Using Taste Modification Technology to Enhance the Overall Taste ExperienceAugust 9, 2019
By Jason Mittelheuser, Technical Business Development
Consumers, more than ever before, seek foods and beverages that provide functional benefits for health and wellness or active lifestyles. To that end, these products may require the addition of various types of functional ingredients and sweeteners, many of which impart inherent off-note tastes. Just the removal or reduction of certain components or ingredients, in order to meet a consumer need, can cause off-notes or an unbalanced taste. Product developers deserve to be armed with the knowledge of flavor and taste perception, and its correlation to sensory inputs. Our goal? Equip and assist developers in tackling taste challenges to ultimately deliver great tasting products that consumers will want to consume over and over again! There are many facets of taste modification— let's talk about solutions that “mask” or “block” off-notes.
Taste is the sense by which the chemical qualities of food in the mouth are distinguished by the brain, based on information provided by the taste buds. Taste can be divided into five basic categories: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. However, it’s important to understand that taste perception, the overall taste experience, is not limited to these five sensations, but also includes smell, chemosthesis, and tactile sensations.
Smell contributes to about 80% of flavor perception via ortho or retro-nasal detection, and along with taste, is connected to the part of the brain that is linked to emotion and memory. According to Mark Friedman of Monell Chemical Senses Center, “Chemosthesis is a skin sense that mediates warmth, itching, stinging, burning – the same sense that makes your eyes water when you smell ammonia, or a hot pepper, or you taste champagne and experience the tingle, which isn’t the bubbles but rather the carbonic acid.” Tactile sensations involve astringency, pressing, and mouthfeel responsiveness.
From birth, humans are hardwired for different taste attributes, and everyone tastes things differently. “Humans can’t change their genes, so some food likes or dislikes may be difficult to alter drastically .” Through experience and exposure, however, one can develop a diverse library of likes and dislikes, and a dislike can change to a like. Beer, for example, might be difficult to consume initially due to the bitterness that is associated with it. The more that is consumed over time can alter one’s perception and can make a negative hedonic into a positive one. It is this complexity of taste perception that makes today’s healthy and functional foods and beverages a challenge for product developers. But it is this very knowledge and understanding of taste perception that also makes it possible to identify and utilize tools and approaches to mitigate off-notes and impart the positive sensorial attributes that consumers expect.
Taste Modification in Practice
Off-notes in functional and health-and-wellness beverages are a major concern in the industry due to negative impact on hedonics. This has become an even bigger problem within the last few years due to the demand for healthier beverages. Reduced sugar, fat, and sodium for health benefits can heighten sourness, bitterness, or astringency. High-intensity sweeteners (HIS) can exhibit astringent, metallic, bitter, or different time-intensity profiles in comparison to the gold-standard sugar. Compounds like polyphenols, proteins, phytoserols, vitamins, minerals, omega-3, herbs and other ingredients used to fortify functional beverages can impart bitterness and other taste challenges that could decrease consumer acceptance.
Taste modification can be approached in different ways, but is divided into the two categories of masking and blocking. “Masking” relates to psychochemicals, which involves the use of components to trick the brain. This is done by introducing ingredients that will illicit a positive hedonic response. (Examples of positive responses are sweet, salty or umami.) “Masking” can be further broken down into four groups: strong tastants, congruent flavors, phantom aromas, and chemesthetic sensations. “Blocking”, on the other hand, relates to chemical processes, wherein molecules are used to either bind to a taste receptor site or to the active of interest so that it can be perceived by one’s tongue. “Blocking” can be broken down into two groups: physical barriers and scavengers or complexing agents. Each of these techniques is unique since each interacts with one’s mouth differently on a molecular level.
The solutions to mitigate these off-notes can be challenging due to the multifaceted mixture of taste sensations that we perceive. The first step in taste modification requires an understanding of which taste parameter needs to be suppressed or modified. There are some questions that product developers should ask:
- How do certain components taste on their own as well as in the finished product?
- Does a particular component that is being used in the food or beverage, such as a fruit or vegetable juice give an off-note such as earthy or astringent?
- Where in the taste profile are these descriptors noticeable? (based on time-intensity scale)
- How are added ingredients affecting the overall taste experience? For example, sweeteners, acids or flavors.
Second, it is very important for the product developer to understand that suppression or modification of the targeted taste mode can cause suppression or modification of other taste modalities, including perception of sweetness and acid, as well as the masking or changing of the flavor profile. Therefore, a rebalancing of the entire food or beverage system is usually necessary. Research has shown that it is impossible to use one complete technology to suppress or modify a given off-note, because all components of a food or beverage system can influence the perception of taste, and small variations in these components can present a different taste challenge that needs to be overcome. From one functional active to another, one food or beverage application to another, and even across like applications, a customizable approach is required.
Taste modification is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. Product developers today have access to many tools that can tackle unique off-notes of particular ingredients that may interfere with the consumer’s overall taste expectation. Solving these taste challenges give consumers the opportunity to have many options that fill their need for great taste and healthier, active lifestyles.
When dealing with difficult ingredients like protein or actives, your flavor supplier is likely balancing their technological options. For another recent post regarding taste modification, click here. Reach out at www.fona.com/chat or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to hear more.
Jason works within FONA's beverage team as Technical Business Development, where he focuses on delivering business growth and technical results for customers. He started at FONA in 2009 and has a bachelor's degree in chemistry/bio-chemistry from Northern Illinois University. Jason is a regular presenter at Flavor University, where he helps food professionals from all walks understand the science behind their flavor.
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- Gleason-Allured, J. (2009). Taste, Aroma, and the Brain. Perfumer & Flavorist, 44-48.
- Ley, J. P. (2008). Masking Bitter Taste by Molecules. Chemosensory Perception, 58-77.