Peeps flavored milk
Product formulators are challenged to be creative and adhere to such trends as clean label.

KANSAS CITY — Cows’ milk’s neutral flavor, even after churned into ice cream or fermented into yogurt, makes dairy foods an ideal base for all types of flavors. Chocolate, strawberry and vanilla long have been standard offerings, with a growing number of processors giving these classics a flavorful spin.

Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., Carlinville, Ill., offers seasonal flavored milks in such varieties as chocolate marshmallow and sea salt caramel. The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., adds a touch of decadence to refrigerated yogurts with bananas foster and strawberry cheesecake, while H.P. Hood L.L.C., Lynnfield, Mass., offers a premium line of coffee creamers in such flavors as butter pecan and hazelnut caramel. With all of these products, industrial flavors rather than real caramel, cheesecake, marshmallow or nuts are used for taste and aroma development.

“Stonyfield recently introduced a birthday cake-flavored tube yogurt,” said Bobbi Bock, a senior scientist with FONA International, Inc., Geneva, Ill. “Of course, with this format, you cannot add real pieces of birthday cake. Rather, through the addition of natural flavor, the yogurt delivers characterizing butter cream icing and batter notes, creating the perception of birthday cake.”

Another approach to the popular flavor profile is to combine buttery yellow cake flavor with a hint of vanilla, said Laura Parker, director of marketing with Edlong Dairy Technologies, Elk Grove Village, Ill. “In ice cream, this can be done using low levels of concentrated flavors that reduce the amount of costly particulates that may lead to processing concerns.”

Kathleen Brown, a flavorist with Mother Murphy’s Laboratories Inc., Greensboro, N.C., added, “You can only load so many inclusions into an ice cream formulation before it loses the standard of identity of ice cream and changes into a frozen dairy dessert.”

The birthday cake flavor trend, as well as other cake and cookie flavors, complements a major trend throughout dairy.

“It’s ‘desserts deconstructed,’” said Carol McBride, category director-sweet, Symrise Flavors Division North America, Teterboro, N.J. “While the dessert flavor concept can be used across all of dairy, the flavor development varies by dairy applications. For example, in yogurt, flavors need to power through acidity and tartness. In fluid milk, the flavor needs to be strong enough to detect, but subtle enough to drink an 8- to 10-oz glass. Ice cream is more flexible to deliver on a flavor concept because variegates, nuts and inclusions can be added. In such complex systems, the added flavor ingredient may not need to deliver the entire profile.”


Oikos Bananas Foster yogurt, Dannon Light & Fit Raspberry White Chocolate yogurt
The Dannon Co. adds a touch of decadence to refrigerated yogurts with bananas foster and strawberry cheesecake.

Adding a characterizing flavor helps bring the flavorful ingredients together in a food system.

“If you add s’mores flavor into ice cream base, it will help marry the graham, chocolate and marshmallow inclusions together in this campfire favorite recreated into a frozen dessert,” said Paulette Lanzoff, technical director at Synergy Flavors, Inc., Wauconda, Ill.

Indeed, in some dairy applications, the real food is used for flavor. Because of processing or formulation limitations, the real food may not always deliver enough flavor to satisfy consumers’ taste buds.

“Flavors are used to enhance a taste that an ingredient cannot bring by itself or because the cost-in-use of the ingredient is too expensive,” said Fabienne Clement, flavor development manager, Prova, France. For example, fruit prep for yogurt or ice cream often contains flavor to boost the overall fruit taste.

With ice cream, flavors other than vanilla often are added to boost the taste profile of inclusion ingredients in the system. This is because consumers expect flavors to jump out at them and the frozen system cannot always accommodate enough inclusions to deliver the characterizing flavor.

“While we all know strawberry pieces look great in ice cream, they have little flavor,” said Chris Milligan, sales account executive, Trilogy Essential Ingredients Inc., Abingdon, Md. “By adding a small amount of a fresh strawberry flavor to ice cream base, you now have the eye appeal and the flavor to satisfy.”

Snoqualmie Ice Cream, Snohomish, Wash., recently introduced six ice cream pints, with each one relying on inclusions and flavors to recreate common and innovative dessert concepts. For example, the company restructured red raspberry cake into a frozen custard format by naturally flavoring the ice cream base with cake flavor and then including real cake pieces and raspberry ripple enhanced with natural flavor. The company also developed a spicy banana brownie frozen custard using a banana base composed of banana puree and natural flavor.

Cincinnati-based Graeter’s recreated a local bakery tradition — the cheese crown Danish — into an ice cream application. It is cheesecake-flavored ice cream swirled with real pastry pieces and naturally flavored icing flakes.

Natural vs. artificial flavor trends

Formulators increasingly are trending toward natural flavors whenever possible, as this supports the clean label trend. Interestingly, flavor is the only ingredient category to allow use of the descriptor “natural” on finished product labels.

The Food and Drug Administration disqualifies a number of ingredients from being perceived as natural by labeling them as artificial or synthetic in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.). Only flavor may be called natural as long as it complies with the legal definition, which is “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Stonyfield YoKids Squeezers Birthday Cake yogurt
Stonyfield recently introduced a birthday cake-flavored tube yogurt that delivers characterizing butter cream icing and batter notes through natural flavoring.

If not directly sourced from a living system, the flavor is considered artificial.

There’s a fine line from when a flavor is classified as natural to being deemed artificial, as both natural and artificial flavors are manufactured through the blending of chemicals. The difference is, for example, when an essential oil is used in the manufacture of the flavor, or when artificial chemicals are blended to simulate the essential oil. The former is considered natural, the latter artificial.

On finished food products, flavors are labeled as either natural or artificial. Their labeling, however, is different — as well as highly regulated — at the industrial level so that the end user — the processor — knows the flavor source. For example, if a flavor manufacturer calls the natural flavor “mandarin orange,” then the flavor must be 100% sourced from the name fruit. The manufacturer also may label the flavor “mandarin orange W.O.N.F.,” with the acronym standing for “with other natural flavors.” This suggests that not only are mandarin oranges components part of the flavor, but so are other naturally derived flavors. The information is not communicated on the packaged food product ingredient statement.

If the food marketer chooses to describe the product by its flavor on the principle display panel, then it requires declaration. For example, yogurt made with mandarin orange W.O.N.F. may be labeled “mandarin orange flavored yogurt with other natural flavors.” If it was described using a fanciful name, such as “citrus celebration,” reference to W.O.N.F. is not required.

Most formulators would agree that natural and artificial flavors are similar in terms of available forms, usage and shelf life. The key differences are labeling and cost, with weather conditions and crop shortages impacting the pricing of raw materials.

Flavorful trends and tips

Flavors may assist with adding authentic taste profiles, as well as contribute non-characterizing flavors that result in a more rounded eating experience, Ms. Parker said.

“We have a grass-fed milk flavor as well as a cultured butter flavor,” she said. “And sweet milk flavors can be used to increase the perception of sweetness and improve mouthfeel in reduced-sugar dairy foods offerings. These natural flavors provide a subtle, clean background flavor with a lingering sweetness.”

Flavor innovations in dairy foods are getting more creative with sweet and salty and sweet and spicy combinations, said Ms. McBride.

“What happens after salty caramel?” she said. “We think nuts and brown flavors, such as butterscotch bourbon pecan, honey butter pistachio and honey roasted cashew. We see this nuts flavor trend in ice cream, in desserts, in yogurt and even fluid milk.”

Graeter's cheese crown ice cream
Graeter’s recreated the cheese crown Danish into an ice cream application.

Fruit may add an extra layer of flavor to the nut and brown flavor combinations. Think caramelized banana cheesecake.

Ms. McBride said that changing U.S. demographics present opportunities to create novel dairy concepts using fruits and brown notes, along with spicy and heat, to engage consumers.

“When salsa replaced ketchup as the No. 1 condiment, we knew the tastes of every consumer were changing,” she said.

Mr. Milligan said, “One of the key things with heat is how it’s delivered. You don’t want the first bite to burn your lips and tongue. The heat needs to enhance the flavor and bring a delightful experience. The heat needs to be delivered at the right time in the eating experience.”

He provided the example of strawberry jalapeño ice cream.

“You want to taste a fresh-picked strawberry ice cream mingled with the green jalapeño pepper flavor,” he said. “Then the heat should kick in. The sensation of the heat hits in the back of your throat and should be just enough that you know it’s there and want to take another bite.”

Such flavor fusions in dairy will continue to become more complex as they catch up with other foods, most notably beverages, confections and snacks.