The trend toward shorter ingredient lists and replacement of artificial ingredients is helping boost market penetration and market share. This is particularly true when it comes to flavorants. Consumers are avoiding ingredients such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), adenosine monophosphate (nucleotide) and certain flavor compounds, especially artificial flavors. Many of these ingredients have been deemed—correctly or not—as unhealthful and even harmful.

Natural flavors might seem like the logical solution, but so-called natural flavors are complex; they can contain hundreds or more volatile constituents and are not always commercially viable. Many tend to be less stable than their synthetic counterparts.

The goal is to find alternate ways to notch up flavors without sacrificing consumer appeal, health, safety or profitability. This also means the opportunity is ripe for alternative ingredients and ingredient technologies that can deliver on consumer expectations for tasty and convenient healthful clean-label foods.

To this end, manufacturers and flavor suppliers, such as entrepreneurial biotechnology enterprises (many of which function mostly outside of the food industry), are exploring fermentation and so-called “white biotechnology” as flavor- and taste-enhancement avenues. There has never been a greater demand for means to enhance taste and acceptance in products for health and wellness.

The future for flavor and taste enhancement looks bright. So much so that market research company Packaged Facts forecasts the value of the total U.S. market for flavors—including flavor additives, flavor enhancers, sugar substitutes and spices—will increase from $6 billion in 2014 to $7 billion in 2019. It is not surprising that ingredient developers are pushing technology to create ingredient systems and technologies for food and beverage companies to enhance and improve their products.


Another Side of Proteins


  1. The goal is to find alternate ways to notch up flavors without sacrificing consumer appeal, health, safety or profitability.

  2. Protein-flavor interactions happen due to a number of chemical and physical interactions.

  3. Soy-protein ingredients bind reversibly with compounds that are formed by lipid oxidation.

  4. The spotlight on salt and sugar is stronger than ever, but their reduction or replacement is not a slam-dunk affair.

  5. The biology of bitter-taste perception is poorly understood.

Proteins have proliferated in breakfast shakes, smoothies, milk, yogurt, cultured dairy, dairy alternate drinks, bars and even breakfast cereals. They help carry claims promoting the benefits of protein for satiety, energy, alertness and bone strengthening, all of which appeal to consumers. But many proteins also decrease flavor potency in the finished products. Their cardboard-like taste, laced with bitter notes and lingering astringency, are turn-offs to many consumers.

“Proteins interact differently with different flavor compounds,” says Robert McGorrin, Ph.D., a certified flavor scientist and department head of Food Science & Technology at Oregon State University. “One protein might have great affinity for one specific flavor, or for all flavor compounds; another protein might bind with varying degrees of affinity with different flavor compounds.”

Flavor retention—and therefore potency—by binding is affected significantly by flavor class; that is, whether the flavor is responsible for taste or for aroma. Also affecting retention is the positioning of the aromatic moiety on the active flavor molecule, the protein source, protein structure, the sequence of amino acids and how the protein was isolated.

Protein-flavor interactions happen due to a number of chemical and physical interactions, and the underlying mechanisms of how flavors are blunted or heightened continue to be elusive.

“Depending on the specific protein, and how flavors interact with it, flavors come across as either brighter or muted,” McGorrin explains. “The configuration and intrinsic properties of proteins are critical to taste, especially in products made with protein isolates and concentrates from milk, soy and pulses.”

With the growing prevalence of protein isolates and concentrates in prepared foods, it is important to map their respective interaction with the key flavor compounds in each individual food application. In general, ketone flavor compounds with lower carbon numbers, such as R-carvone (spearmint flavor), are retained least by proteins. Larger molecules, such as vanillin (vanilla flavor) and cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon flavor) are held on longer for a sustained flavor modification.

Soy-protein ingredients, used in nutrition bars and meat analogs, bind reversibly with compounds that are formed by lipid oxidation during soy processing; their release causes off flavor notes. Benzaldehyde (almond/cherry flavor), cinnamaldehyde and vanilla can therefore effectively mask the off-notes of soy- or pulse-derived proteins, whereas mint cannot. How the protein was extracted also matters. For example, salt-extracted proteins have higher flavor binding abilities than alkaline-extracted ones.


Of Salt and Saltiness

The spotlight on salt and sugar is stronger than ever, and thus far, no technology or ingredient for their reduction or replacement has proven to be a simple, “slam-dunk” affair. The challenge calls for serious understanding of how these ingredients work in food, in physiology and in gastronomy. Salt, the original flavor trick, makes foods more flavorful; neutralizes bitter and sour tastes; maintains product quality and perceptual properties; plus helps smooth savory flavors, especially those with distinct sharp notes.

Snack makers favor salt for its effective blunting of the acrid notes of staling and rancidity associated with fried and baked foodstuffs. The quest for ingredients to help cut the amount of sodium without minimizing flavor and gustatory effects has yet to produce substitutes that have the same clean taste properties of salt. Plus, the physical and processing alternates are not failproof, often requiring change in the manufacturing process.

Saltiness also negates the effect of umami in food. The judicious addition of salt to food, especially to sauces, salad dressings and other foods high in umami notes, can be useful in some cases to tone down bitterness and astringency of the accompanying cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

Reductions of wine, sweetened and unsweetened, for example, work particularly well. Their complex richness of flavors fool the brain into believing the vegetables to be mildly sweet by diluting the bitterness, thus eliminate the need for additional salt. Manufacturers of frozen prepared foods, such as roasted meats and rich sauces, typically add the wine reductions at the end of the assembly/layering process, so the rich complexity of the reduction is encountered first during eating. In this manner, these ingredients can do their masking job effectively yet also keep a lower sodium content.

Intensely flavored ingredients such as yeast extract can not only help reduce salt in consumer favorites such as chips, crackers, liquid soups, dehydrated soups, clear soups, sauces, and seasonings for snacks and meats, but also can help enhance the kokumi, the so-called “sixth” flavor.

Yeast is cultivated, harvested, and concentrated to create a savory base with a unique composition, amino acid profile and peptide content, plus natural reaction flavors. They can be used to tone down bitter and unpleasant notes, elevate rich meaty flavors without the use of MSG, enhance sweetness in beverages and aid in the perception of richness in the food.


Acid Test

Tiny Helpers

Microorganisms, primarily yeasts, offer considerable flavor enhancement advantages. These include flavor production, without extensive use of agricultural areas, and without synthesizing with chemicals and reactors of which consumers are so wary. It helps that the FDA allows labeling of most of these products as, simply, natural flavors. But, until something commercially viable emerges, food product developers are turning to food chemistry, flavor science, physics and rheology, which is an approach requiring in-depth understanding of the underlying mechanisms of taste to create foods that consumers gravitate to repeatedly.

Natural acids impart tartness or sourness of food; plus acidity is important for food safety. Honey-mustard sauces, sweet and sour dressings, tomato sauces or aigre-doux preparations all rely on the balance of sweetness and sourness to give them their characteristic taste.

The tartness is very important in dishes where one does not naturally expect sweetness, as in tomato sauce, teriyaki sauce and marinades, which are also high in umami or meatiness. Selecting the right acid source is both an art and a science.

Some acid ingredients, such as the popular passion fruit juice and lime juice (vs lemon juice) can infuse a preparation with flavor without making it too tart. At the same time, they reduce the pH to a desired level of safety.

To achieve the taste abatement of tartness, formulators resort to various techniques, including the addition of sweeteners and flavoring agents in the fruit portion with natural flavors such as citrus flavors, vanilla, passion fruit, banana and raspberry.

These all are particularly effective in masking tartness. Another trick is increasing the viscosity with rheological modifiers, such as gums (especially xanthan and carrageenan), hydrocolloids or carbohydrates to help lower the diffusion of acidic substances to the taste buds and help lower the perception of sourness.

Bitterness is very similar to astringency in its interaction with food. Astringency, however, is not a taste but a tactile sensation that manifests with mouth drying and friction arising from the precipitation of proteins in the saliva and in the membranes of the mouth. Soymilk and wine tend to increase the astringency with repeated sips.

Unlike bitterness, astringency is unaffected by sweeteners but can be reduced by increasing the viscosity of the fluid. Adding larger carbohydrate molecules, such as soluble fiber, also helps decrease astringency. Bitterness, on the other hand, is a complicated event: Humans have at least 25 kinds of bitter receptors, each sensitive to a slightly different array of bitter substances. The human tongue is about 10,000 times more sensitive to bitterness than to sweetness.

Bitterness occurs naturally in some green vegetables (endive, arugula and radicchio), herbs, spices, and even in some fruits. Green and cruciferous vegetables are not popular because of the taste of phenols, flavonoids, isoflavones, terpenes and glucosinolates. Such phytocompounds are typically bitter, acrid or astringent. But bitterness can also be formed during the cooking process, such as during charring, grilling, and in beverages by something as simple as boiling instead of steeping tea.

Rancid fats and oils, hydrolyzed proteins and plant-derived alkaloids (from beans, peas, cabbage, zucchini, lettuce, squashes, and kale) also generally have an unpleasant, bitter taste.

Microbial fermentation likewise results in bitter-tasting compounds, as observed in cheese and some fermented dairy products. The detection thresholds for bitter taste are extremely low; humans can detect them in micromolar amounts and for an extended period of time.

The biology of bitter taste perception is poorly understood. The umami taste in food seems to be responsible for increasing the perception of bitterness in foods such as caviar, blue cheese and even tomatoes. Saltiness or sourness, in the form of vinegar or citric acid from lemon or lime, can help to eliminate bitterness.

Drying and fermenting foods that are inherently loaded with umami taste notes help concentrate the compounds to as much as three, four and even 10 times the level as the fresh, undried product. For example, with dried shiitake mushrooms, a pinch of the dried powder will do what a cupful of the fresh would not.

Sauces, stocks, broths and bases that are high in umami taste, plus tomato products from catsup to marinara sauce, all do very well with dried powders of tomato and mushrooms. Similarly, concentrated oyster sauce, fish sauce from Thailand and “tan” broth from China all are effective in enhancing the umami taste in common condiments such as Worcestershire, soy and A-1 steak sauce.


Sweet Mystery

The prevalence of sweeteners in processed foods, and the growing acclimatization to sweetened versions of practically every food and beverage calls for a systems approach to creating and enhancing sweetness in different food applications. A systems approach allows for a solution that is customized to the food under consideration and the related processing and handling conditions unique to that product but it also means one-size-fits all ingredients are being replaced by customized solutions for enhanced functionality, taste, and acceptance.

Vanilla and vanilla-based compounds not only help elevate and round out sweet flavors, they enhance more complex flavors used in sweet formulations. Chocolate and cherry are two common examples. So, too, can vanilla flavors be used to bridge sweetness to other flavor bases.

Sugar alternatives demand a thorough understanding of the critical interactions of the ingredients and the sweetness profile best suited for each formulation and product application. This is to ensure that the sweetness has the right onset, peaking, lingering and end notes, and also effectively masks the medicine-like notes of offending nutrients.

High-potency sweeteners, both synthetic and those existing in nature, can include glycosides (stevia); mogrosides (monkfruit); glycyrrhizin (licorice root); and glycoproteins, such as miraculin (West African fruit miracle berry) and brazzein (West African fruit oubli). They trigger taste pathways distinctly different from those triggered by saccharides and disaccharides for the perception of sweetness, accounting for the difficulty in duplicating the experience of sugars as they occur in nature.

Paradoxically, John Finley, Ph.D., et al, of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, discovered that mogrosides can be used as a flavor modifier and bitterness masker for other sweeteners in various foods, beverages and even pharmaceutical compositions to block the perception of bitter, astringent or other off flavors.

Mogrosides are found naturally in the lo han guo fruit, known today as monkfruit. They are used as potent sweeteners. However, their use has been complicated by bitter components, such as mogroside II, also found in the fruit. Their mechanism of sweetness, however, is complex and multi-factorial.

The situation is further confounded by interactions of the sweeteners with the ingredient source of the undesirable bitterness, sourness, pungency or off-notes. Interaction and solutions are not the same across different food applications; beverages are usually easier to resolve, because liquids have a shorter resident time in the mouth than solid foods, such as bars and baked goods. And, the impact of some off-notes is not as prolonged and therefore as pronounced with liquids as it is with solid foods.

Although technologies like flavor encapsulation have been around since the 1940s, growing consumer demand for clean labels and uncompromising taste, combined with emerging processes and ingredients, is giving prepared healthful foods and beverages a new lease on life.

Likewise, flavor and texture enhancers are receiving a makeover with advances in yeast extracts as part of a suite of new MSG (and nucleotide) replacers, which also offer nutritional enhancement along with umami and kokumi flavor and sodium replacement.

In addition to ensuring undeniable taste, the masking technology or ingredient should also involve the least amounts of additional equipment and processing steps, and require the minimum number of additional ingredients for an optimum formulation. Flavor tricks should not affect the nutritional attributes of the product or the bioavailability of its nutrients adversely.

The solutions should use ingredients that are economical and easily available with the least manufacturing cost, not require additional handling steps by the consumer. Within all that, they must have a high margin of safety and, finally, be rapid to employ and easy to prepare.  

Strange Bedfellows

A prevailing school of thought holds that combining flavorful foods that share common major volatile flavor compounds both fortifies and enhances the characteristic notes of the individual foods. It also is thought to elevate the taste of the mixture to new heights of enjoyment. For example, chocolate and almonds pair up nicely because of the various flavor compounds they have in common.

“Cocoa and almonds make such a delicious pair,” notes Jeff Smith, marketing director, Blue Diamond Almonds, “that it helped reinvent almonds as a sweet snack as opposed to a salty one.”

The food pairing concept also explains why pesto made with a pinch of ground cloves has heightened taste from the eugenol present in both basil and cloves. Also, the compound indole is common to jasmine and pork and explains why pork dishes taste and smell better when served with jasmine rice. Enhancement of taste by simply finding the common volatile flavor compound explains for the popularity and success of combinations like cucumber and dill (carvone); coffee, meat and chocolate (pyrazines); and chocolate and caviar (trimethylamine). Flavor congruency explains why almond, peanut and other nut flavors work well to mask the beany off notes of pea and soy proteins in foods and beverages.

Another concept that has worked well is that of flavor “completion” or “insertion.” This is where, instead of masking undesirable notes, they are utilized as part of the flavor system and built upon. For example, the “green” notes from soy protein have an additive effect with “jammy” strawberry flavor that lacks the typical green notes of fresh strawberry.

Dairy can have a variety of flavor notes ranging from fatty and waxy to lactone and creamy. Cheddar cheese tends to have sharp, aged notes, but the addition of an ingredient such as mustard enhances those cheesy characteristics because the palate recognizes the acidity of the mustard as part of the cheese, and not as a separate ingredient. This is much like when manufacturers use two or three types of sugars to sweeten the food so as to get a range of sweetness from start to finish as opposed to one sugar that may have a flavor spike on just the front, middle or the end.

Key Trends by Packaged Facts

Key trends and opportunities within the U.S. flavor market center on ever-changing consumer preferences and recent ongoing and anticipated advances in food flavor technology. Consumers’ continued yearning for food that is fresh, fast and healthy is driving innovation and new food and flavor product development, according to “U.S. Market for Flavors” by market research company Packaged Facts. Looking ahead, the value of the total U.S. market for flavors—including flavor additives, flavor enhancers, sugar substitutes, and spices—will increase from $6 billion in 2014 to $7 billion in 2019.

More than ever, healthy doesn’t just mean which types of food a shopper buys, but also what is in that food, notes Packaged Facts research director David Sprinkle. From trans fats to gluten, consumer grocery lists have a growing number of things to avoid. With respect to flavorants, a growing number of U.S. shoppers are looking to avoid additives they perceive as being unhealthy. Examples include monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other glutamates and artificial flavors.

The current trend toward clean labels presents a significant and fast-growing opportunity segment. Food manufacturers that can shorten their ingredient lists and substitute artificial and unrecognizable ingredients with natural or recognizable ingredients will continue to edge up in market share and market penetration. Also, many natural additives have reduced shelf stability, in comparison to the artificial additives they replace. Flavor, in particular, has a way of degrading more rapidly for all-natural products. This situation presents ample opportunity for the development of natural, shelf-stable flavors that can meet consumer demand for clean labels.

Advances in food technology are enabling the development of exciting new flavor and food products. For example, although flavor encapsulation technology has been around since the 1940s, increasing consumer demand for clean labels and natural flavors, combined with new innovations in food and beverage flavor development, is giving flavor encapsulation a new lease on life. The technology has a growing array of applications, and has been pulled into the portfolios of most major flavor houses that are active in the U.S. market. Likewise, flavor enhancers are also receiving a makeover. For example, a suite of new MSG replacers tout enhanced umami flavor, with some also functioning as sodium replacers. For more information on “U.S. Market for Flavors” please visit:

Packaged Facts, a division of, publishes market intelligence on a wide range of consumer market topics, including consumer demographics and shopper insights, consumer financial products and services, consumer goods and retailing, consumer packaged goods, and pet products and services. Packaged Facts also offers a full range of custom research services.