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Use of flavours for enhancing taste in foods
Wednesday, 13 October, 2021, 13 : 00 PM [IST]
Karan Chechi
Flavours are substances that are added to food in order to enhance its taste. They are usually represented by spices, herbs and other flavour components. They are made up by combining dozens or sometimes even hundreds of chemicals interacting to give each food and beverage a unique taste profile. Flavouring agents include antioxidants, emulsifying and stabilising agents, and food preservatives.

Flavours are mainly used as additives to improve, alter, and enhance the flavour and scent of natural foods that may have been lost owing to food processing. Other reasons for adding flavours to food are to compensate for seasonal availabilities of natural flavouring ingredients or components, to provide flavour varieties available when the natural product is hazardous, to hide or cover up unfavourable taste characteristics of the product, to enhance or alter an existing taste profile, and so on.

Moreover, flavours play a technical purpose in food by providing organoleptic properties, which gives consumers a unique taste of every food product. As a result, according to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) laws, flavours fall within the category of food additives. Food additives are chemicals that are not typically ingested as food but are added to food for a technical (or organoleptic) reason.

Flavours, both those found naturally in food and those added artificially, are made up of tiny chemical compounds or combinations of chemicals. However, the natural sources of flavouring chemicals abound in nature, allowing for an endless variety of food flavours. Herbs and spices, as well as aromatic extracts and oils, have been used to enhance the flavour of dishes since ancient times in Egypt. Modern flavourings give a broader sensory experience for the customer, with the added benefits of flavour consistency and increased consumer safety.

Natural flavourings, artificial flavourings, and nature-identical flavourings are the three types of flavours that are often used in food products. Plants, herbs and spices, animal sources, and microbial fermentation are used to extract natural flavouring compounds. Herbs, spices as well as essential oils and oleoresins produced through solvent extraction with the solvent removed, are all considered natural flavourings.

Natural flavourings can be consumed in their unprocessed form or their processed form. They offer several benefits, including the ability to extract these flavours at a low temperature, leaving temperature sensitive and volatile components unaffected. Artificial flavours are chemical combinations of synthetic flavours that taste and smell like natural flavours. Artificial flavours have been used in food and beverage production for decades, and they have certain advantages such as, allowing those with food sensitivities to safely eat flavours they would not be able to eat otherwise.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), broadly defines natural flavours as any taste derived from natural sources such as plant material (fruits, herbs, roots), or animal products (dairy, meat). It further states that the natural flavours are generated from oleoresins, essential oils, essences/extractives, protein hydrolysates, distillates, or products of roasting, heating, or enzymolysis that include taste derived from the sources indicated above and artificial flavours as any tastes that are not classified as natural, even though they have the same chemical composition as of the flavours extracted from nature.  

The FSSAI has stated certain regulations regarding the use of flavours in food. According to FSSAI, in order to meet the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices), some requirements must be ensured, such as the added flavour must be least feasible to get the intended impact, it should become a component of food as a result of its usage in manufacturing, processing or packaging and should be treated in the same manner as food ingredients. Moreover, FSSAI’s regulations state that tea, kangra tea, and green tea can all have additional flavours such as natural flavours and natural flavouring substances. On the other hand, flavoured tea makers must register with the Tea Board before promoting their products.

The primary function of both natural and artificial flavours is to give flavour to food rather than to provide nutrients. Moreover, flavours are an essential enhancer of the taste of food products as they can be added to low-fat, low-salt, and/or low-sugar goods. Moreover, there is a growing demand for better food product alternatives that taste delicious while contributing to healthier, more balanced eating habits. This is the main factor behind the growing popularity of food flavours.  

Food acceptability and consumption are highly influenced by flavours. The Covid-19 pandemic has particularly brought the focus to immunity and functional flavours such as turmeric, echinacea, elderberry, citrus, and berry flavours are considered immunity boosters by consumers. These functional flavours have become more popular, and they are now commonly used for immunity boosting purposes. Moreover, the rising demand for plant-based alternatives is further enhancing the use of food flavours as the plant-based alternatives require to be able to imitate the taste of traditional meat, fish, with the use of food flavours.

Smell and taste are the two main factors considered while adding flavour to the food. Smell flavourings are composed in certain ways, such as extracting the flavour from the source substance to generate natural tastes. Extraction procedure includes solvent extraction, distillation, and squeezing out the flavour using force. The extracts are generally refined further before being added to the food products to add taste.

However, to begin creating artificial tastes, flavour producers must either identify the individual naturally occurring aroma compounds and combine them correctly to generate the desired flavour or develop a unique non-toxic artificial molecule that produces a specific flavour. Whereas the taste flavours are mainly based on amino acids and nucleotides. Moreover, the flavour creation is done by specially trained flavours. The flavourist will construct a method and compound it on an electronic balance using his or her understanding of the available chemical components.  

Additionally, to achieve flavour balance in the food products, profile alteration is required. It includes the selection and balancing of current or potential elements within the limitations of nutritional requirements, the type and sources of fundamental raw materials, and the overall idea of the ultimate product. The intensity of flavour characteristics can be increased by concentrating or adding a concentrate of the same flavour.

Furthermore, the flavouring businesses are continuously creating solutions that allow the food sector to provide customers with healthy and nutritious goods. Manufacturers use taste and flavour science to develop outstanding tasting food and beverage items. With no substantial nutritional contribution, the product may be customized to the desired profile by adding subtleties and other desirable characteristics.

Flavour can be used to provide stability and uniformity, as well as to substitute expensive or bulky components, for example, natural vanilla extract can be substituted with artificial flavour by adding ethyl vanillin which has four times stronger vanilla odor than the vanilla extract.

Manufacturers commonly use flavours to improve the taste of their food and beverage items since they have little or no response with other components in the product and have a cheap cost-in-use. Moreover, multinational food flavour companies have been expanding their facilities in India, which is further enhancing the popularity of flavours. For instance, in 2019, Givaudan invested about $54 million in expanding its production plant in India.  

Food flavours have therefore become a vital element that consumers need in order to have the finest possible taste from any food item. They are also extensively adopted by the food industry, particularly the foodservice operators.

(The author is research director at TechSci. He can be reached at sales@techsciresearch.com)
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