Taste modulation, flavor enhancement, protein masking, bitterness blocking.

As the demand for healthy, fortified food and beverage products continues to grow, so does the demand for customized flavor systems that address today’s formulation challenges. In this Q&A session, Darleen Shaffery, Senior Flavor Chemist, explains Target Flavors’ approach to flavor masking.

What is Target’s approach to flavor masking? E.g., does the product developer need to send a base? Does it always require a custom solution or does Target offer more general masking agents for plant proteins, stevia, etc.?

“The wealth of products containing benefits for health and wellness currently flooding the marketplace pose a unique challenge for flavorists and product developers. These products may contain high levels of protein, vitamins, minerals, botanicals, caffeine, high intensity sweeteners and many other ingredients. Most of these ingredients possess unpleasant organoleptic attributes. We often deal with products that are bitter, astringent, metallic, vegetative, and have an altered sweetness profile. Our goal is to present a flavor system with non-characterizing components that will mask the off notes of a product while maintaining the integrity of the characterizing flavor within the finished product.”

“Target flavors offers a standard selection of masking flavors that alleviate off-notes present in a multitude of products. Our current offerings include protein, bitter, linger, acid, preservative, and vitamin masking flavors. Although we have a standard line of options, it is always optimal to work with the customer’s base. The ideal situation involves a partnership between Target and the client’s product development team to design a system that will address all the issues present in the customer’s base. An example might be a high protein beverage fortified with vitamins and containing a high intensity sweetener. We would need to combine the tools that mask the flavor and astringency of the protein, cover the bitterness of the vitamins and alter the sweetness profile of the high intensity sweetener. One option would be to sample four maskers to address each individual issue. A better option is to provide a base so that we can develop a single masking system to address all areas of concern within the base.”

Is flavor masking always base specific?

“When addressing a single issue, it is possible to apply a standard masking flavor to the base. For example, if you are developing a high protein pea protein beverage, a pea protein masking flavor will likely improve your product. In a situation containing multiple health benefits, it is better to design a single solution around the base to address all the issues within the product.”

What’s the difference between flavor masking and flavor blocking?

“Flavor masking involves the use of ingredients that complement or cover the taste profile of a food or beverage. Flavor blocking occurs at the taste receptor level where the ingredient engages with the taste buds so that unpleasant tastes are not expressed.”

Are there other *magic* ingredients besides ethyl cellulose that are important in developing masking agents?

“A masking flavor generally contains multiple ingredients. We have not developed any systems that contain a single “magic” ingredient. Target uses blends of FEMA approved ingredients to develop the flavors in our masking portfolio. We might use one blend for protein masking and a completely different blend to address stevia linger. Certain ingredients work synergistically in a finished product to cover the unpleasant flavors and allow the positive attributes of a food or beverage to be expressed.”