Act of balance: Overcoming formulation challenges to combine taste and nutrition
29 Mar 2023 --- Balancing taste is a crucial element of food formulation as health-conscious consumers increasingly demand functional healthier foods. To bridge any potential gap between taste and nutrition, businesses have to focus on the smallest details, appeal to differentiated tastes depending on the market and seek holistic approaches when combining ingredients.
Food innovators are increasingly challenged by their clients demanding more of their products. However, much can go wrong when creating the perfectly balanced food, as industry reveals that there are no simple ways to replace traditional simple ingredients, such as sugar.
FoodIngredientsFirst talks with several F&B players on unique tactics to master the art of optimizing foods that are both tasty and nutritionally functional.
“Taste balancing is one of the most important challenges food producers are facing today. Consumers’ wish for healthy living forces food manufacturers to rework their products. Many producers are reducing or even eliminating undesirable, flavor-giving ingredients from their recipes to meet these demands. This often leads to an unbalanced taste experience,” says Anja Müller, communication & social media specialist at Silesia.
Taste balancing and NPD
Müller further notes that Silesia takes a holistic view of products when designing targeted flavor concepts and she explains that focusing on small details is critical to strike the right balance.
“Silesia’s portfolio of functional flavors help to bridge gaps and thus preserve the full taste profile. It builds up umami taste without the use of yeast or monosodium glutamate (MSG), using sweetness enhancers for less sugar formulations, masking flavors for covering off-notes, introducing special flavor molecules for mouthfeel optimization, and so many more, she says.”
The devil is in the detail
The importance of the smallest details is also highlighted by Katharina Schäfer, team lead product management at Hydrosol, who explains that all the company’ products are tasted by a panel of experts that can describe the “smallest differences between products across the most diverse areas of application.”
“One approach to ensure that a wide range of taste preferences is reached is, for example, to taste several similar products from the target market and compare them with the development based on our system. This can then be used as a basis for further optimization in terms of texture and taste until a product suitable for the target market has been developed,” she explains.
Coralie Garcia Perrin, global marketing director for sweet taste at Kerry, says that keeping top of mind what the customer is trying to achieve and what flavors consumers want is crucial.
“As an example, in a low sugar beverage, perfecting taste balancing requires us to consider factors such as the product’s overall sweetness impact, mouthfeel, and the perceived bitterness or off notes which may arise from the sweeteners used.”
To do this, the business taps into the experience of its more than 90 flavorists and a diverse range of proprietary portfolios.
Appealing to broad markets
Garcia highlights that Kerry has charted insights of taste preferences from across the globe in its Taste & Nutrition Chart.
“This year, we found that comfort flavors will still reign supreme with consumers still craving heirloom recipes with traditional and emerging tastes. We are also seeing an increase in taste trends and preferences traveling the world with Asian flavors such as Japanese miso and hawthorn reaching Europe and North America.”
The Innova Markets Insights Flavor Survey 2022 – which analyzed a broad flavor range, from fruity to herbal and spicy – also highlighted the absolute dominance of comfort. It found that among all nine emotional responses to food surveyed, “comfort” was the first or second most popular choice for all flavors.
Silesia taps into its several subsidiaries in many countries to gather knowledge on local products' properties, ingredients, textures and tastes.
“Our sensory and analytical state-of-the-art methods help us to offer a broad range of local taste preferences. All our flavors are tried and tested and allow us to meet the typical taste profile our customers are asking for,” explains Müller.
Balancing taste with low fat and low sugar
According to the companies, there are numerous challenges as soon as the fat or sugar content in food is reduced.
“From a technological point of view, sugar, in particular, has many desirable properties. It binds water, acts as a preservative and is very soluble. Most importantly, it adds flavor, body, texture and a pleasant mouthfeel to products, which ultimately describes the overall taste sensation,” Schäfer explains.
“Simply replacing sugar with intense chemical sweeteners or alternative sweeteners is usually not viable,” she underscores.
To solve this, Hydrosol tries to replicate the multiple functions of sucrose through combinations of other ingredients. By combining different individual components, the company gives each product the desired properties.
“Hydrocolloids and starch provide stability, body and a pleasant texture, while special plant fibers improve mouthfeel. To provide the necessary sweetness, we use low-cost conventional sweeteners or raw materials such as stevia, which has a positive image among consumers, in the recipes, depending on customer requirements,” Schäfer says.
Furthermore, through natural flavorings, the business rounds up the taste profile. In this way, for example, they can reduce the sugar content in products such as mixed milk drinks by 30-50%, set a low-fat content and still achieve a balanced taste profile.
In the same vein, Müller notes that fat and sugar have been the most important carriers of taste so far for the business, impacting viscosity, color, mouthfeel and shelf life.
“For example, in the bakery segment: sugar and fat are bulking agents and have a considerable impact on the texture and mouthfeel of the dough. The production of low-fat or low-sugar products is therefore associated with several challenges we can counteract with our extensive range of functional flavors,” details Müller.
“As a flavor specialist, we know that there is not an ‘all-fits-one’ solution. Rather, it is about a harmonious interplay of different flavors and ingredients to meet the customer-specific approach,” she continues.
Taste remains king, according to Perrin, who reiterates that the “true challenge” is delivering nutritionally optimized guilt-free foods without compromise.
“When it comes to balancing taste in low-fat products, the most important thing is not to compromise the mouthfeel and authentic flavors consumers expect. As an example, in dairy-containing products, such as ready meals and sauces, fat reduction can impact the body and taste of dairy, which might leave consumers wanting.”
Kerry spotlights its DairySource solution, a clean label solution that delivers 40% fat reduction without compromising on taste. “Furthermore, reducing fat in dairy can provide advantages, which stretch further than nutritional optimization alone, such as delivering cost improvements and supply chain security,” highlights Garcia.
From a low and no sugar perspective, the company explains that “some challenges which appear when using sweeteners and other sugar replacers include addressing the overall sweetness profile, how we improve the mouthfeel and how we mask the perceived bitter, lingering off notes which can appear when removing the commodity ingredient.”
What to avoid when balancing taste
According to Müller, “taste is a harmonious interplay of different flavors and ingredients. There are many factors to take into account, you cannot simply increase sugar to compensate for fat reduction, for example. Unfortunately, ‘one fits all’ doesn’t work in this case.”
“What is often not considered in the development of products, especially those with reduced sugar and fat content, is the overall taste impression, which is influenced by a wide variety of factors such as texture in particular. For this reason, a one-to-one exchange of raw materials is generally insufficient for most applications,” Schäfer adds.
According to Garcia, some easily identifiable mistakes include “a noticeable difference in the mouthfeel and sweetness or richness impact of the product.”
“From a taste perspective, a challenge food companies face is mastering the aftertaste and the perceived flavor notes experienced by the consumer, which can be immediately noticed if not balanced or masked properly.”
By Marc Cervera
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