New ways to deliver flavor

The flavor industry continues to capitalize on new trends to keep products new and exciting to consumers.

Lynn A. Kuntz, Editor In Chief

June 1, 1994

9 Min Read
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While there is some truth to the old saw about there being nothing new under the sun, the flavor industry continuously tries to be the exception to the rule. Often, they succeed.

"New flavor chemicals are being developed and isolated all the time," claims Michael Lynch, director of marketing for Haarmann & Reimer Corp.'s flavor division in Springfield, NJ. "They generally slip into the flavorists' pallet with little industry fanfare at all. They're just another piece of the puzzle."

In addition to the compounds themselves, a number of technologies and techniques are evolving as important means of delivering flavor to food products. While some are not new products, but merely innovative ways to solve problems, they can help to bring successful new food products to market.

Capitalizing on encapsulates

Encapsulation of flavoring materials is one of the most active areas currently under development. While spray drying is one form of coating flavors that has been used for many years, new processes, materials and applications have resulted in a diverse mix of directions.

Encapsulation can protect flavors from ingredients and conditions like heat, moisture and acidity that cause them to degrade. The flavors exhibit increased shelf life in the food product and better delivery when it is consumed. It can block flavor components from reacting with other ingredients in the product matrix, such as certain aldehydes and aspartame. It can provide a means of controlled delivery, so that the flavor releases at a certain point: during microwaving, during reconstitution, during chewing.

"Our encapsulation work is focused in three different areas: proteins, fats and carbohydrates," reveals Ernst Graf, manager of food science for Tastemaker, Cincinnati. "These address different needs, solve different problems. The most important technology in terms of protection revolve around polymers, or proteins. The release mechanism for these is physical rupture. The carbohydrate encapsulation helps with shelf stability, especially in dry applications. Moisture then releases the flavor. The third type, fat, helps to protect flavors against moisture, and releases with heat. This works in things like microwave products that are warmed before eating."

Tastemaker's director of marketing, Tracy Glancy, adds that polymer encapsulation technology will enable manufacturers to successfully add flavors in places where they have been difficult to maintain because of high heat. French fries, pasta and pretzels all fit into this category.

This type of protein encapsulation results in a true core and shell product unlike some of the other technologies where the flavor may be dispersed throughout the entire capsule. It does not give protection from oxidation, but it prevents the flavors from volatilization.

Another similar technology being developed includes using yeast as the encapsulating material. According to Rudy Dieperink, industry manager of meals, sauces and dressings for Quest International, Itasca, IL., products are not yet commercially available, but they show positive results in high heat applications.

"The gum manufacturers are ahead of the rest of the industry in using encapsulated flavors for timed release," says Lynch. "They work quite a bit with their sweetener systems. If you have sweetness, you always have the perception of flavor. Encapsulating the sweeteners and incorporating the flavors at various stages in the mix provides the major impact they can deliver."

Lynch continues to explain: "They'll add liquid flavors for the normal impact, a spray dried version at the end of the mix so it gives you a quick hit of flavor and aroma. Toward the end when all of the soluble sugar is flushed out, you can add encapsulated grains of an artificial sweetener like aspartame. It's a very sophisticated flavor delivery system."

In a twist on encapsulation technology, companies are experimenting with using gelatin capsules as a means of making a liquid flavor more stable and transportable. Tim Roebken, market manager, Red Star Specialty Products, Milwaukee, claims meat flavors can be protected from oxidation and moisture loss with gelatin.

"This is a much larger scale than micro-particulate encapsulation," describes Roebken. "We're talking about something roughly the size of a quarter, it's almost like injecting the liquid into a mold."


The second area currently receiving a lot of attention are the technologies surrounding precursor and building block flavors. There are two different approaches. One revolves around adding flavors that develop during a process, such as heating. The other focuses on identifying the compounds that contribute to a characteristic flavor and how they interact with other compounds or types of processes, including heating. While the flavors may not taste right going in, the end result closely mimics what happens naturally.

True precursor flavors change with the process to produce a desired effect. Most of the work in this area centers on Maillard browning flavors. The major application is for products that traditionally exhibit these flavors, but cannot develop them in their intended use, most commonly microwaving. But that can be more difficult in practice than theory.

"When you develop flavors 'in situ', the flavors are actually formed in the kettle, can or microwave," notes Terry Emmel, manager of flavor development, McCormick & Co., Inc., Hunt Valley, MD. "But the result is dependent on the processor or consumer following the instructions to the letter. If the flavor is not heated to the proper temperature or held for the proper time, you can get an unbalanced flavor because certain components are over or under produced."

Because of this, some flavor companies rely more on flavors that are formed during processing. Since these are a generally a result of a heat process, they tend to be more stable to high temperatures. But there are almost as many approaches to the problem as there are flavorists.

"You need to establish two things when developing flavors for microwave systems," recommends John Simmons, Quest's senior flavorist. "The profile you want and how that profile relates to the interaction with microwaving. A lot of volatile products are given off at various degrees of conversion, differently than a standard oven. You have to make a different balance. We use a unique system we call dynamic flavors. They're first flavors in their own right, but they also have precursors to allow for the loss in character experienced during microwaving or retorting."

The second side of this type of technology has a more universal application. It involves understanding which flavor compounds contribute to the flavor and how they react in a system. Different components can be present in the fat, water or air that, when blended, give the proper balance.

"Some flavors – like chocolate, peanut butter and coffee -- are extremely difficult," suggests Lynch. "With something like peppermint, the flavor active materials can be quantitated. But with peanut butter, for example, there are thousands of compounds, no one class being the dominant characterizing flavor."

Two barriers keep flavorists from finding commercially successful solutions. First, isolating and identifying the sheer number of compounds and determining their impact on the total flavor is a Herculean task. Then once the significant chemicals are isolated, they may be present in such small quantities, parts per billion, that it would never be economically feasible to manufacture them.

Locating through extraction

Part of combining the right compounds to deliver the right taste consists of getting them in the first place. This has catalyzed research into more effective means of manufacture, including extraction. Although, with good reason, industry sources are reluctant to divulge the exact technology involved, most have improved methods to produce more true-to-life, natural flavors.

While carbon dioxide extraction appears to yield exceptional results, the process is very expensive. Most industry experts agree that the prices of these types of flavors are out of the range required by most food products.

"Extraction technologies are invaluable for making natural flavors," says Glancy. "There's nothing more natural than an extract. CO2 extractions can be very expensive so we are working with a company called Hauser in Colorado that works with liquid solvents. We don't do a high temperature extraction, so many of the volatiles are protected. Starting out with fresh materials like spices doesn't produce any off-notes like you can find with oleoresins."

Enhancing enhancers

Because some consumers choose to shy away from products containing glutamates, flavor companies are actively seeking ways to enhance foods without them. What often makes it doubly difficult, is that they are often working in low-fat or low-sugar systems. In many cases, traditional flavors can meet the challenge.

"In most cases companies are going after preference criteria in foods instead of matching a gold standard, full-fat or otherwise," says Emmel. "We're finding you can add flavors like sweetness enhancers or even vanilla that produce a tremendous effect on the perception of a flavor. Essential oils, mint and capsicum products used at low levels can give enhancing properties rather than an identifiable flavor."

Some of the flavors that are used to enhance reduced fat or artificially sweetened foods have been called mouthfeel flavors. The goal is to provide the perception of fat or sugar into the product.

"Fat is an important component in the perception of dairy flavors, and when you remove it you lose the mouthfeel and its impact on flavor," notes Richard Mangierre, vice president of research and development, Ottens Flavors, Philadelphia. "You need to build that perception back into the product. While you can often use ingredients like proteins and milk sugars, you generally need to add some kind of flavoring to help bring it back."

The fate of yeast extract's glutamate labeling requirements remains unresolved at this writing, but it too can act as a flavor enhancer, not just in savory flavors as one would expect, but in dairy, vegetable or sweet applications as well.

"When you look at low fat dairy products like sour cream, many have a flavor impact that hits you up front and then dissipates very quickly," says Roebken. "Often you get a very acidic, sour flavor up front. Although you might not think of yeast extracts in that application, we have found that using a very mild yeast extract containing 5( nucleotides can mask these flavors but not contribute a savory flavor. It seems to lengthen the duration and give a much more balanced flavor."

While short-term, many of the standard flavors can be used to enhance foods, some interesting developments are looming on the horizon.

"Another technology that's evolving is the use of peptides," notes Simmons. "There's a lot of work going on in Japan on the use of 'delicious' peptides that will play a big role in the near future. There are a number of peptides that have the same if not increased levels of enhancement as glutamic acid. As soon as someone discovers an economical means of production, it's going to be an industry all of its own."

As the food industry comes to the not-so-surprising realization that the consumer insists on products that taste good, the need to design new and better ways to deliver flavors keeps increasing.

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