FOOD manufacturers readily speak of the challenges serving a diverse Australian market and its adventurous palate.
The global media and local ethnic restaurants have broadened the taste buds of Australian consumers, increasing demand for flavours and aromas as ingredients.
Despite this recent trend, flavours have a well-established role in food manufacturing.
“Flavours are used as ingredients in finished products to provide initial eye appeal, colour and aroma to raise consumer expectations,” Flavour Makers managing director Adrian Cester said.
According to Danisco business manager (flavours) Tom Marzella, flavours are critical to a product’s brand integrity.
“Manufacturers need to make sure flavour perception is always the same,” he said.
“Natural ingredients can vary from crop to crop; flavours ensure a consistent flavour profile, which leads to brand stability.”
Marzella adds that while flavours can ensure a product always tastes the same, it can also ensure it doesn’t taste the same as the competition.
Increasingly flavours are going beyond taste and allowing manufacturers to address consumer trends such as health, convenience and shelf life.
BJ Harris Trading national sales manager Yolande Williams identifies miso powders that have a soybean component deemed beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Green tea is another example.
“While green tea is a flavouring medium in beverages and ice-cream, it also has catechins and polyphenols that are good for health.”
Flavour Makers’ Cester adds some flavour oils extend shelf life through antioxidant and bacteriostatic properties.
According to BJ Harris’ Williams, the nutritional benefits of powdered flavours will improve as drying technology develops.
Flavours provide some fairly sophisticated functions.
Danisco’s Marzella speaks of flavours that can create cooling or heating sensations when a product is consumed, without accompanying tastes of menthol or chilli.
“There are also flavours that can actually mask tastes,” he said, “for example, energy drinks use amino acids that need to be masked because they aren’t particularly palatable.”
Marzella also cites flavours that give products that are low in fat and sugar a “rich, creamy-mouth feel”, as well as “add back” flavours that reintroduce flavour lost during processing.
Rapid growth in food and beverage products has fed demand in the flavour market.
Marzella says 31% of the global flavours market is estimated to be in beverage appli ours, and now wasabi tastes.
“This is reflected in an increased demand for products such as sport drinks, ethnic and international meals, bowl snacks, fresh pasta and sauces, nutritious fruit snacks, flavoured nuts and snack cheeses,” Flavour Makers’ Cester said.
“Food manufacturers have had to use much better raw materials and flavours to produce products that people want to buy,” BJHarris’ Williams said.
Consumers’ taste buds are so honed that Cester says a key trend is not only international cuisines, but regionalised ones, such as Tuscan, southern Italian, and Vietnamese.
According to BJHarris’ Williams, flavour houses must adapt quickly to changing consumer tastes, citing the sudden popularity of sweet chilli and wasabi flavours.
Flavours typically fall into three categories: natural, nature identical (NI) and artificial.
“Natural flavours can be produced by many means including extraction, distillation, enzymatic, microbial and reaction cooking,” Danisco’s Marzella said.
“Nature-identical is a chemically identical replica of nature. A natural and NI flavour would be identical in molecular structure.”
“NI flavours are manufactured by synthesis or isolated from natural products by chemical methods.”
“Artificial flavours are manufactured by a chemical process and contain products not found in nature.”
“For example, a chemical called ethyl vanillin is not present in nature but is a derivation of vanillin, the main flavour component of vanilla.”
Nutradry’s Mike Bridges says greater consumer focus on labelling combined with greater health awareness has seen a push for natural flavours. (Nutradry is represented by BJ Harris).
He highlights the development of technology that allows premium quality dry flavours to be produced from named natural sources as an example of this trend.
Flavour Makers Cester acknowledges the trend to cleaner labels, but argues NI flavours can also be beneficial.
“NI flavours are made from the same chemical ‘building blocks’ found in natural flavours, but are generally more concentrated providing better flavour impact,” he said.
Flavours are available in liquids, spray dried powders, granulation, pastes and encapsulated.
As food and beverage manufacturers face rising pressures to offer creative food choices, flavour houses also face demands to innovate.
“Manufacturers demand flavours that can be used as a marinade, cooking aid, and as a dipping sauce. It has to be capable of handling the different conditions involved, such as the severe heat processes in cooking,” Danisco’s Marzella said.
“At the same time it must always smell nice and have a consistently good flavour.”
With the development of flavours a highly precise technical discipline, it would be unsurprising if some food manufacturers were unclear on aspects of their usage.
A key misconception BJ Harris’ Williams faces is the assumption concentrated powdered flavours must be chemically created.
“It’s possible to start with an onion, roast it for a cooked flavour, then extract, concentrate and dry it,” she said.
“It’s still a natural flavour.”
She stresses greater understanding of dosages in the application of flavours, with some manufacturers expecting a flavour can be used at the same dosage in two different products, such as ice-cream and soft drink, with equal results.
“They’ll be disappointed because one product has a milk base compared to another with a sugar, water, and acid base.”
“The result is a completely different perception of the flavour.”
Danisco’s Marzella says some manufacturers are daunted by price.
“They look at the price per kilo rather than the in-use cost,” he said,
“Flavours are generally dosed between 0.1-0.3% in application to a product and therefore have a very small in-use cost.”
According to Marzella, one of the key challenges flavour suppliers face is being able to fully collaborate with manufacturers to achieve flavour outcomes.
“Many manufacturers work on confidential formulations and don’t want to disclose them, but that makes it very hard for flavour houses to supply the right flavour,” he said.
“It’s also important to indicate the parameters involved in manufacturing their product because temperature, acidity, and pH-levels influence how a flavour works in the final product.