potatoes makes them spicier, and so on. Other cases of changing flavors involves changing the composition of an item of food itself: cooking a steak changes how it tastes.

In any case, a single item of food or drink, left specifically unchanged, won't exhibit differences in flavor. Magic allows some direct ways around that constraint (illusions create effects out of applied magical energies, or alter the perceptions of a person such that they imagine different flavors), but Prestidigitation is a Transmutation spell, not an Illusion spell.

It seems to follow that using Prestidigitation to alter something's flavor then adds mundane elements (albeit through magical means), such as conjuring appropriately dissolved sugar into a cup of tea.

So my question, then, is to what degree can using Prestidigitation to change the flavor of something actually change the composition of that thing in a meaningful way?

In the linked question, making the swamp water taste like a Piña Colada could just make it taste like pineapples and cream. But if the flavor were altered to specifically be an alcoholic Piña Colada (which should specifically work with this spell), could that altered flavor be a consequence of magic-ing ethanol into the swamp water making it actually alcoholic?

Or are there explicit limitations on the spell that I'm missing? Using flavor as a verb, as the spell description does, doesn't necessarily mean "make the food taste like something else", which would open the doors for "other natural flavors"-style, inactive imitation flavors.

Magic can solve the problem of whether or not there is a chemical component which duplicates any given flavor but has no effective properties other than that flavor, but that seems like a strong limitation to read into the spell.

I'm only interested in answers based on rules as written, at least by analogy to other effects, even if that leaves the best answer as "the rules are unclear".

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think some of the reasoning behind this is a little flawed. You say "But if the flavor were altered to specifically be an alcoholic Piña Colada (which should specifically work with this spell)" But that is changing the chemical structure of water; literally changing water into wine. That is not what the spell does. While listed as a Transmutation spell, it does not "change" the food or drink into a difference substance, otherwise the spell would list that as a property. There is nothing about changing water into alcohol, beef into chicken, or soup into stew. It's all just adding flavor. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Dec 25 '19 at 1:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're overthinking this...the spell does exactly what it says, and no more, via magic. Perhaps the magic has access to really awesome artificial flavours? \$\endgroup\$ – YogoZuno Dec 25 '19 at 10:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate feedback and respect votes on questions, but I really don't think this question is any more frivolous than the linked one, nor that asking about the limits of a spell is inherently overthinking (that describes about 1 in every 5 questions on this stack). \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Dec 25 '19 at 23:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's been fairly heavily downvoted and criticized. I see little reason to leave it to collect downvotes bad sentiment. I appreciate the posted answer, but if the question is so poorly thought of by the community at large it is probably better off being removed. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Dec 26 '19 at 21:19
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The limit is that the spell magically changes the flavor (and nothing else)

There is a long standing interpretation that spells do only what they say they do. In this case, as you quoted the spell says (PHB, p.267, bold added):

You chill, warm, or flavor up to 1 cubic foot of nonliving material for 1 hour.

So only the flavor (and temperature) will change.

But how can it change the flavor without adding any mechanical difference to the food or drink?

Magic.

I definitely understand your argument: that prestidigitation is a transmutation spell, and as such it should be changing the chemical structure of the food or drink as well, thus at least adding some nutrients, or possibly some intoxicants. We could go into the chemistry of it, and discuss how there are various food additives that can imitate certain flavors without changing nutritional value (like no calorie sweeteners), but in the end this discussion would be besides the point: the magic of the spell changes the flavor. Nothing else changes (except the temperature if you'd like).

The change is not necessarily chemical

You stated that the change must be material since the spell is a transmutation spell (an interesting argument, by the way, and one that makes sense). But this overlooks some of the possible effects of prestidigitation, for example (ibid, bold added):

You create a nonmagical trinket or an illusory image that can fit in your hand and that lasts until the end of your next turn.

As such, there is evidence that this spell can indeed create illusions, so the taste of the food may be illusory rather than chemical. But again, in most circumstances the end result would be the same: the flavor (and nothing else) would change.

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