Flavors for children's tastes

by Jeff Gelski
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It turns out children have an excuse for shunning vegetables. Their taste perceptions are more intense than those of adults.

“Children are more sensitive, particularly to bitterness,” said Mariano Gascon, vice-president of research and development for Wixon, St. Francis, Wis. “Children don’t like vegetables because they are bitter.”

Lee Heaton, business development manager for Purac America, Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., said taste perception among children is more extreme, especially in the case of an elevated sense for bitter/metallic. Bitterness typically is the main battle to fight both in artificial sweeteners and potassium chloride, he added.

The bitterness issue is good to know when developing healthier children’s products and a reason to consider masking any unwanted flavors associated with high-intensity sweeteners or potassium chloride.

The call for healthier children’s products appears to be getting louder. The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children on Dec. 15, 2009, proposed tentative nutrition standards for food marketed to children (see Food Business News of Dec. 22, 2009, Page 1). The group, which includes representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, included goals of no more than 13 grams of added sugar per serving and no more than 200 mg of sodium per serving.

Masking flavors may play a role in cutting back on sodium or sugar.

“Though the approach to flavor masking is similar as in products marketed to adults, the sweetness profile is typically higher and more intense for products formulated for children,” said Greg Mondro, senior flavorist for Cargill Flavor Systems. “Therefore, when using high-potency sweeteners and other ‘good-for-you’ ingredients, selection of the flavors and the flavors’ levels are important to the overall product acceptability.”

Formulators generally use the same flavor-masking agents when working with either adult products or children’s products, Mr. Gascon said, but they may need to use more flavor-masking agents in children’s products to compensate for bitterness perception. For example, formulators often use potassium chloride to replace sodium chloride, but the potassium chloride may add an unwanted bitterness.

Mr. Gascon said formulators may need to use a combination of ingredients to reduce such bitter flavor. Flavor modifiers generally come in three types: one that enhances another taste enough that people do not notice an unwanted flavor, one that may block a specific bitterness or other unwanted flavor, and one that may enhance a flavor, such as the flavor of salt, and allow formulators to create the same amount of taste with less of an ingredient.

When working with potassium chloride on any sodium-reduction project, formulators should keep two crucial areas in mind, said Paul Kim, technical director for Cargill Flavor Systems. First, what level is needed to replace the sodium chloride? Second, is the sodium chloride applied topically, such as on potato chips or corn chips, or is it dissolved in the product application, as in ready-to-serve soup?

Sodium reduction is highly specific by application, Mr. Gascon said. The type of application involved is more important than the target market, such as children.

Reducing sugar becomes more of a flavor problem in beverage applications because in general beverages are more sensitive to changes in taste and mouthfeel, Cargill’s Mr. Mondro said.

“Food categories, on the other hand, need to address more than the sweetness profile when high-potency sweeteners are used to replace sugar,” he said.

The high-intensity sweeteners, along with reducing sugar, may bring an unwanted metallic aftertaste especially noticeable to children. Thus, a need for flavor-masking agents may exist when creating children’s beverages with less sugar.

Children prefer acidic flavors, such as those in sour candies, more than adults, Mr. Gascon said. Adding more acidity to some children’s applications even may cover unwanted flavors, such as bitterness.

Options grow for masking stevia extracts

New natural, zero-calorie, high-intensity sweeteners extracted from stevia plants may have a similar metallic aftertaste to those of other high-intensity sweeteners. Thus, they may require flavor-masking agents. In instances where a company wants to promote a natural product, the natural, stevia-based sweeteners may require natural flavor-masking agents as well.

Fortunately, such agents exist, and those designed to work with stevia extracts grew in number in 2009.

Many masking components are synthetic, said Lee Heaton, business development manager for Purac America, Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., but the company discovered that natural lactic acid in a highly purified form adds to the masking effect of high-intensity sweeteners.

“The main challenge in today’s masking arena is the ‘natural,’ which is bound to be the name of the game in the coming decade,” Mr. Heaton said.

The industry typically uses citric acid as the acid base for many beverages, according to Purac. The company went a different route in 2009 in launching Purac Fit Plus, a natural lactic acid.

Purac Fit Plus delivers a smoother acid profile than other acids, such as phosphoric or citric, used in the beverage industry, according to Purac. For example, when formulating a beverage with a high-intensity sweetener, citric acid and Purac Fit Plus, the beverage experiences the citrus intensity upfront, and Purac Fit Plus has the ability to carry the flavor through and help mask the lingering off-flavor notes.

Most of the new flavor-masking agents are natural, but some synthetic ones still exist, said Mariano Gascon, vice-president of research and development at Wixon, St. Francis, Wis. Flavor-masking agents in the Wixon line are natural, he said. Wixon offers Mag-nifique for Stevia, a new taste modifier that enhances sweetness and reduces the lingering aftertaste caused by stevia extracts.

“If you put a natural flavor with a natural sweetener, it’s going to look really nice on your label,” Mr. Gascon said.

Mr. Gascon will speak about flavor-masking agents for stevia extracts Feb. 25 at Stevia World Americas in Atlanta.

Other options in masking unwanted tastes in stevia extracts include:

 Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y., has added a stevia-masking flavor to its line of Special Effects flavors. The product not only overcomes bitterness caused by stevia but also deflects the lingering or clinging sweetness.

 Givaudan Flavours, Dubendorf, Switzerland, has identified and applied for patents related to its discovery of the bitter taste receptor triggered by Rebaudioside A, an extract of the stevia plant and a natural zero-calorie sweetener. Understanding how Rebaudioside A activates bitterness in the mouth has enabled Givaudan to discover and develop flavor ingredients that specifically block this mechanism.

 Symrise, Inc., Teterboro, N.J., offers flavor solutions for products sweetened with stevia as part of its SymLife Mask portfolio. According to sensory studies Symrise conducted with trained test panelists, stevia extracts may yield off-notes of lingering bitterness and astringency. Symrise’s new flavorings based on natural patented ingredients and flavor modifiers improve a product’s taste by masking undesired off-flavors and enhancing additional stevia sweetening properties.

 Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y., has developed a range of masking flavors designed to optimize the taste profile of foods and beverages sweetened with stevia extracts.

 Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky., offers OnlySweet stevia extracts and OnlySweet stevia blends. The systems address mouthfeel, masking, sweet enhancement and blocking of bitterness in foods and beverages containing stevia extracts.

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