Flavor Savers

Flavors are integral to product success but can be challenging in product development. Public opinion on flavors is sometimes positive, sometimes not; but opinions and attitudes can be changed, depending on the latest trends. Dolf DeRovira, president of Flavor Dynamics, discussed how to evaluate flavors and use them in the best light in his Prepared Foods’ R&D Seminar presentation titled “The Use of Flavors in Food Products.”

DeRovira began by stating, “Flavor is actually a combination of odor, taste, trigeminal nerves (cooling and heating, not really a flavor) and tactile stimulation. Flavor is this whole concept, and it is bolstered by the rest of the senses (visual, for example). For clear vs. cloudy orange juice, even if the flavor is exactly the same, the cloudy version is preferred. Flavors can be perceived differently when the color is different. Aroma is also a part of flavor. It takes hundreds of genes to design the sense of smell, making aroma and flavoring very complex.”

“And,” he continued, “unlike the other senses, aroma goes to this subconscious area in the brain, called the limbic system, which manages mood, appetite and hunger (the ID). Aroma is a very important part of our psychic, and aroma therapy probably has validity.”

Flavor (through sense of taste) is the strongest sense humans have, leaving long-lasting memories, both good and bad. A flavor memory could be of a fresh-baked apple pie or some bitter broccoli, for example. Everyone lives in their own olfactory universe with their own preferences for various flavor and aroma chemicals.

“As a product developer with all these considerations, it is hard to know whose flavor preferences the product should be developed to accommodate, so go with the general public, main consensus,” advised DeRovira.

Flavor perception heavily depends on pH; for example benzaldahyde tastes like almond in a sweet system, but if citric acid is added, it tastes like cherry. People’s tastes are also protective mechanisms. They detect whether something is right by flavor. “Umami is a glutamate sensation to see that we are satiating with protein. Sweet is for detection of fruit ripeness. Bitterness is to alert us of a possible toxic substance, linked to the back of the throat, the gag mechanism.”

DeRovira explained, “Flavors need to be evaluated in the product but not in the bottle. A flavor may taste or smell terrible in the bottle, but could still work well in the product. Detailed information about the product needs to be provided to the flavor house. It is very important to go back to the flavor company, to go back and modify flavors. It is almost impossible to get it right the first time, because they do not usually have the product, unless provided to the flavor house.”

When formulating with flavors, most of the time, less is more. Flavors are very strong. If it is not just right, try decreasing the amount. Even if the flavor cannot be detected, it may be at too high a concentration. Or it may need increased sweetness to detect the flavor.

When tasting something, the flavor experience lasts only five to nine seconds, having to do with the volatility of the aromas as they go up the nasal cavities. The fruity, light aromas go first, and the strong, heavy flavors are later, due to molecular weight. Fruity, light flavors have lower molecular weights than heavy flavors.

If more impact is desired, add light volatiles. If an off-taste is present, add pepper, garlic or cloves. Flavors can cover off-notes or enhance flavors, but it is when the flavor appears that is most important.

Salt is the first thing tasted in a bite of food. Use culinary techniques to improve product quality. Most importantly, flavors are fun to use.

“The Use of Flavors in Food Products,” Dolf DeRovira, president of Flavor Dynamics, dolfd@flavordynamics.com, 888-271-8424
—Summary by Elizabeth Pelofske, Contributing Editor


Vanilla: It’s Anything but Plain

The earliest records of vanilla are from pictograms found on the pyramids in Mexico. Natives first found the beans growing wild in the forest, noticed their fragrant aroma, and began to pick them. Aztecs took the vanilla beans from the natives and were so impressed that they selected vanilla as the food of the gods. Vanilla was considered one of the treasures of the Aztecs. About 1605 was the first siting of vanilla in France. In about 1858, vanillin was identified as the principle component in vanilla. In 1962, a vanilla standard of identity was included in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Pricing for vanilla has fluctuated from about $30-$300 per pound of beans, due to politics, growing conditions and weather. Vanilla is the only edible fruit of an orchid.

In her PF R&D Seminar titled “Vanilla: It’s Anything but Plain,” Paulette Lanzoff, technical director for Synergy Foods, stated: “Growing vanilla is an extremely labor-intensive way to make a living. Vines take about four years before they are able to produce enough. In Mexico, the flowers are pollinated by a small bee, which is why it could not be grown anywhere else until a hand-pollination procedure was developed.”

There are about 1,000 blossoms per vine. Beans mature within three to four months, and the delicate nature of the vines require hand-picking and are often branded to prevent theft. After they are picked, the curing process begins. The beans are first boiled, after which they bake in the hot, tropical sun during the day. They are wrapped in blankets at night, where the moisture promotes the fermentation process. Once they are dried for two or three months, they are graded.

Most commercial sources of vanilla are from Madagascar. Bourbon vanilla is the standard, best-quality vanilla. Indonesia is now also considered a good-quality source, similar to Madagascar vanilla. But Indonesian beans are smokier and contain less vanillin than Madagascar beans. French Polynesia has a different species of vanilla, with a different flavor profile and growing conditions. Other sources exist, as well.

Once beans are sourced, they are chopped up and extracted. The seeds often are recovered for their visual effect. The extraction process can be done with or without heat. After percolating for 48-96 hours, the extracted product is filtered and concentrated, then blended with other concentrates to achieve specific flavor profiles. Vanilla is aged where flavors marry; alcohol reacts with vanillin, and the flavors mellow. Some vanillas are aged for 15-20 years for very good flavor.

Three regulations are involved in the labeling of vanilla: 21 CFR 101.22 Labeling of Spices, Flavorings, Colorings and Chemical Preservatives; 21 CFR 135 Frozen Dessert Standards; and the Vanilla standard listed in 21 CFR 169.175.

Vanillin is the principle component of vanilla, but there are 219 other flavor compounds identified in vanilla. Two vitaspiranes have been identified and are believed to have masking properties that work well in high-protein flavored beverages.

To make something taste like vanilla, either vanillin or ethyl vanillin must be used. Vanillin is naturally occurring in vanilla and some other products and is available in both natural and synthetic forms. Ethyl vanillin is not found in nature, but is two or two and a half times stronger than vanillin.

Heliotripin, giving off a cherry-marshmallow note, and propenyl guaethol, are not found in nature but typically are used in bakery vanillas as flavor constituents. Many vanilla flavorings begin with plain bourbon vanilla and have chemicals added to identify customers’ needs.  Woody, smoky, rummy, floral, “pruney,” cotton candy, “playdough” or musty are some of the descriptors for vanilla flavors used when developing flavor profiles for vanilla blends.

“Vanilla: It’s Anything but Plain,” Paulette Lanzoff, technical director, Synergy Foods, planzoff@synergytaste.com, 847-487-1011
—Summary by Elizabeth Pelofske, Contributing Editor


Flavor Basics: What, Where, How and Why

Flavor can be described as the summation of all the physical and psychological sensations when a food or beverage is taken into the mouth. Flavor is added to foods to create character in something bland; for example, chewing gum would taste like rubber without flavor, and hard candy would taste like plain sugar.

Flavor differentiates products and helps extend the inherent, natural flavor of foods. Another function is masking of off-flavors. Pea protein, for example, has a tough aftertaste to mask, so flavor ingredients are often needed there. Flavors can also enhance back-notes, and provide novelty and innovation.

“In natural products, flavors can be lost during processing; for example, caramel flavoring may need to be added back after processing,” explained Cindy Cosmos, senior flavorist, at Bell Flavors and Fragrances, in her R&D Seminar titled “Flavor Basics: What, Where, How and Why.”

Not only taste, but also aroma, visual, auditory, tactile, trigeminal and hedonic senses affect flavor perception.

Cosmos stated, “Flavor is really 99% aroma, as illustrated when someone has a cold and cannot taste anything. Flavor has many chemical components. For example, a Fuji apple flavor has 10,000 recognizable aromas, including fruity, juicy and spicy, which is why even before tasting, it is recognized as apple.”

People eat with their eyes. Color gives appeal to foods and actually affects taste; this is why green ketchup is not perceived well. The crunch in the ears when chewing crispy foods is also part of flavor perception. Tactile is often key to the liking or disliking of a food; often, it is a texture issue. Ice cream flavor is perceived through its creamy texture.

“Trigeminal sensation is perceived in nerves near the mouth. Related to hot, cold and pain, physiological sensations are another way to add depth to flavor,” added Cosmos.

Hot pepper, ginger, horseradish and some other spices add a popular heat factor to foods, which often pair well with sweetness. Cooling agents, like menthol and eucalyptol, open up nasal passageways and now are used in fruit flavors at very low levels to increase fruit flavor.

Sweet applications can range from chewing gum to lollipops, chocolates or gummies, and each needs different flavor functions. Bakery applications, salt reduction, yeast flavors, dairy, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages have different flavor needs.

In beverages, trends are going much more toward natural than artificial in flavors, even in plain carbonated waters. Vodka used to be plain but now has a wide variety of flavors. Beers, too, now have Key lime and harvest pumpkin ale flavors. Savory flavors, including dips, sauces and marinades, often utilize a fusion of flavors. Snacks are choosing interesting flavors recently; cappuccino-flavored potato chips show that a crossover is going on in the industry.

Some tips for formulating with flavors include screening flavors in bland backgrounds. For screening sweet flavors, use fondant. Mayonnaise is good for screening oil-soluble flavors. Acid increases impact of flavor. Sweetness interactions occur with flavors. Sugar-free products need flavor adjustments, as the interaction is different with artificial sweeteners. Salt expands flavors and makes them burst. Water-soluble flavors are very aromatic when released in water and give an immediate impact, but are prone to flash-off.

In summary, stated Cosmos, “We eat with our eyes and taste with our nose.” Flavors provide distinct nuance and aroma for all applications. The world of flavor applications is endless.

“Flavor Basics: What, Where, How and Why,” Cindy Cosmos, senior flavorist, Bell Flavors and Fragrances, cscosmos@bellff.com, 847-291-4422
—Summary by Elizabeth Pelofske, Contributing Editor