As flavor is the product of a complicated, multilayered conglomeration of chemical compounds that interact as individual flavor and aroma notes, the task of boosting specific flavor notes can be difficult.
In the world of clean-label development, adding to the conundrum for developers is the need for products or methods to be low-cost, seamless on the processing floor and look good on a label, falling within the clean-label vernacular. As a result, desirable flavor attributes like sweetness, richness and more subtle under- or overtones can be lost during manufacturing.
In addition, using ingredients such as caffeine, vitamins, meat analogs, dairy replacements and other on-trend ingredients like CBD can leave behind undesirable flavors and off-notes for the product developer to eliminate or reduce.
Enter the world of clean-label bitter blockers, flavor maskers, flavor potentiators and flavor extenders, all designed to help the processor dial in the exact flavor attributes desired.
Boosting flavor is rarely straightforward. It usually involves elevating some flavor notes while blocking others. Flavor enhancers, potentiators and extenders typically function in tandem with a specific flavor. At the same time, maskers and blockers are used against the flavor of the near-finished product. The ingredient chosen to mask or enhance may only act as a neutral ingredient that binds to or counteracts specific flavor components. The ingredient used might carry its weight in the formulation and elevate the overall flavor.
Flavor potentiators are designed to elevate flavor and mouthfeel. In the savory category, glutamic acid is king. Glutamic acid occurs naturally in foods such as tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, seaweed, yeast extracts and fermented foods. Extracts, powders and concentrates of all of these products can be used to boost umami and kokumi notes and reduce sodium.
Boasting 10-30% less sodium than traditionally brewed soy sauces, Kikkoman’s line of Natural Flavor Enhancers (made from naturally fermented soy) adds glutamic-rich umami notes while keeping your label clean. Possessing a mild aroma and a balanced, brothy flavor, the NFE line comes in liquid and powder forms and a powder enriched with yeast extract for an even more potent umami punch.
Speaking of sodium reduction, there are several options to reduce sodium without compromising flavor. One popular approach is to use a salt that provides a bigger salt kick than NaCl salt. Another method might be to use sodium chloride in a slightly different form. A smaller crystal, for instance, would have more contact points with taste receptors than a bigger crystal, creating a salty flavor with less salt in the formula.
Moving to sugar reduction, high-intensity sweeteners such as monk fruit and stevia carry bitter or oddly cooling finishing notes when used at high levels. Masking products derived from licorice, vanilla and citrus can hide bitter notes by contributing pleasing notes to the overall flavor profile.
Adding other sweet ingredients is another approach to boost sweetness. For instance, fruit concentrates add sweetness without adding sugar. As a masking agent in seed formulations, vanilla is a powerful tool. It is especially good at blocking the bitterness of chocolate and covering up the beany notes of plant-based nutrition bars and meal replacement beverages. The spices we associate with the holidays, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and clove, can also boost sweetness without added sugar.
The MagnaSweet Series by Mafco is a line of products based on monoammonium glycyrrhizinate (MAG), the ammonia salt form of glycyrrhizic acid. Glycyrrhizic acid is a unique ingredient found in licorice root that has no licorice flavor but possesses properties that mask or eliminate aftertastes, intensify sweetness, extend sweetness and enhance other flavors. MAG is natural and GRAS.
The MagnaSweet 100 Series has been around for more than 30 years and offers excellent masking, enhancing and extending properties. The MagnaSweet 200 Series possesses the same attributes as the 100 Series but with improved solubility in low pH formulas, while the 300 Series has a slight licorice flavor to help enhance savory products like meat analogues and tomato products as well as improving sweetness in confections using vanilla and chocolate flavors.
Mafco has capitalized on the success of the MagnaSweet line and created an entire line of flavor enhancers, modifiers, potentiators, maskers and blockers using similar technology to that found in MagnaSweet.
Maskers vs. blockers
Flavor maskers are widely used to offset bitter notes, countering the bitterness of added caffeine, for example. Additionally, a masker can be used to mellow a flavor that might overwhelm overall flavor synergy.
The goal is to target a specific undesired flavor note from an ingredient that is less than delicious but required nonetheless. Many masking agents are inherently clean-label. For instance, sucrose, vanilla and licorice add sweetness and distract the tongue from undesirable flavors.
While flavor maskers distract the palate from unwanted flavor notes, flavor blockers bind directly with taste receptors to stop the consumer from noticing the off-flavor in question. The blocker inhibits receptor function by binding with one of our 25 taste receptor types (T2Rs) on the tongue, blocking off notes of a flavor from being perceived.
Fermented mycelia, derived from mushrooms, act this way, blocking the bitter flavor signals from traveling to the brain. MycoTechnology uses a process called “liquid culture” or “submerged fermentation” to innovate mycelia-based flavor enhancers and blockers. Instead of allowing mycelium to ferment (or digest) solid material, they “train” their mushrooms to digest a liquid substrate. The resulting products can be separated, dried, or extracted for specific compounds.
MycoTechnology’s ClearIQ range results from liquid-state fermentation using Cordyceps sinensis mycelia and a proprietary growth substrate. During this fermentation, the mycelium (mushroom roots) produce enzymes that bio-transform the substrate creating secondary metabolites with flavor-modulating capabilities. Following fermentation, the supernatant liquid is spray-dried into powder form. The result is a versatile and multifunctional series of flavor modulation tools that can transform the flavors of products through taste receptor interaction without imparting flavor of its own.
Ingredients that enhance or mask flavors in food manufacturing vary greatly. They can be carried on just about any medium a developer can dream up— proteins, carbohydrates, fats, as well as minerals and unique chemical compounds. There’s a flavor enhancer to suit just about any formulation and ingredient manufacturers will also work with developers to come up with the exact formulation to fit any product.