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Flavor Masking Challenges and How to Solve Them

The snack food market continues to grow as food and beverage manufacturers work to bring products to market that snacking consumers really want. Good flavor tops the list of desired characteristics for snack food aficionados

When choosing a snack, two out of three U.S. consumers say flavor is the most important attribute, according to Mintel.1 But functional snacks in the sports nutrition category face unique flavor challenges due to the off-notes inherent in many of their ingredients. Learn about the most common challenges in flavor masking and Glanbia’s insider tips on how to solve them.

The Top Flavor Masking Challenges

Products particularly affected by ingredient off-notes that require flavor masking include sports nutrition and energy products, such as fortified bars, powdered drink mixes, and ready-to-drink beverages. Some of the most troublesome ingredients, in terms of the unwanted flavors they can bring, are:

  • Plant-based proteins
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Amino acids
  • Caffeine 
  • High-intensity sweeteners

The rise of the flexitarian consumer and the growing interest in protein diversity has driven an increase in the use of plant-based proteins like pea and soy, which can impart green and beany flavors. Plant-based proteins can be especially challenging when used to replace dairy proteins. Dairy proteins (such as whey) not only have a familiar, pleasant flavor, but they also go well with vanilla and chocolate, two popular product flavors.

drinks

Another flavor masking challenge has come about from the increased use of newer high-intensity, natural sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit, which come with their own off-notes. These sweeteners have been embraced by consumers and manufacturers as a way to meet the need for low sugar, naturally sweetened nutrition products. 

Furthermore, amino acids common in sports nutrition products are known for their bitter taste, as is caffeine, which is a must-have for energy drinks. Vitamin-mineral blends, which are present in both types of products, are often characterized by metallic, astringent, and bitter off-notes.

There’s no flavor challenge that can’t be overcome.

Jody Emmel, Director of Flavor R&D at Glanbia Nutritionals

3 Key Steps in the Flavor Masking Process

The masking process can be thought of in terms of three key steps, which are:

  1. Creating the base
  2. Neutralizing the base
  3. Flavoring the base

In creating the base, the developer must determine how best to achieve the product’s targets (e.g., 10 grams of protein and 100% DV of vitamin B12). While this is the step where ingredients with off-notes may be introduced, it’s also an opportunity to minimize their impact—for example, by choosing milder-tasting or microencapsulated versions of the required ingredients. Next, any off-notes in the base are neutralized, and finally, the desired flavor is added to the base.

Insider Tips on Neutralizing Off-Flavors

Neutralizing the base is essential to creating nutritious functional products that are also delicious. Glanbia Nutritionals’ Director of Flavor R&D, Jody Emmel, offers insight into this critical step. After tasting the base and identifying any off-notes, he will often reach for one of the other basic tastes as the first step in neutralizing the base. For example, if the base has a bitter note, then he may add a touch of salt or sweetness to round out the bitter note. Afterward, he’ll add the appropriate masking flavor.

Emmel has on hand flavor maskers to cover the basics, such as bitterness, astringency, and acid, as well as flavor maskers formulated to work on specific ingredients, like stevia and marine oil. Whether customers ask his team to develop their base from start to finish or to mask and flavor their own base, he knows his team has the experience and tools to succeed. “We’re confident we can get a great-tasting finished product for our customers,” said Emmel. 

Flavor Masking Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

Although highly specific flavor maskers are available, it’s important to remember that each product formulation is unique. Factors such as the amount of protein and the particular ingredients used (especially considering ingredients can interact with each other) can dictate different flavor masking solutions even when formulations may seem similar. Glanbia provides custom flavor masking solutions to ensure nutrition products have the highest quality flavor possible.

Nutritious and Delicious

Nutritious ingredients, such as proteins and vitamins, can be especially difficult to flavor due to their strong inherent flavors. Our team is experienced in handling the challenges of masking and flavoring nutritional ingredients in bars, protein beverages, and powdered drink mixes. Glanbia Nutritionals MaskWell Masking Solutions are designed to mask vitamins, minerals, proteins, plant-based ingredients, and more.

Call to learn how MaskWell Masking Solutions can make your nutrition products as delicious as they can be.


References

1. Mintel. (2019). Snacking Motivations and Attitudes – US.

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