Blocking bitter notes becomes more difficult with younger taste buds.

Picture a child’s face. Now picture the child’s face after experiencing a bitter taste. What expression do you see?

Children tend to be more sensitive to bitter tastes, which may make it more difficult to formulate reduced sugar products with high-intensity sweeteners as well as products with whole grains.

“Children, with their young palates, have a narrower flavor preference profile,” said Deirdre Piggott, principal beverage technologist for beverage flavors, at Sensient Flavors and based in Hoffman Estates, Ill. “They are very sensitive to strong flavors. Think of the last time you gave a young child some strong mustard or Brussels sprouts. Alternative sweeteners, artificial or natural, are often accompanied by potent off-notes or a strong, lingering bitter taste. Flavor masking can help to cover up these issues in a formulation.”

She said flavor masking ingredients, like those in Sensient’s Smoothenol 2G tool box, are best used when customized to target the specific need of the beverage, be it lingering sweetness, an upfront bitter note or otherwise.

“Another way that flavored milks and other beverages can be formulated to have a more kid-friendly flavor profile is by adding a hint of vanilla,” Ms. Piggott said. “Vanilla serves as a natural masker and rounds out the sharp edges on some flavors.

“An authentic lime flavor will carry the bitterness of the pith and rind. If you add a bit of vanilla to that, it will round it out nicely and make it creamier. It enhances the creamy, dairy notes from the milk and makes the lime flavor seem sweeter, rounder and more acceptable to children. Add some graham cracker notes, too, and you can turn it into key lime pie.”

Flavored milk, including chocolate or strawberry, is a category where reduced calories/sugar often is sought, thus potentially bringing a need for high-intensity sweeteners. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Jan. 26, 2012, issue of the Federal Register said it would allow flavors in fat-free milk only in its national school meals programs. The U.S.D.A. said calorie limits might lead menu planners to select milk with the lowest levels of added sugars.

The per cent of the general U.S. population that prefer foods with no sugar added rose to 52% in 2014 from 40% in 2005, said Steve French, managing partner for the Natural Marketing Institute, in an April 7 presentation at Ingredient Marketplace in Orlando, Fla.

Wixon, Inc., St. Francis, Wis., has products in its Mag-nifique product line designed to work with stevia, sucralose and other high-intensity sweeteners.

“In general, a well-crafted blend of flavor modifiers can not only mask undesirable flavors but also accentuate both the sweetness and the desired flavor (chocolate, strawberry, etc.),” said Mel Mann, director of flavor innovation at Wixon.

Senomyx, San Diego, offers Bittermyx BB68 (S6821), which is designed to reduce the bitterness of a range of bitter-tasting ingredients, such as soy and whey proteins, menthol, caffeine, cocoa, and Rebaudioside A (stevia) used in formulating food, beverage, over-the-counter and oral care products.

The U.S.D.A. also wants to increase consumption of products with whole grains in its school meals.

“As can be observed in children, eating food with bitter flavors such as whole grains is a learned response that takes time,” Mr. Mann said. “This learning process can benefit from ingredients that mask bitter flavor notes.

“Ingredients like our Bitterless powder and liquid are available that interfere with the taste receptors for bitter, limiting or blocking their signals and thus reducing perception of bitter flavors.”

He added flavor masking may help with intense flavors, such as sour flavors.

“In some cases increasing the amount of spice or flavoring in a product will result in unexpected and undesirable flavors,” he said “Working with flavorists to design more intense flavors enables the designer to recognize and adjust their formulas to mask these ‘off-flavors’ in their products. Highly intense sour flavors continue to gain popularity. Yet too much acid can significantly change the flavor profile. Boosting just the sour flavor, without changing the other flavors, is something flavorists can assist a developer to achieve.”