Flavours feature

Saving the flavour: Achieving great taste in the wake of non-HFSS push

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

The push of non-HFSS foods has changed the course of flavour innovation
The push of non-HFSS foods has changed the course of flavour innovation

Related tags Flavours Npd

As the Government push for non-HFSS products and the consumer demand for healthier lifestyles in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic brings new challenges for food manufacturers, how can they meet these demands while offering products that still have a great taste and flavour?

Whatever the category, from snacks to bakery, reformulation is a difficult and expensive task. 

Combined with these challenges is the current supply issues including raw materials, the push for sustainability and price increases.  

Farrah Gilsenan, strategic marketing director of taste at Kerry, warns that the new legislation, which will come into effect in the UK in October 2023, will see the reformulation of many existing products and ranges that contain high fat, salt, sugar and calorie content or there will be innovation to look for healthier line extensions to regain lost volumes.  

She admits that any reformulation has an impact on the flavour of the product, so “innovative approaches”​ are needed.  

“Reformulation isn’t an easy task. Taking sodium reduction as an example, the manufacturer needs to reformulate by stealth and also look for proactive platforms for innovation. When sodium is removed it has a massive effect on the profile of the product,” ​says Gilsenan.  

“As no single component of the recipe exists in isolation it is important to consider the snack as a whole. It is not enough to simply remove the sodium – a holistic approach is needed when redeveloping the snack products.”  

As consumers are demanding healthier products, with more sustainable ingredients and the same taste there is further innovation taking place in the market.  

“There are lots of novel flavours and we see cross-category inspiration which is leading to new product and revitalising categories,”​ she says.  

Complex approach

Dawn Foods Coffee Cupcakes JPEG

Helen Hook, sugar reduction & specialty sweeteners platform leader, EMEA at Ingredion agrees that reformulating with lower levels of sugar and salt is a complex approach, especially as these ingredients are used in higher amounts for texture, taste and stability purposes.  

“Sugar and salt are key drivers for taste perception and hence, a reduction usually lowers the flavour profile significantly,” ​she says.  

“At the same time, the perception of unpleasant flavour attributes might be increased so that the recovery of the original flavour profile is challenging. Stevia-based flavours with modifying properties can help to build back the desired taste profile,”  

But by reducing fat, not only are the texture and mouth-feel of the products changed but also, the flavour or taste release – as fat is a flavour or taste carrier, she says.   

“Here a balancing act of texture, flavour and nutrition can be quite a challenge,”​ Hook reveals.   

“This can be solved through formulation expertise by combining low caloric bulking agents, starches or gums, flavour and taste modulators.”  

Hook argues that using boosters or maskers (flavour with modifying property), the flavour of a reformulated product may be altered to retain a similar sensory profile of the former formulation.  

“The final sensory profile relies not only on the ingredients used, but often similarly on the manufacturing process,”​ Hook argues.  

“At Ingredion we are building a solid database of established interactions between tonal flavours and taste modifiers. This enables us to help customers and partners to optimise cost by allowing a planned utilisation of those synergies in the product development process.”  

As for the trends moving forward Ingredion predicts more sustainable flavours as well as the use of botanicals and superfood ingredients. Exotic and world tastes have been identified as key drivers for Gen Z consumers when considering food and flavours with Asian, European and Latin American being the most influential cuisines. 

Powerful flavours

Synergy Flavours agrees that more powerful flavours are driving demand for increased innovation.  This is due in part to consumers who have lost their taste and smell due to long Covid demanding more intense flavours. Younger generations are calling out for new products with flavours such as sour, bitter, hot, and spicy varieties.  

Natalie Sheil, European category manager at Synergy Flavours, says that food manufacturers need to consider the full taste experience, not just flavour delivery but also tackling sweetness, creaminess and textural mouthfeel challenges when reformulating or creating new products.  

“This means that manufacturers looking to succeed in this space must take a holistic approach creating HFSS-compliant products. Does the flavour provide a real impact? Does the product still feel like an indulgent treat? Does the product have the same visual appeal?” ​Sheil says.  

Innovation in flavour research

Dawn Foods Chocolate Cookies with Spices

Aromyx, has developed a biological platform that quantitatively and reproducibly measures taste and smell. 

The company is working with food manufacturers to do everything from detecting how fruity flavoured ingredients change smells and how to reduce sugar using AI and sensing technologies.  

“We create quantitative measurements of taste and flavour. When you want to measure how something tastes then the standard today is you go and ask someone. You put 10 people in a room and you ask them ‘what do you think this tastes like?’ and you try to average the results together,​” says Josh Silverman, ceo of Aromyx.  

“We use the biotechnology approach. These are collections of chemicals that are reacting with a set of receptors in the tongue that then sends signals to your brain.” 

Aromyx clones those particular receptors using synthetic DNA and synthesises the genes.  

We express protein and measure the response of each of those receptors individually in the lab. We know what receptors would have triggered in your nose,”​ he says.  

“Having that knowledge of which receptors are firing and how much is n map of how a person would be experiencing that. At its core is data that has been very hard to get through other means.” 

She suggests that food manufacturers should look at incorporating flavour solutions that can help to bridge the gap between HFSS ingredients and non-HFSS products.  

Shiel highlights the example of beverage manufacturers whose key considerations would be improving sweetness in products where the sugar intake must be reduced. While natural sweeteners such as stevia can help to increase sweetness, they can also change the type of sweetness and add some undesirable notes.  The solution could be to add sweetness modulators, that can work alongside sugar or sweeteners to help manufacturers reach sugar reduction targets without compromising taste.  

“Using flavours that have been developed with these challenges in mind can help to harmonise some of these notes and deliver on the taste experience that consumers expect,​” she adds.  

EHL Ingredients has seen a growth in popularity of world foods as consumers are happy to be experimental in trying new foods and seeking out exotic cuisines. Currently, the most popular herb and spice blends include sriracha, harissa, dukkah, za’atar, baharat, ghormeh sabzi, as well as taco spice mixes, BBQ blends and curry powders.  

Popular spice blends

It recently launched five new African-inspired spice blends with two seasonings from Ethiopia – Mimita and Mekelesha – Moroccan La Kama, Tabil from Tunisia and Algeria, and a Nigerian jollof rice seasoning in response to these demands.  

“There are ingredients within the food industry that can be added to help with the reduction of salt, sugar and fat, such as fat replacers and natural sweeteners. In savoury foods, the inclusion of onion, garlic, tomato provides a good savoury base that can help boost the flavour of other ingredients such as herbs and spices,”​ says Kath Davies, NPD manager at EHL Ingredients.  

“A significant number of new blends are developed with reduced or no salt/sugar as this gives our customers the option of adding/not adding salt/sugar to their products. Increasing the flavour profiles of our blends helps to boost flavour impact where reduction of salt and sugar has taken place.”  

Davies adds that consumers are also enjoying Levantine foods which use chick peas, seeds, nuts, beans, pulses - and spice blends such as baharat, za’atar, sumac and Bata harra.  

Gouri Kubair, managing director of Holy Lama Spice Drops, agrees that spices and herbs are an option for non-HFSS foods.  

“Reformulating food products by adding textures and adding spice and herbs to add depth to the flavours is key. We have already started looking for inspiration beyond Europe by adopting flavours like Miso or tangy flavours like yuzu to give both depth and flavour to formulas,” ​he says. 

Meanwhile, Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager UK and Ireland at Dawn Foods, says that sweet bakery manufacturers have some unique challenges.  

“Reducing fat, salt and sugar in sweet bakery to be non-HFSS compliant can have a huge impact on both flavour and texture, which are the two key elements that consumers are looking for in this type of product,”​ says Passmore.   

“As a result, it can be a real challenge for sweet bakery manufacturers to deliver appealing flavours, textures and mouthfeel. Many flavours require the presence of fat and/or sugar for the palate to properly recognise them. For example, the sugar in traditional cookie and biscuit recipes helps to deliver that crunch/ bite which is achieved in the baking process. Reducing or taking it away can have a detrimental effect on the finished product.”  

She says that there are a variety of new flavours exploding in the bakery sector particularly using fruit-based flavours which provide a natural alternative to processed sugars and are perceived to be healthier by the consumer. Recent examples include caramel with date, peach with thyme, and apricot with rose.  

“Much as nostalgia is on-trend, new flavours, particularly those with an Asian influence and spices used traditionally in savoury products, are emerging in sweet bakery. New flavour influences include calamansi (citrus), kumquat and Japanese ones, such as yuzu and Sakura (cherry blossom). We are seeing big and bold fruit and spice combinations used in patisserie such as a Chilli Raspberry Paris Brest or Cardamon Madeleines, for example,” ​she adds.   

“More delicate flavours, but still with an Eastern influence, include tea infusions, such as Butterfly Pea Tea to bring a delicate flavour to patisserie creams and desserts.” 

Ukraine and supply chain

shopper ukraine flag
Raw material costs have skyrocketed in the wake of the war in Ukraine

While the food manufacturing industry is working towards non-HFSS ingredients and new flavours there is the ongoing challenge of the supply chain and the impact of the Ukraine war. 

Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager UK and Ireland at Dawn Foods says that the supply issues owing to global problems including the war in Ukraine are one of the biggest challenges food manufacturers.  

“This issue is affecting a variety of ingredients and resources. Costs of raw materials are continuing to skyrocket and as a result, cost engineering will play an important role for manufacturers to help minimise the impact on retailers and consumers,” ​she says. 

This is a view supported by Farrah Gilsenan, strategic marketing director of Taste at Kerry who says that companies need to be “agile” in their approach on sourcing raw materials without comprising on sustainability, quality and supply.  

“Secondary sources for materials and increasing stock holds are ways in which companies such as Kerry can ensure their supply is consistent and can provide customers with the high quality and consistent products required,​” she says.    

Meanwhile Kath Davies, NPD manager at EHL Ingredients says: “Supply chains have been put under extreme strain to try and keep up with demand on many ingredients which supply flavour to our foods. It is a challenging time to ensure all our customers get the ingredients to support their businesses.” 

Related topics NPD Bakery Confectionery

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