Fruit and protein powder in a blender.

Flavor Modulation in Functional Foods

When keeping a healthy diet, flavor shouldn’t be a secondary consideration. Protein bars, low-calorie snacks, and workout supplements tend to put function over flavor, leaving you with bland, uninteresting, or unappetizing food products. For functional foods that promote a particular lifestyle, flavor modulation can be an excellent way to manipulate the flavor of a product to be more appealing, flavorful, and healthy.

From blocking bitter receptors to enhancing sweetness receptors and even including unique and custom-designed flavor extracts, there are many tools to enable recipe producers to create the exact product they are looking for.

What is Flavor Modulation?

All food and drink has a flavor — some good, some bad, but all incredibly complex. Flavors are typically composed of various aromatic and tasteful “flavor compounds,” chemicals in many different foods and drinks that make food items taste a particular way. Vanillin, for example, carries the flavor of vanilla but is also present in many other food ingredients, providing a slight vanilla note and aroma. Benzaldehyde, conversely, offers a less specific woody and rich note and is frequently used for almond, cherry, and apricot flavorings.

With flavor modulation, distinct flavors can be derived from their real-world counterparts to get a clarified and faithful representation of the organic product, enabling flavor chemists to take complete control over the flavors they design. Combined with health foods, these flavors can help create the perfect product that tastes great without compromising functionality.

What is Functional Food?

Functional foods are food and drinks primarily designed to serve a particular dietary purpose. Rather than empty calories and low-nutrition food options, functional food items are formulated to provide the body with additional nourishment, nutrients, or other crucial needs. Sometimes, these health-focused additives can affect the flavor of the food product, adding extra bitterness and diluting sweetness. In other cases, healthy additives cannot be added to the product due to compromising the recipe by changing ingredient ratios or cooking processes. These hurdles can be overcome through flavor modulation, which enables a wide variety of flavors to be incorporated into a product where they otherwise may require altering the recipe.

There are several options to incorporate flavor modulation into functional food recipes, each solving a unique issue in the production cycle:

Masking Agents

Masking agents enable flavor chemists to cover up and mask off-tasting flavors that provide nutritional benefits, such as vegan proteins, vitamins, oils, and acids. This masking is done either by modulating/altering the flavor sensation of an ingredient or suppressing the flavor of an ingredient, enabling the stronger and better-tasting sensations to shine through.

Gummy vitamins

Bitter Blockers

Bitter blockers are specialized flavor modulation compounds built to block and minimize bitter flavors that can often be associated with common drink additives. This can include ingredients like caffeine and L-theanine, altered sugars like Stevia or aspartame, and even more natural supplements like amino acids. Bitter blockers work by directly neutralizing the bitter taste receptors on your tongue, preventing the bitter flavor compounds from activating the flavor response. This effect doesn’t alter flavor receptors in any way. It simply blocks out the bitter compounds present in the flavor mix of the product, enabling the more robust, more appetizing flavors to shine through.

Sweetness Enhancers

When making confections, beverages, or other recipes, sugar ratios can often be an important consideration — especially when seeking to create nutritious food or qualify for particular dietary guidelines. Sugar alternatives like aspartame or sucrose are options, but they come with specific flavors, among other health concerns for consumers.

Sweetness enhancers are an excellent way to pump up a recipe’s sweetness without adding extra sugar or relying on a sugar substitute. When used for flavor modulation, sweetness enhancers combine several complex flavor compounds to highlight the natural sweetness of ingredients in the product mix and add an extra punch of vibrant flavor to highlight the best parts of the recipe. These commonly sweet flavor extracts, from vanilla to caramel to fruity mixes, can shine without the nutritional burden.

Fat Replacers

Excess fat can be a health concern in many diets, and the ratio of fat to other ingredients in a recipe can be crucial to the flavor, texture, and look of a food product. Fat replacers eliminate these health or recipe concerns by offering a carbohydrate-based, protein-based, or alternative fat option to fit any dietary need.

Fat replacers are an advantageous method of flavor modulation, enabling recipe designers to maintain the mouthfeel and flavor of a product without compromising its healthiness or composition. Combined with the custom-designed flavors from Metarom, recipe producers are armed with many excellent tools to make the perfect product.

A container of caramel sauce.

Functional Nutritional Supplements

While flavor modulation is typically about altering the taste and perception of functional foods, it is also concerned with the nutrition of these foods. Many nutritional supplements can be included in recipe mixes to make them healthier or to boost deficiencies that consumers might have, such as low vitamin or mineral counts. Many natural ingredients, such as ginger and echinacea, provide health benefits in various forms, which can also fall under the purview of flavor modulation.

Design Your Perfect Flavor

Metarom USA combines decades of food chemistry and nutrition experience to help recipe producers find the ingredients for their next dish worldwide. Offering flavor extracts in liquid and powdered forms, custom-designed caramels, and diet substitutions for any replacement needs, Metarom USA has just the flavor to make your next recipe pop. Speak with a flavorist to learn how Metarom will dedicate its skills to your product.