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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Ethnic foods

Vendors of flavors for ethnic foods are seeing a growing market because flavors and foods once considered specialty/gourmet/ethnic are now being sought in mass market products. There is a subtle but important difference, but there are twin opportunities for both flavor systems for ethnic foods and for true ethnic flavors.

The flavor industry has become increasingly sophisticated in the ethnic realm. Flavor products have evolved from simple taco and curry flavors to complex flavor systems. For instance, it is not just onion flavor but "toasted shallots" for sophisticated French onion soups without the cumbersome roasting and toasting step.

Formulating ethnic flavors for mainstream foods is a complex balancing feat. The flavor system, in addition to accentuating the characteristic flavors of the "borrowed" cuisine, also must replace the entire spice-herb mix without the additional bulk of the actual ingredients it replaces - all this while retaining the original texture and appearance of the product being flavored.

President Brian Jacobs says his company, Tumaro's Gourmet Tortillas, Los Angeles, accidentally discovered flavored tortillas. "We added honey as a humectant to prevent frozen tortillas from cracking and noticed the strong honey flavor. We asked ourselves, if we can add honey to tortillas, why not flavors? No one had really made a flavored tortilla before, and there's a lot of chemistry involved in making flavored tortillas."

Tortilla makers do not add garlic and certain herbs directly to the dough, because these flavorful ingredients tend to interfere with gluten development - which is critical for the structure and texture of the final product. The starch and the gluten tend to encapsulate the flavor compounds and diminish the contributions of the milder flavored components in the mix. Flavor formulators employ hydrocolloids, maltodextrins or starches to carry and protect the flavors during the mixing and baking steps. These flavor systems also employ a variety of methods such as including fresh extracts (for cold expression of essential flavor oils) for enhanced perception of the freshness of the product, and enzymes or acids to create flavor compounds during baking and enhance retention of flavor for release during consumption.

Gourmet Garden has captured the essence of fresh herbs, some in multi-flavors systems, in a paste form with a 120-day shelf life.

Food companies often partner with flavor houses with culinary expertise to develop proprietary flavor systems, in part as a barrier to entry for copycat products. In addition to the typical coriander and cumin flavors, ethnic food formulators request aromatic notes associated with "roasted" peanuts, "dry roasted" fenugreek or "sautéed" shallots, and in a proportion characteristic of Madrasi or Punjabi cuisine. Flavor vendors are resorting to cutting edge technology to develop flavor systems specifically for ethnic food formulations and for mainstream foods with the flavor of ethnic cuisines.

Kikkoman's recently developed Natural Flavor Enhancer NFE-S, a flavor system designed for flavor retention during heat processing and freezing, helped create a new market for commercially produced shelf-stable wasabi. Produced by a natural fermentation process, glutamic acid and short chain peptide-rich NFE-S allows for flavor enhancement with a clean-label advantage. It appears as fermented wheat protein (wheat protein, salt and maltodextrin) on the ingredient label.

The growing popularity of Asian and Latin cuisines is driving the use of fragrant spices such as lemongrass, bay leaf, dill, turmeric, cumin, cilantro and coriander, and flavorful seeds, including fenugreek, poppy and sesame. Food processors rely on flavor houses to reproduce these "fresh aromas" to incorporate in mustards, mayonnaise, oils, vinegars and even salts.

The fresh product is great, but sometimes impractical for formulating. An Australian company, Gourmet Garden (www.gourmetgarden.com), captures the essence of fresh herbs in a convenient paste form, which lasts longer than fresh options. Gourmet Garden processes herbs and spices through a patented "cold captured" technology that gives these flavor systems a 120-day shelf life.

All this effort isn't limited to high-end entrees. Even Kettle Foods (www.kettlefoods.com), Salem, Ore., has extended to its popular Kettle brand potato chips with such ethnic flavors such as Chai, Moroccan Curry and Spicy Thai, all the result of flavor systems developed in concert with its flavor suppliers.

Fortified and healthier foods

Fortified foods - increasingly the norm in practically every food category - suffer from the reputation of generally having terrible taste or texture compared to their traditional counterparts. Fortification poses a huge challenge to product formulators: Most essential vitamins and minerals bring with them textural issues such as chalkiness, grittiness, and bitterness, or they may have metallic and other objectionable tastes and flavors. The impact of fortification is particularly noticeable in foods that are consumed in small serving sizes and in beverages.

Foods fortified with iron almost inevitably develop an unpleasant cloying metallic taste. Food product developers have yet to find a flavor system to mask iron-fortified foods.

Product developers use a wide variety of calcium salts for fortifying foods, each of which possesses unique characteristics that affect the quality of the finished product. Calcium lactate and calcium gluconate are typically inert in food flavor systems. Calcium carbonate often contributes soapy or citrus notes. Calcium citrate creates acidic taste, while calcium chloride may render the product bitter. Tricalcium phosphate, popular for its blandness, plagues formulators with its gritty mouthfeel.
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