Masking off flavors
January 18, 2011
by Jeff Gelski
Flavor masking may involve more than including one desirable flavor ingredient system into a food or beverage application to offset, or mask, another unwanted flavor.
“They don’t tend to be a panacea,” Andy Dratt, executive vice-president of Imbibe, said of flavor-masking ingredients.
Formulation, cost and impact on other desirable flavors may come into play.
To offset unwanted flavors in its private label beverages, Imbibe, Wilmette, Ill., uses flavor-masking ingredients from flavor companies and also develops its own flavor-masking agents, Mr. Dratt said.
Formulation changes also may assist in masking flavors. Increasing the acid level in a product in some cases may offset bitterness, Mr. Dratt said. Chemical reactions in retort beverages and other products that involve cooking may impact the flavor profile. For example, a company might switch its formula or processing to where an unwanted flavor is prominent before cooking but not after cooking.
“People looking for masking solutions should consider ingredients designed for that purpose in conjunction with formulation optimization to address that issue,” Mr. Dratt said.
Masking systems may alter how other flavors in a product are perceived, said David Thomson, a senior flavorist and technical director for Ottens Flavors, Philadelphia. For example, flavor masking may change how an orange flavor is perceived in a soy beverage and lead to more formulation changes.
“Once you start adjusting how you perceive the fundamental taste of salty, bitter, sweet, it changes how you discern other flavors,” he said.
A company might take how taste buds work into account, too. Symrise, which has a U.S. office in Teterboro, N.J., offers SymLife Mask flavors and solutions. Deborah Kennison, vice-president of innovation, North America, for Symrise, said molecules called chemosensates may trigger taste receptors in the mouth to offer flavor-masking options. Some chemosensate-driven flavors may induce saliva flow, which may help in reducing dryness in astringency in negative tastes. Chemosensates are effective in delivering cumulative threshold effects, which may support other masking technologies, Ms. Kennison said.
Fortified waters are examples where chemosensates may come into play. The water may contain 5 grams of protein per serving from such sources as peptides, which are bitter, Ms. Kennison said. Chemosensates may induce saliva flow to reduce the bitterness.
Mr. Dratt added protein drinks, protein shakes and energy shots all may contain vitamins and minerals that are bitter, especially the B vitamins.
Some recent new products in the beverage category have included sweeteners based on stevia extracts. Like other high-intensity sweeteners, the stevia extracts sometimes bring along an unwanted aftertaste.
“Because stevia extracts may be 300 times sweeter than table sugar, careful management is required in their use,” said Agneta Weisz, vice-president of flavors and technologies at Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y. “As more and more food and beverage manufacturers look to stevia as their
sweetener of choice, there is a wider variety of applications in which issues with the bitterness and lingering sweetness of stevia needs to be controlled.
“Also, as with any high-intensity sweetener, stevia functions a bit differently in each application. Also complicating the use of stevia are interactions among the aroma components, the taste components, the texture and other facets. A case-by-case solution will typically involve solutions for several issues simultaneously.”
Some customers of Comax Flavors have requested ways to offset high prices associated with some stevia extracts, Ms. Weisz said.
Flavor-masking agents may help in that task, said Mariano Gascon, vice-president of research and development for Wixon, St. Francis, Wis. Products with higher-price stevia extracts, which contain the sweetest parts of the stevia plant, generally have less of an unwanted aftertaste, he said. However, it still may be more cost-effective to buy
lower-price stevia extracts and then add more flavor-masking agents to deal with the aftertaste.
Wixon offers Mag-nifique for Stevia to reduce the sweetener’s aftertaste.
Potassium chloride, often used in place of sodium chloride in products, has an unwanted bitter taste. Ottens Flavors recently paired its Ottens Plus InhiBitter with its salt replacers to create Ottens Plus Alt-Salt. The new ingredient system is clean tasting without bitter off notes, according to the company. Sodium reduction of 20% to 65% may be achieved. Potential applications include potato chips, tomato sauce, bread, crackers, soup and chicken tenders.
Ottens Flavors uses a system called FOCUS (flavor optimization by computer using statistics) to develop its flavor-masking systems, Mr. Thomson said. Statistics based on sensory data are used to screen flavor ingredients to find which ones work best as flavor maskers in specific applications.
From sodium reduction to fortification, flavor masking may play a role in developing healthy products.
“Formulating healthy alternatives that also satisfy consumers’ taste expectations requires that we cover up and correct the unfamiliar or unpleasant tastes and smells that often result from alternative ingredients,” Ms. Weisz said. “The overall key to flavor modification is to keep all factors in harmony and make sure that no one flavor note stands out in an unexpected way.”