Why Do We Use Natural Flavors?
Keeping up with consumers’ ever growing demand for delicious, natural, authentically-flavored foods can pose challenges even for the savvy product developer. When foods are processed, there’s many factors that can affect the final flavor, such as cook temperature, processing time, packaging and the natural degradation of flavor over shelf life.
At CuliNex, we formulate with culinary principles in mind to help the inherent flavors of ingredients shine and rely only on added flavors when absolutely necessary.
With the plethora of natural flavor ingredients on the market, it can be difficult to know which ingredients will work best in application. In our experience working exclusively with clean label ingredients, the specific formulation must be considered when picking the ideal flavor system. With so many options, usually many within a single company’s product line, choosing a natural flavor medium can be confusing.
Natural flavors and essences are captured from a variety of spices, herbs, seeds, fruits and vegetables. They can be expressed (by squeezing out essential oils), steeped into alcohol, water or oils, distilled or created chemically; CuliNex only utilizes natural flavors. Here’s a quick primer of the most commonly used flavor systems in our clean label toolbox.
Flavor extracts are typically alcohol-derived and work well in most applications. They’re water-soluble which allows easy incorporation in processing and true, clean flavors. However, because they are alcohol-based, most extracts will loose potency once heated and thus, pairing an extract with another flavoring component like an oleoresin ensures you keep top, middle and finishing notes throughout cooking.
Essential Oils & Oleoresins
While extracts are produced using alcohol, essential oils and oleoresins are oil-based, typically extracted through distillation or expression. They pick up where extracts leave off in heated applications and can add the backbone to flavor systems in baked goods. Naturally-derived oils and oleoresins pack a lot of flavor. However, overuse can lead to bitter and off flavors in finished products.
Emulsions are flavor extracts suspended in water, typically with a gum or starch. Water is a neutral carrier imparting no flavor of its own and does not evaporate as rapidly as alcohol when exposed to heat. This means better, more sustained flavor that will not "bake-out" as readily as alcohol-based extracts. Because of this, emulsions are excellent choices for baking applications and most confections and their suspension makes them an excellent choice for beverage applications (although their opacity and color won’t work for clear beverages). The high water content makes them a poor choice to flavor chocolate and hard candy, where water activity is crucial.
When flavor is generally lack-luster, natural flavor enhancers step in to improve and elevate. Typically high in natural glutamates, flavor enhancers partner with other flavor compounds to increase the sensation of savoriness, or umami. Robustly-flavored yeast extracts are good sources to enhance and round out flavors in reduced-sodium snack products like crackers, nuts and chips, while providing savory back notes to soups, sauces, meats and vegetable products. Created through a natural fermentation process, yeast extracts are concentrated down into liquid, paste or powdered ingredients that can be combined with other flavor components or used alone to add richness, enhance sweetness and disguise off notes.
As we’ve seen a rise in demand for healthful foods, there’s also a need for flavorings that can hide or alter off notes, bitterness, astringency and sour flavors commonly associated natural high intensity sweeteners (like stevia and monk fruit), vegetable or legume ingredients (like pea and soy protein). FMPs, or flavor maskers have been widely used in the food industry to enhance, mask or modify a flavor and are especially useful for balancing the flavors in fortified foodstuffs such as meal replacement shakes, low sodium and low sugar foods. While FMPs likely won’t contribute flavor of their own, they can alter existing flavor profiles by changing flavor attributes by intensifying specific flavors, hiding bitter or off-notes, or changing the duration of flavor perception.
Flavor is King
In food product development, flavor is king. However, navigating the flavor landscape can be tricky, especially when developing clean label products. Partnering with your flavor vendor to find solutions unique to your product and experimenting with flavor innovation as it arrives on the market can give you a leg up on the bench. When using flavors, start with the end in mind and consider using various flavoring products to build layers. Call CuliNex today for help boosting the flavor of your products, naturally!