Taste Test

In this era of label transparency, forward-thinking manufacturers are changing ingredients for their processed foods. Dr. Kantha Shelke discusses recipe options.

Dr. Kantha Shelke
Taste Test
January 2018

Understanding the science of food and the underlying mechanism of taste can help elevate flavors and enjoyment without denting quality, profit margins, or the growing demand for clean labels. This is particularly true as private label works to match or exceed national brands.
The trend towards shorter ingredient lists with alternatives that appeal to consumers is phasing out artificial flavors including monosodium glutamate (MSG) and adenosine monophosphate (nucleotide). Despite years of use, today they sound unfriendly, unpronounceable, and artificial. Natural flavors may seem like the logical solution, but not many are commercially viable because they’re complex and lack the consistency and stability of their synthetic counterparts.
So what can private label manufacturers to do? There are several options available that help satisfy consumers’ desires for more transparent labels, while still protecting product integrity. Let’s look at a few.
Yeast fermentation offers sustainably produced flavor and taste enhancement without extensive use of agricultural areas or harsh chemical reactors. The FDA allows yeast extracts to be labeled simply as “natural flavors”. Consumers like that.
Intensely flavored yeast extract can help reduce salt in chips, crackers, soups, sauces, and seasonings for snacks and meats, and also help enhance the sixth flavor “kokumi” or deliciousness without MSG. Yeast extracts can also enhance sweetness of beverages, especially those enriched with protein.
Proteins have proliferated into practically every food category with claims for satiety, energy, and bone health, but with a cardboard-like texture often laced with bitter notes and lingering astringency. Complex flavor compounds like vanillin, from vanilla, benzaldehyde from almonds and cherries, cinnamaldehyde from cinnamon, and smoke can improve the taste of every type of protein isolate and concentrate from milk, soy, or egg, and even mask beany off-notes of proteins from soy and pulses. Lighter flavors such as strawberry, mint, and citrus can help liven up gluten-free products.
If sodium count is an issue, wine reductions added at the end of the assembly / layering process can fool the brain into believing these vegetables to be mildly sweet and cheaper cuts of meat to be more tender and eliminating the need for additional salt.
Acids adds tartness and acidity is important for safety. Selecting the right acid for honey/mustard sauces, "sweet and sour" dressings, tomato and teriyaki sauces requires art and science. Passion fruit, acerola, tamarind, or citrus offer exotic tastes and are safe.
Astringency is similar to bitterness but also dries the mouth. Soymilk and wine often become more astringent with repeated sips. Sweeteners do not help. Bitterness and astringency often occur together in blue cheese, tea and beer, dark chocolate, grilled meats and even caramel. Salts and sour acids help cut both astringency and bitterness. Hence the popularity of salted caramels, salted chocolates, and lime/lemon in beer.
“A spoonful of sugar would make the medicine go down” but the “added sugar” may be eliminated entirely with natural sugar alternatives such as stevia, monkfruit, and licorice root extracts.
Historically, taste and aroma helped humans survive by distinguishing nutritious foods from harmful. Taste and aroma continues to influence choice and purchase decisions.  Used strategically, flavors and aroma can attract consumers and keep them returning for more.
For PLMA Live, I’m Dr. Kantha Shelke.
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