Playing the Natural Flavor Game

January 3rd, 2018


Category: Miscellaneous

(Food Business News) – Seventy per cent of shoppers prefer to have “natural flavors” on ingredient statements, according to a recent consumer shopping and buying behavior study from Kemin Industries, Des Moines, Iowa. Half of shoppers who prefer natural flavors also said it makes the food sound more natural, and 33% said it sounds more nutritious.

“Across the entire food and beverage industry, labels are increasingly carrying the claim of ‘no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives,’” said Siddhi Thakkar, associate director-beverages, Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y. “Consumers are actively avoiding these ingredients, and in response, formulators are increasingly seeking out natural flavors.

“We hear our customers routinely — almost without exception — asking for natural or organic-compliant flavors. Our roots are in natural vanilla, tea, coffee and cocoa extract, but in response to this demand for more natural flavors, we have dedicated flavorists continuing to expand our flavor library with new and innovative natural flavors.”

This is happening throughout the supply chain by flavorists. Consumers’ affinity for natural has companies growing their ingredient lines with creative flavor profiles and economic solutions to make natural flavors more affordable, consistent and higher quality.

The clean label trend has put pressure on food formulators to remove artificial flavors; however, when doing so, they often are challenged with delivering the same robust, stable flavors associated with artificial flavors. Suppliers are trying to create natural flavors — which require the use of naturally sourced raw materials — that are resistant to breaking down from high processing temperatures, exposure to air, and other storage and distribution elements.

Labeling natural flavors

On finished products, flavors are labeled as either natural or artificial. The labeling, however, is different — as well as highly regulated — at the industrial level so that the end user, the processor, knows the flavor source. If a flavor manufacturer calls the natural flavor “mandarin orange,” then the flavor must be 100% sourced from the name fruit. The manufacturer also may label the flavor “mandarin orange W.O.N.F.,” with the acronym standing for “with other natural flavors.” This suggests that not only are mandarin oranges part of the flavor, but so are other naturally derived flavors. This information is not communicated on the packaged food product ingredient statement.

If the food marketer chooses to describe the product by its flavor on the principle display panel, then it requires declaration. For example, strawberry-flavored gummies made with strawberry W.O.N.F. may be labeled “strawberry flavored with other natural flavors.” If it was described using a fanciful name, such as “strawberrylicious,” reference to W.O.N.F. is not required and natural flavors is simply listed on the ingredient statement.

“The application is not typically the limiting factor for natural flavors,” said Nick Lombardo, applications scientist — culinary, Flavorchem, Downers Grove, Ill. “The performance of natural flavors is going to depend largely on what type of natural flavor is requested.

“For instance, a natural banana flavor will inherently be a weak flavor because the flavorist is limited to using only ingredients derived from bananas, such as essences, distillates, purees or juices, which are lacking in banana aroma. However, if a ‘natural type’ or a ‘natural W.O.N.F.’ banana flavor is acceptable, then the impact will be much greater and comparable to artificial flavors because other natural flavor compounds can be used in conjunction with those derived from bananas.”

There are also some ingredients that are just not found abundantly in nature. To produce a natural bell pepper flavor a formulator must isolate 2-isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine from bell peppers. This is the natural compound that provides authentic bell pepper flavor, which artificial pyrazine does as well.

“But this is simply cost-prohibitive,” Mr. Lombardo said. “A flavorist can get close by using similar natural green notes, but it can be tricky to achieve that signature sharp, peppery green pepper profile characteristic of pyrazine.”

Natural volatility

Mother Nature has a way of affecting the price of raw materials, too.

“Natural flavors and colors are impacted by seasonality, climate, natural disasters, political unrest and more,” said Otis Curtis, business development — taste and nutrition solutions, Kerry, Beloit, Wis. “This impacts pricing, availability and quality.”

For example, the recent weather events in Madagascar have affected the global vanilla market. A cyclone that struck the island destroyed an estimated 30% of its vanilla crop.

“Madagascar produces over half of the world’s supply of vanilla,” said Anton Angelich, group vice-president at Virginia Dare. “As a result of the cyclone, global vanilla extract supplies are scarce. In light of this shortage, many food companies are considering switching to vanilla flavors.”

The challenge is to find a vanilla flavor that matches the taste of pure vanilla natural extracts. The opportunity is to get creative. A cookie, for example, is no longer just vanilla. It’s vanilla ice cream flavor or birthday cake vanilla.

“An alternative is to build a compounded vanilla flavor with other natural flavors (vanilla flavor W.O.N.F.),” Mr. Curtis said. “This solution can provide the same vanilla taste expectation while requiring a smaller quantity of vanilla beans. The result is a greater consistency in pricing, availability and quality.”

Natural flavors also may be weaker. In this instance, larger amounts or a more concentrated flavor may be required.

“In some applications, this can cause challenges in formulation when it comes to the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients,” said Amy Loomis, business development manager, Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, Ill. “Further, in general, there are fewer raw materials to work with for natural flavors. This makes developing complex decadent flavors challenging.”

There are several flavor components that simply cannot be found in nature, or obtained in the volumes required to commercially produce natural flavor. Raw material identification is a constant process.

“We are always sourcing innovative natural raw materials that inspire us to create authentic, on-trend flavor profiles,” Mr. Lombardo said. “There are many exciting technological advances in extracts that allow us to meet demand for clean label while still delivering exciting, bold flavors at a justifiable cost.

“For example, carbon dioxide supercritical fluid extraction of spices, peppers, herbs and alliums that have been toasted, roasted or smoked prior to extraction offer authenticity in building ethnic flavor profiles. We can use these types of extracts in emulsions, oil-based flavor systems and seasonings for a wide range of applications.”

Flavorchem recently developed proprietary extraction methods specifically for botanicals. The technology enables the company to provide botanical flavors for sensitive applications, such as ready-to-drink beverages and specialty foods, including confections, condiments and baked foods.

“Targeted fermentation is another example of an evolving technology that allows for more cost-effective natural flavor ingredients,” said Paulette Lanzoff, technical director at Synergy Flavors.

Regardless of the technology, some foods are simply more challenging than others. Heat processing, for example, may be detrimental to some natural flavors.

“Bakery products undergo a physical and chemical change in a lower heat/longer time system,” said Mary Reynolds, research scientist — bakery at Kerry. “There is greater chance of volatility and reaction with other ingredients. Leavening agents, preservatives, flour, stabilizers and emulsifiers all have the potential to interact with the natural flavor unless the flavor is formulated to take these interactions into account.”

Ari Gastman, research and development director and senior flavorist for beverage and sweet flavors at Kerry, added, “It’s quite challenging to use natural flavors in the growing category of plant-based protein beverages. These beverages have significant off-notes that are challenging to overcome without the use of artificial flavors, which provide a more impactful taste profile.”

Alcoholic beverages may be challenging, too, because of their composition and process. Interestingly, natural flavors for alcoholic beverages have a built-in clause that allows for up to 1,000 p.p.m. (parts per million) of artificial ingredients to be added to the flavor.

“You are still able to call that flavor natural,” said Cyndie Lipka, senior flavorist, Prinova USA, Carol Stream, Ill.

Ms. Lipka said food companies distributing to the global marketplace have additional challenges when working with flavors.

“There are different standards between countries,” she said. “The E.U.’s standards are much more rigorous than the U.S., with fewer ingredients available for flavor creations designated as E.U. natural.”

Recent roll-outs

As flavorists gain access to more raw materials and advanced technologies, suppliers are expanding their natural flavors portfolio. Many next-generation natural flavors are proving to be as stable and as cost effective as other flavoring ingredients.

Standardized spice and herb liquid extracts may provide a more consistent, microbial-stable flavor profile than many other naturally sourced dry spice and herb powders, said Gary Augustine, executive director — market development, Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Mich. The company has expanded its natural spice and herb flavor extract product line with novel blends and ethnic flavor combinations. This includes expeller-pressed product extracts.

“Most recently we added a range of natural craft beer-type flavors for food applications,” Mr. Augustine said. “They are made with our hop oil, and flavor profiles include IPA, lemon shandy, porter, pumpkin and wheat.”

The flavors are easier to work with than using real beer, as they are heat and retort stable. Applications include batters, cheeses, dressings, prepared meals, sauces, soups, and meat and poultry products.

To appeal to consumer interest in spicier flavors, Kalsec has added green Hatch and aji Amarillo to its portfolio of natural specialty pepper flavor extracts. Again, the extracts are more efficient than adding real peppers.

Oftentimes natural flavors are used in combination with food ingredients to enhance the flavor. Or they are used to replicate a food flavor in an alternative format.

For example, Synergy Flavors recently developed a natural sugarplum flavor. The company’s culinary team has used it to create a complex flavor of sweet and fruity in beverages and baked foods.

Flavorchem now offers a natural cinnamon churro-type flavor. The traditional churro is a fried pastry that is garnished with sugar and sometimes chocolate sauce. It is served in Mexican restaurants and food carts on the streets of Mexico City.

Prepared foods may benefit from the addition of natural flavors. They can deliver more pronounced aromas with lingering taste. This is particularly true with savory flavors such as beef, chicken and pork.

“The majority of our savory flavors have always been natural, so we’ve been a bit ahead of the curve with this trend,” said Roger Lane, marketing manager — savory flavors, Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill.

The company recently introduced natural gochujang, roasted ginger, and wasabi flavors. There’s also a new range of natural smokeless smoke flavors.

One of Sensient Flavors’ newest offerings is a collection of allergen-free nut flavors. Applications include ice cream variegates, baked foods, granola, coffee syrups and any other foods that can benefit from a brown, nutty flavor without requiring actual nut pieces.

Gold Coast Ingredients, Commerce, Calif., continues to expand its collection of natural cake flavors. Recent introductions include almond amaretto, banana upside down, butter, chai latte, cinnamon roll and strawberry champagne.

“We also have new natural cereal flavors with various profiles, including fruity, chocolate, corn flakes and cinnamon,” said Megan Trent, marketing representative. “Both the cake and cereal flavors complement baked goods, protein beverages, bars and other snack foods.”

On a savory note, Gold Coast continues to develop natural dairy-free/allergen-free cheese flavors. Popular flavor profiles include blue, cheddar, goat, gorgonzola, Gouda and Parmesan, Gouda.

“As time progresses, the number and variety of natural flavor options will grow,” Ms. Trent said. “New flavor combinations will arise, while complex food dishes and indulgent treats will be transformed into powder and liquid flavoring ingredients. Natural flavor profiles will become more descriptive and creative to further innovate in the food and beverage industry.”

Mr. Lombardo said, “Innovation in extraction technologies will lead the way to more variety in natural flavors that are true to the source. Millennials seek authenticity and clean labels in food and beverage products. This is one way that we can provide that kind of transparency.”


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