Flavors and Seasonings Combine in Flavor Systems

As American palates get more discerning and adventuresome, complex flavor systems are needed to keep foods at the forefront of trends.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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Food companies are rediscovering that flavor, the "essence" of taste, is also the essence of consumer preference for any food and beverage. The category of flavor ingredients fetched more than $10 billion in annual sales in 2004, according to Freedonia Group, (www.freedonia.com) Cleveland, and is poised for even more promising growth due to a number of factors.

In addition to contributing taste, food flavors help manufacturers modify texture, mask bitterness and other off-flavors and enhance the nutritional value of foods.

The flavor industry is experiencing growing demand from three key segments: beverages, ethnic foods and functional foods. These food categories satisfy growing consumer demand for convenience, new and different taste experiences and ways to minimize health risks associated with major disorders or to provide distinct health benefits.

Beverages

Not too long ago, food product developers relied upon flavors simply to make processed beverages and especially dairy-based beverages more palatable. Today, flavors are becoming key marketing tools to outpace the competition. Sophisticated and exotic offerings such as hibiscus, passion fruit and green tea are helping to grow demand for the beverages that contain them. Flavors have revived beverage categories that were lagging. Milk, for instance, for years has suffered yearly declines in consumption, but the flavored categories of milk are growing.

"Consumers and the food industry have high expectations for low-fat products," says Adam Anderson, technical director at Mastertaste Savory North America (www.mastertaste.com), Peterboro, N.J. So the company developed fat flavors to create the perception of higher fat content in dairy products, especially yogurt and cheese. However, "One cannot expect one magic bullet to solve everything," he warns. "Different products raise different expectations and therefore require different flavor solutions for different products."

In the beverage industry, functional beverages and specifically soy beverages are one of fastest growing segments. While true fans are content with "original" soymilk flavor, strong, pleasant flavors are required to mask the unpleasant "beany" and rancid oil-like taste of soy beverages caused by the enzyme lipoxygenase. Soymilk marketers also must deal with consumer complaints about chalky mouthfeel and medicinal notes. Some also are looking to cover the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners.

While chocolate and vanilla are still leading flavors, green tea flavor is a bold new move from WestSoy (www.westsoy.biz), made by Hain Celestial Group, Uniondale, N.Y. A year ago, the company introduced cappuccino. White Wave (www.whitewave.com), the Boulder, Colo., subsidiary of Dean Foods, recently introduced a children's version of its Silk soymilk. "Silk Kids" come in 6.5-oz. cartons in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. White Wave's Silk Live! is a protein-rich, vitamin-fortified cultured soy smoothie, complete with six active cultures, in raspberry, mango, strawberry and peach.

Speaking of green tea, that's a flavor that is naturally bitter. But green tea's perceived health benefits are picking up so much momentum that the flavor is showing up in almost every aspect of consumer application, from cosmetics to foods to beverages and even candy. The polyphenol flavonoids catechins, theaflavin and quercetin, which are highly sought-after beneficial components, are also astringent in mouthfeel. Green tea compounds also pose special challenges in formulation because of their solubility and high susceptibility to oxidation. The key is to complement green tea extracts with flavors that linger so as to mask and compensate for their bitterness and astringency.

Linguagen Corp. (www.linguagen.com), Cranbury, N.J., has developed the concept of natural compounds to block the bitter taste of foods and medicines. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the company's use of adenosine monophosphate (AMP) in foods and beverages. Bitter blockers like AMP work by interfering with the process by which taste messages travel from the mouth to the brain and offer several advantages over other taste-masking and taste-improvement methods. Unlike flavors and sweeteners, most bitter blockers are natural substances derived from botanical extracts.

Weight management company NutriSystem (www.nutrisystem.com), Horsham, Pa., sought a way to help its weight loss clients consume the recommended eight glasses of water every day. The result was Aquascents, a flavored water but not flavored in the traditional way.

NutriSystem collaborated with ScentSational Technologies (scensationaltechnologies.com), Jenkintown, Pa., and Firmenich (www.firmenich.com), Plainsboro, N.J., for the first commercial application of ScentSational's CompelAroma encapsulated aroma release technology. The system encapsulates food grade flavors within the polymer structure of thermoformed packaging during manufacturing to release a lemon, peach or berry flavor, giving taste to the water without adding any calories, sweeteners or preservatives. This is a first for a flavor system that incorporates food grade flavors into the packaging.

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