The role of flavours in modern food production is critical. From intensifying flavour impact in heavily processed foods, to masking off-notes of healthy ingredients, extending the use of scarce natural ingredients and transporting consumers to the far reaches of the world, food would be a lot less interesting without flavours.
Today, Britain is a melting pot of cultures and the global view of British food being bland is a thing of the past, but it wasn’t always so exciting.
Two world wars subjected Brits to an intense period of rationing, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the country got back on its feet. Increasing numbers of Brits were taking holidays abroad, so there was much more experimentation in the kitchen, aided by the mainstream introduction of the fridge.
The latter years of the 20th century to the current day have continued to see an explosion of flavour in food.
Our penchant for Indian, Chinese and Italian foods, once a novelty, has developed into a desire for even more exciting cuisines, such as Korean and even Afghan – currently the fastest growing restaurant cuisine in the UK, experiencing growth of 170% in five years.
The industry has seen a lot of change under EU guidelines, with homogeneity of its legislation, most notably the Food Standards Act (1999) and Flavourings in Food (England) Regulations (2010), ensuring safety and consistency across the board, as well as the enforcement of strict regulatory and labelling requirements.
Demand on the industry
Consumers today place a massive demand on the industry for lower salt, sugar and fat products, meaning that innovation has, therefore, shifted towards enhancing flavour attributes associated with the so-called ‘baddies’, or replacing them.
For example, the identification and synthesis of delta-lactones revolutionised the creation of dairy flavours, particularly for butter substitutes and extenders, like margarine and low-fat spreads.
Because of this demand for innovation, flavour houses have played a big role in new product development and applications support in the food industry, moving from merely supplying flavours, to helping develop recipes and delivering solutions that take into account marketing, sensory and flavour demands.
Cooking techniques and flavour trends born in the UK’s best restaurants provide strong inspiration for food and flavour manufacturers hoping to tap into the next big thing.
Popular cooking styles such as sous vide or slow cooked, aged or marinated can capture the imagination of ‘foody’ consumers looking for convenient indulgence.
Flavour experts can help food manufacturers in the daunting task of recreating restaurant-style tastes and textures on their industrial processing lines.
Flavours and functional ingredients
Technologies such as mass spectrometers are used to analyse the individual flavour components of a food, to enable flavourists to understand what profiles contribute to a certain dish or cooking technique, so they can be replicated using flavours and functional ingredients
So, how is the flavour industry likely to evolve over the next 100 years? In my view, the immediate challenge for our industry – and most others – is Brexit, which is, effectively, reversing 40 years of our history.
We don’t know what the UK will look like outside of the EU, nor how it’ll fit with a highly regulated, multinational industry like ours.
It took 15 years to arrive at the EU standard regulation set by EC1334/08 – our bible. If we end up with more regulation added specifically for the UK, when almost all of our members are working without borders, the added complication could negatively impact our businesses and disadvantage us against our European competitors.
We’ve also got to consider the rising global population, which is placing a huge amount of pressure on global supply chains.
As an industry, we are playing a key role in maximising available resources, but the real battle is with consumers in western Europe, who are reluctant to accept simple food science, rejecting the truth that all food is, in fact, chemistry.
As an industry, we must continue to innovate to bring natural solutions to market more effectively in order to bridge that gap.
Steve Morgan is chairman of the UK Flavour Association, which this year celebrates its centenary. Visit the organisations website for more information.
Key milestones 1971–1980
- Plastic drinks bottles, plastic milk bottles
- Frozen ready meals
- Limited range of chilled foods
- Date marking a legal requirement
- 21% of household income spent on food and drink
- Standalone freezers in homes about 50% ownership