Flavors were originally used to boost the existing flavor or to create the flavor of an ingredient that the beverage did not contain – colas in carbonated beverages, chocolate in soymilk. Flavor science has grown up. Flavor ingredients today don’t just boost or imitate but can also mask, hydrate, help maintain quality consistency and extend shelf-life of beverages.
The healthier beverage market is soaring despite the prevailing belief that ‘better-for-you’ products generally taste terrible. Consumers expect beverages to be made without the burden of fat, sugar and salt and are pressuring companies by making taste a non-negotiable element of their patronage. Consumer interest in natural and healthful is driving flavor demand – including demand for flavor and fragrance blends, essential oils and natural extracts, and aroma chemicals – and is forecast to increase 4.4 percent per annum to $26.5 billion in 2016, according to The Freedonia Group Inc, Cleveland, OH.
Bottlers use flavors to improve beverages made with less sugar because few people are willing to overlook bad taste and accept healthier products simply for health reasons. Sugar reduction in beverages is driven by the global concern about obesity, government programs and various weight-management initiatives, and the increased cost of commodity sweeteners. Erlanger, KY, based Wild Flavors Inc (www.wildflavors.com) offers Wild Sweetness Enhancer – flavor compounds to enhance the perception of sweetness in reduced-sugar beverages without adding to the cost of the finished product. Sensient Technologies Corp. (Hoffman Estates, IL, www.sensient-tech.com) has Black Grape, Cola, Red, Summer Fruits, Orange, Tropical, Lemon Lime and Green – to compensate for the sensory limitations of reduced sugar, to compensate for loss of mouthfeel and body in sugar-free formulations, and help mask undesirable aftertaste of stevia (rebaudioside A, or reb-A) and lo han guo (monk fruit).
Making drinks succeed
Flavors are the key to the success of functional beverages. Flavorchem (Downers Grove, IL, www.flavorchem.com) has a range of flavors for ‘better-for-you’ fortified beverages: to help mask the bitterness of added amino acids and proteins, malodors of added minerals, to off-set high-potency and also the fishiness of omega-3 fatty acids…so the finished product can taste great and ‘non-fortified’.
“Water is the best wetter on earth, but even water needs help from flavors and other compounds to speed up hydration,” says Brian Koff, cyclist and President, Zym (Chicago, IL, www.gozym.com). Athletes reach for products like Zym – a blend of electrolytes and B vitamins – to help fight fatigue, muscle burn and dehydration, but it is the flavor that keeps them returning for more. “Water can shut off thirst before an athlete can properly hydrate, but it is flavor that keeps them drinking until they are adequately hydrated.”
Botanical pairings such as hibiscus black tea, masala chai, and lemongrass tea along with green coffee from bold niche brands and regional tea and coffee houses are becoming the de facto standards of taste in the emerging trends in tea, coffee, and cocoa.
Flavors help compensate for the loss of flavor during the processing (pasteurization) and storage of fruit- and vegetable-based beverages and to adjust for seasonal and geographical crop-related flavor variance so people get the same delicious taste year in and year out.
Neurogastronomy shows flavor is perceived by the brain which determines the like or dislike of a particular beverage based on its flavor which is an amalgamation of taste, odor, touch and vision plus emotions and previous experiences. Understanding the effects of these interactions will be the key to designing healthful beverages that appeal to the finicky.
Howard Moskowitz, a psychophysicist (mind scientist), made a discovery that fundamentally changed how foods and beverages are designed today. His Mind Genomics – a systematic understanding of the pleasure points of target audiences – revealed no single product satisfies everyone, and giving people the average of all desires cannot capture the maximum number of consumers. Psychophysics – the science of needs / wants / communication of everyday life – helps create not one but multiple winners based on the different mind-sets. Moskowitz discovered “flavors,” although very important to people, are not always as appealing and convincing when they shop or eat. Individual differences, versus segmentation by age, gender, and even self-stated interest in a particular flavor(s), are why each flavor type has different groups of ‘likers and dis-likers,’ different mind-sets, each responsive to different kinds of messages. The mind-sets are not the same across any flavor and some mind-sets may be linked across people for certain flavors and not for others. The technique allows for the rapid identification of flavors that people want ‘practically and inexpensively’.
Flavors like cream marshmallow, apple-cinnamon, and colas do not exist in nature. They are created from extracts of apples, pears and vanilla, powerhouses of flavor molecules.
Anton Angelich, group vice president, marketing at Virginia Dare (New York City, www.virginiadare.com), explains the growing demand for flavors in recent years on “the introduction of new protein sources – pea, chickpea, rice, potato – is well beyond soy and requires flavors and technologies customized to the protein source and the application.”
Vanilla, not so boring anymore
Functional beverages are particularly helped by one flavor ingredient: vanilla. Vanilla can transform the everyday to indulgence. Historically used primarily as a background flavor in beverages like colas, root beers and chocolate milk, vanilla has emerged from the shadows and is often the featured marquee flavor characterizing functional beverages like vanilla soymilk, vanilla almond milk, and vanilla protein shakes.
But, formulators have to be even more careful today with the increasing cost of vanilla.
“Savvy consumers are demanding traceability, which is becoming just as important as availability or cost,” says Rick Brownell, vice president of vanilla products at Virginia Dare, known for its in-depth understanding of vanilla and commitment to fair trade vanilla. “Traceability and sustainability are increasingly a non-negotiable requirement for the flavor business and it is important to stay close to the supply chain, if not actually on the ground at source, to ensure implementation and authentication.”
Thirst-quenching, empty calories are passé in the beverage industry. Beverages are the nutrient delivery system of choice worldwide. Whether managing heart health, blood sugar, hypertension or weight, swapping flavor for salt, fat and sugar is a delicious and strategic path to better health without sacrificing pleasure. –KS