With the average American consuming three times the daily recommend amount of sugar and obesity reaching epidemic proportions, the food industry is frantically trying to develop healthier products. However, taking sugar out of foods is not as simple as it sounds as it provides a critical role in product development due to flavor defects.
Product formulators are tasked with creating great tasting products that can be enjoyed by the masses. The challenge is that many natural ingredients have flavor defects such as bitterness, astringency and sourness which are off-putting to consumers. Their efforts become particularly challenging when developing products that are also, non-GMO, chemical-free and organic. To combat flavor defects, food manufacturers have adopted a practice known as masking, which is capable of hiding the unwanted tastes. Flavor masking works by over satiating taste receptors to the point of not being able to detect flavor. Vanillin and aroma chemicals are common masking agents but the most popular is sugar. Sugar is highly effective, inexpensive and provides structure to foods that few ingredients can; however, its health implications and the changing consumer landscape poses a challenge for its use in future product formulations.
But the challenges continue:
Although more than 51% say they want less sugar in their foods, taste is the most important factor in product acceptance and consumers are unwilling to compromise. Over the past several years, food manufacturers have been looking for solutions that are capable of providing full flavor without the added calories; however, finding effective sugar replacements that align with consumer trends has posed challenging.
One of the first solutions to solve flavor defects without the use of sugar was artificial sweeteners. These substances were created to have zero calories while mimicking the taste of sugar. It was promoted as the perfect solution for the obesity epidemic. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that researchers found a link between the use of artificial sweeteners and bladder cancer. Soon after, researchers also implicated aspartame (a popular artificial sweeter) in causing a variety of tumors. In 2008 research showed that consumption of artificially sweetened beverages is associated with increased risk of diabetes.
Because of the controversies surrounding artificial sweeteners, scientists today are in constant search for healthier alternatives, especially from natural sources. Stevia is one of the most popular natural sweetener alternatives available on the market. Derived from a plant, this natural sweetener is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar with zero calories. The challenge with Stevia is its bitter metallic aftertaste. Several companies are looking for a solution to the aftertaste issues of stevia.
Monk Fruit is another popular natural sweetener alternative. Monk fruit was GRAS approved in early 2010 and has seen traction in several different categories. However, monk fruit’s high price point and unique aftertaste has limited its potential. Typically, monk fruit has been used in conjunction with stevia to increase overall sweetness with less flavor defects.
Artificial Bitter Blockers
Flavoring companies have also tried to address bitterness by developing synthetic bitter blocking compounds. They work by blocking a bitter taste from binding with a taste receptor site; without the binding, the bitter taste is not perceived. Historically, chemical blockers have had varying degrees of success at mitigating bitter tastes, usually with limited applications and parameters. Artificial bitter blockers have also had challenges with the evolving consumer landscape who are looking for more natural ingredients.
Organic Bitter Blockers
Till recently there have been no known organic bitter blockers available on the market. It wasn’t until mid 2014 that MycoTechnology discovered the first of its kind. The certified USDA organic blocker is derived from a mushroom extract and used as a processing aid to effectively modulate a wide variety of substrates. MycoTechnology recently struck a deal with several major sweetener manufacturers to improve the flavor defects of stevia and monk fruit, however, it can be used in a broad range of applications.