June 26, 2009
Rebalancing flavor in reduced-calorie beverages is never a walk in the park. But the path grows steeper in beverages that already have the odds stacked against them. Nutritional and functional formulations, with vitamins, minerals, omega-3s and fibers, are behind the flavor eight ball to begin with. Given sugars prowess at covering up off notes associated with healthful ingredients, reducing the sweetness affects the ability to mask these ingredients even more, says Laura Ennis, senior beverage innovation technologist, David Michael & Co., Philadelphia.
Proteins are notorious for interacting with flavor chemicals, says Kimberly Ferruzzi, senior beverage technologist, Sensient Flavors, Inc., St. Louis. So, when you remove sweetness and try to add flavor chemicals to counteract that effect, she says, youre going to have absorption of those chemicals by the proteins. Often, that can mean that the flavor decreases or even seems unbalanced, and it may take time to see what those effects might be.
Sue Kidwell, manager of flavor creations, Wild Flavors, Inc., Erlanger, KY, cites soy as one such pesky protein, often masking flavor intensity and forcing the use of higher flavor levels. Alternatively, she says, the flavor has to be rebalanced to increase the volatiles that will provide more aromatics and help overcome the off notes that are found in soy. The challenge is to rebalance and increase the intensity without chemical off notes that can change the profile of the flavor.
Greg Horn, senior director of sweetener technology, Wild Flavors, Inc., says low-pH beverages present yet another set of challenges, and he blames the tartness factor. Most beverages are tart, since the pH needs to be low enough to sustain microbial stability. This complicates balancing the sweetness profile, as some high-intensity sweeteners have a delayed onset of sweetness. Therefore, he says, the acidity of the beverage is strongly perceived by the consumer before the sweetness balances out the taste.
So whats a beverage formulator to do? Try, try and try again. When working on technologies to improve healthy beverages that contain ingredients such as stevia and vitamins that have off notes, says Kathi Sparks, flavorist Wild Flavors, Inc., it is best to mask or block the negative attributes first and then add back the flavor that is lost. The flavor can be affected in different ways. A flavorist can determine the pieces of the puzzle that are missing and add back those pieces to rebalance the flavor of the beverage.
Kimberly J. Decker, a California-based technical writer, has a B.S. in consumer food science with a minor in English from the University of California, Davis. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys eating and writing about food. You can reach her at [email protected] .
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