Everyone knows by now that the plant-based food and beverage market is hot, with demand constantly growing and innovation happening fast. From new plant-proteins to fermentations that can develop concentrate ingredients which are able to improve overall flavor in plant-based alternative food products, the next frontier of plant-based is a shifting landscape. At Edlong, we’re here to not only help you, professionals in the food and beverage manufacturing industry, to get your feet on the ground but to also help you stay ahead of the curve. That’s why today we’re sitting down with Emily Sheehan, an Applications Scientist out of our Ireland office, to answer some of your most burning plant-based formulation questions in this hot space.
Can I use plant-based cultures and flavors together?
Yes, we have worked on products, such as yoghurts, that use plant-based cultures during processing. Flavors can be used in these products to enhance the cultured notes, add sweetness, add mouthfeel, or mask any unwanted off-notes that may be present. We recently worked on a stirred plant-based yoghurt; flavor was added to a fruit preparation that would be stirred into the cultured plant-based yoghurt at the end of the processing. The result was delicious!
Can you help me recreate authentic taste or match brand leaders?
Yes, we spend time in the applications lab using research provided from our Sensory team as well as familiarizing ourselves with the notes that build the profiles of popular brands and brand leaders of both dairy and plant-based products. Having a target product helps us to use our flavors to build these profiles in a customer’s plant-based formulation. Combinations of flavors are commonly used to achieve an authentic profile and a well-rounded, balanced flavor.
Should I add flavor at the start or end of my process?
This is a tricky one as it depends on the process and product. We always recommend food manufacturers start working with our R&D team before starting a project for optimal results since our experts can then collaborate and advise along the way, ensuring the fastest possible project completion and results. The flavor itself can be added at the start or end of your process, but this is always dependent on the process itself.
If adding flavor at the start of the process, usage may need to be slightly higher if, for example, the product is heated for a long period of time or subjected to high temperatures. This would also affect the choice of flavors; we would opt for heat stable flavors in this situation. We would also look at the form of the flavor (ie. liquid, powder, emulsion, spray dry, etc.) for which would be best suitable for your process. Some processes allow for adding flavor at the end without effecting the shelf-life stability or product quality; if this is an option, flavor results can be most impactful as the flavor goes through less processing.
Will flavor effect the pH?
For most of our flavors the pH will not be affected. Some of our flavors, though, especially those in our cultured range, contain some acid which can cause the pH to be lowered slightly depending on usage level. For cultured products or processed cheeses, this can be a plus as it adds to the flavor and, if accounted for, fermentation time and/or the addition of acid can be reduced as the flavor would contribute to reaching the desired pH. Low pH increases the shelf life and prevents spoilage. For cultured plant-based dairy or plant-based cheeses, acid notes are often a desirable attribute.
Can I use flavor to improve mouthfeel in fat-free applications?
Yes, our flavors can enhance the perception of mouthfeel by adding back in some of the rich fatty notes that are missing from fat-free applications. We have seen products such as plant-based beverages that lack in mouthfeel. Using our flavor, we can add back in some of the creaminess that you would find in a dairy alternative. There are quite a few flavors in our milk/cream range that work especially well for adding mouthfeel.
My product is chalky – can flavor improve the texture of my plant-based formulation?
First, we would need to understand what in your plant-based formulation is making the product chalky, which ingredient? Can this be improved by formulation tweaks or processing? Some of our flavors can help with mouthfeel and masking, and we would suggest trialing these flavors to see if there is an improvement in texture. We even offer a few flavors that are specifically designed to assist with mouthfeel without impacting taste.
I want to make my product sugar-free – how can flavor help?
Sugar-free products sometimes have added sweeteners to achieve a product that is close to the original sugar content. These sweeteners can produce off-notes that may need to be masked and dairy’s inherent sweet notes make dairy flavors derived from its compounds a natural solution.
We also have a range of Sweet Spot flavors that enhance the perception of sweetness, these can be used to add sweet notes back to sugar-free or low-sugar products and can also improve the mouthfeel.
My plant-based product is heavily fortified – can you mask the off-notes?
We have a wide range of flavors that mask off-notes in fortified products, knowing what the off-note is or what ingredient is causing it is helpful when choosing the right flavor solution.
We can mask notes from bitter, metallic, and soapy to waxy or starchy and beyond, these off-notes sometimes present in a product due to ingredients like proteins, vitamins or minerals, caffeine, and starch. We also work on masking notes like green, nutty or beany tastes which can often be undesirable in plant-based products. We have a range of masking flavors but often we find our milk, cream, and butter flavors work very well for masking off-notes, and when used at lower levels only contribute to masking without leaving a dairy taste. We have found in other cases, for example in sweet applications, vanillas can work well for masking off-notes or we have seen our butterscotch flavors used to mask pea protein off-notes in high-protein plant-based truffles.
How can I build base notes in my plant-based formulation? What are the benefits of building base notes?
Building base notes contributes to a clean tasting product, sometimes this means by masking unwanted off-notes before adding flavors on top. An example of this is in plant-based cheeses, using a butter flavor to mask starchy notes and building a cheesy profile on top using a combination of flavors layered together in just the right way. Some products turn out best when building dairy base notes before adding other notes, such as sweet or cultured profiles.
Should I add flavors before or after the fermentation cycle in my plant-based yogurt or cream cheese?
Flavors can be added after the culture before the final pasteurization, if the flavors used lower the pH it could be advisable to add the flavors after as it can drop the pH lower. We always recommend working with our R&D team before starting a project to determine the best point at which to add flavors to any specific application.
How can you help me deliver a fresh dairy taste rather than the cardboardy or flat tastes that typically come from plant-based ingredients?
Adding flavors like milks, butters, and creams that have fresh dairy notes can help in this regard, even if they are the vegan or dairy-free version of the flavor. As mentioned earlier, masking notes such as cardboard and adding back mouthfeel and richness to products using a combination of flavors can deliver a fresh dairy taste that mimics a real dairy product. Masking can also help leave you with a blank slate to create you product on without adding any flavor profiles but instead just neutralizing any off-notes.
Have more plant-based formulation questions? Our team of R&D and Applications experts are at the ready to see how our hundreds of flavors that can be used in thousands of combinations can make you the leader in your market, contact us today!