Flavor is the No. 1 reason consumers become repeat customers of foods and beverages. If  a product tastes good, consumers will buy again and again. Formulators rely on suppliers to help them with flavor profiles.

Dairy Foods talked to:
Philip Barone, director of flavor development, California Custom Fruits and Flavors
Danielle Durso, marketing coordinator, David Michael & Co.
Sanjay Gummalla, lead-dairy flavor development and applications, Cargill Flavor Systems
Bill Hayes, manager of dairy solutions, Sensient Flavors LLC
Paulette Kerner, director of marketing communications and research, Virginia Dare
Donna Klockeman, dairy food scientist, TIC Gums Inc.
Bob Sloane, president, Beck Flavors Inc.

Study after study, when all variables are considered, research shows that flavor is the number-one reason consumers become repeat customers of foods and beverages. In other words, if it tastes good, they will buy, and buy again.

Many of today’s foods and beverages - especially those targeting health and wellness - are quite complex due to either the addition or subtraction of ingredients. Formulators rely on suppliers to help them mask or modify objectionable flavor profiles.

Dairy Foods talked with seven ingredient suppliers to learn about the solutions they offer to help overcome flavor issues encountered in four different formulating situations: functional ingredient addition, lower fat, reduced calorie and sodium reduction. Here’s what they shared.

Functional Ingredient Addition

Hayes: Some functional ingredients can negatively impact flavor profiles of finished dairy products.  We have several tools to overcome the flavor issues commonly associated with such products.  First, some functional ingredients lend themselves to encapsulation with either a fat or protein coating and associated flavor system. This encapsulation can reduce or eliminate the release of off-flavor notes until the product has been consumed. Second, we have developed flavor modulators for use with specific off-flavors in specific applications, which allows dairy manufacturers to mask bitterness, protein, harshness, lingering, etc.

Sloane: We’ve found that dairies are investing in their ready-to-drink teas and incorporating natural extracts that provide function beyond caffeine. Natural extracts in teas allow dairies to be more creative in their tea products and labels. Following label regulations for dietary supplements, a tea may now claim to enhance cognitive and cardio functions. However, some of these extracts can contribute flavors that Americans do not associate with iced tea. Calming extract blends of chamomile, valerian root and others,  along with bitter maskers and flavorings, can create a product that goes beyond the normal tea and dairy markets. It’s important to identify the masking agents and flavorants that keep the flavor profile of natural functional extracts balanced in iced tea.  

Klockeman: Functional ingredients are finding their way into all types of food products. Many of these functional ingredients are oil based, such as conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3s, which poses challenges when fats may not be part of the original product formulation. The addition of emulsifiers helps ensure the stability of the nutritional oil to prevent oxidation, as oxidation contributes to undesirable off-flavors. We have discovered that hydrocolloid systems traditionally used in fat-containing foods can be used in these applications. Unlike many natural emulsifiers, there are no allergen labeling requirements for hydrocolloid emulsifiers. 

Barone: Impurities within stevia contribute off-flavors; so when we develop stevia-containing fruit systems for dairy products such as ice cream, smoothies and yogurt, we use only the most pure form of this natural sweetener. Our approach is to set the perfect level of sweetness, evaluate off-notes and then mask using the lowest level and most neutral type of flavor that positively contributes to the final profile. We have found success in applying masking flavors that possess long-chain fatty acids. Not only do these flavors mask, they also enhance mouthfeel, a desirable effect in dairy-based products where skim milk is used to achieve lower calories and fat.

Lower Fat

Hayes: When milkfat is reduced in a dairy product, often the milk-solids-nonfat are increased. Increasing milk solids, and particularly casein, can result in undesirable sensory characteristics such as astringency.  We find that a combination of flavor and flavor modulators will improve flavor characteristics.

Gummalla: Many consumers look for ways to reduce fat from their diet without sacrificing the flavor and mouthfeel that real dairy products deliver. Depending on the application, high-impact, natural dairy flavor ingredients can assist with reducing the fat level while maintaining the texture and authentic dairy profile.  

Klockeman: Fat is a multifaceted food ingredient that contributes to the texture and flavor of foods.  When lowering the fat content, the impact on these characteristics must be addressed. The addition of hydrocolloid systems provides a valuable tool to product formulators as mouthfeel impacts flavor perception. Depending upon the application, hydrocolloids can mellow objectionable flavors or enhance desirable flavors. As an added benefit, hydrocolloids provide additional nutritional value to the finished formulation through increased soluble dietary fiber content.  The addition of locust bean gum, alone or in combination with inulin, can be used to enhance the creamy mouthfeel associated with fat content in sauces, dressings and dairy products.

Sloane: Having worked with vanilla for more than 20 years, we’ve found that when a customer asks for a vanilla flavor they really mean they want vanilla ice cream flavor. This is the type of request that is especially true when flavoring yogurt. Using flavors that contain vanilla, fatty acids and lactone blends, we can provide creamy mouthfeel and ice cream-like flavor in low-fat yogurts without adding to the fat declaration on the product. This same approach can be applied to syrups and variegates to increase the buttery notes in caramels and add to the rich cocoa butter notes lacking in many cocoa replacers now used in chocolate milk.

Reduced Calorie

Kerner: Sweeteners in dairy foods and beverages is the big story: less sugar, less high-fructose corn syrup, more cane sugar, more natural sweeteners. Since stevia was approved this year as a natural sweetener, the food and beverage industry has taken great interest in testing its acceptance as a sweetener in new products. Consumer products companies have been rushing their product development efforts to be first in the market with stevia-sweetened products. In this speed-to-market race, taste has been a developmental challenge. The taste profile of stevia alone does not match that of sucrose, and this requires application-specific taste modification flavor systems (masking) that can close the taste gap between stevia and sucrose. The customization is especially important when functional ingredients are added to the product. Some require flavor modification, bitterness blocking and masking off notes.

Hayes: Whether dairy manufacturers are decreasing fat or sugar, or both, in order to lower calories, the flavor profile of the reduced version is invariably different from that of the original product. Added flavors can provide an effective means to compensate for the lost profile. Equally important is the ability to overcome off-flavors due to ingredients added back for bulking or sweetness. We find that a combination of flavor modulators, including sweetness enhancers, masking flavors and smoothing flavors, can deliver the desired flavor characteristics. Our ability to customize the combination of flavor modulators for a particular yogurt white mass sweetened with stevia enables us to overcome the challenging off-flavor characteristics of this natural high-intensity sweetener.  

Klockeman: Many food products are liquids (beverages) or contain liquid components (sauces, dressings). Important characteristics of liquid products are influenced by the total composition of the product. One of the largest challenges when reformulating to reduce calories is what to use to replace the removed ingredients in order to maintain the desired texture, functionality and processing performance. It’s important to understand that texture is a key part of flavor delivery. It’s best to first reformulate to the desired texture profile and then tweak the flavor profile. Hydrocolloid systems can assist. While potentially adding nutritional value by increasing soluble fiber, hydrocolloid systems can help maintain product functionality such as texture and mouthfeel and processing performance such as ingredient suspension and fluid characteristics.

Sodium Reduction

Durso: It is estimated that the average American consumes about 4,000 milligrams of sodium daily, but, according to the World Health Organization, a much healthier intake is less than half that amount. Responding to rising concerns and consumer requests, some food manufacturers have already begun reformulating existing lines with less salt. But, because salt adds and enhances the flavor of food, products with reduced salt can also lack a signature flavor. To address the need for sodium reduction without flavor reduction, we have created a line of natural salt flavors that allow up to a 30% reduction of sodium but deliver the same amount of flavor impact. They are also free of hydrolyzed vegetable protein and added monosodium glutamate. They come in powder form and can be used in any product that is formulated with salt. 

Sidebar: Try a Little Lemon
To help cut down on sodium consumption while still enhancing the flavor of food and beverages, Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., has launched S’alternative, a health initiative aimed at communicating the benefits of using fresh lemons as a natural alternative to salt. Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that the body needs replenished daily.

Could a little bit of lemon flavor allow for the reduction of sodium in dairy dips and cheese spreads?

“Absolutely, as a little bit of lemon flavor brightens the other flavors in the application, such as garlic or onion,” says Julie Snarski, manager, culinary & foodservice development, David Michael & Co., Philadelphia.

Bob Sloane, president, Beck Flavors Inc., Cincinnati, adds, “Many recipes on the Web are citing the benefits of reducing salt by adding lemon juice. The juice is used to move the sensory perceptions from a salty, savory profile to a lighter, citrus profile. The key here is flavor substitute rather than salt substitute.” Think lemon dill, citrus ranch or even tangy Buffalo sour cream dips. 

Sidebar: Adding Umami for Flavor Modification
While sensory scientists historically recognized only four basic tastes - bitter, salty, sour and sweet - Japanese culture has long held the notion of a fifth taste referred to as umami. Today, flavorists and food formulators acknowledge umami as the taste sensation that “rounds out” or “completes” other flavors in a system.

Umami is best described as a pleasant savory taste imparted by the amino acid glutamate, and a number of ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in an array of foods including meat, fish, select vegetables and certain cheeses, such as Parmesan.  The taste of umami is very subtle, with most people unable to recognize umami when they encounter it.

It’s the chemistry of umami that supports monosodium glutamate’s (MSG) use as a flavor enhancer. Hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (HVP) are also established umami providers. The free glutamic acid present in HVP can join with free sodium in processed foods to form MSG. Formulators seeking clean ingredient labels shy away from these ingredients, as MSG (sold in ingredient form) is not considered natural, and consumption is associated with a wide range of ailments, most notably headaches.

Thus, formulators looking for umami are turning to natural food ingredients and flavors ranging from soy sauce to vegetable extracts to cheese flavors. For example, soy sauce, a highly regarded condiment in Asian cuisine, can be added to onion dip at levels below the flavor threshold and provide the dip with extra kick and deliciousness. A new mushroom extract ingredient for enhancing umami can reduce sodium levels in dairy-based dressings and cheese sauces. It is made from champignon mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) extract - also known as the common or button mushroom - mixed with palm oil and spray dried onto a maltodextrin carrier.

Now that umami is recognized by most authorities as the fifth basic taste, the Japanese concept of kokumi has started to emerge. Kokumi is a sensation that consists of a good initial flavor punch, a well-balanced profile, rich mouthfeel and a mature, long-lasting taste perception. It cannot be explained by the five basic taste components and is associated with compounds produced by fermentation, such as amino acids and peptides. Some suppliers are offering yeast extracts that provide kokumi and they have identified modified-sodium cheeses as an ideal application.