Working with Suppliers to Develop Healthful Foods that Taste Good
We eat to provide our bodies with nutrients, fuel, and a feeling of satiety that will enable us to perform our daily routines, plus maintain a healthy life and body. There has been tremendous growth in the understanding of how different components of foods affect our health and well-being. However, much of the population does not take in adequate amounts of nutrients, especially micronutrients.

Food components that had little press and R&D time five years ago are now the talk of the day. Terms such as antioxidants and essential fatty acids are not just talked about by dietitians but also are becoming topics of household conversations. Many meal items in the grocery have some sort of label claim relating to the nutrient makeup of the item. No longer labeled as just “low fat” or “low sugar,” foods today can be found with up to 150% of the Daily Recommended Value of some vitamins and minerals, plus antioxidants and other phytonutrients—so-called functional food or nutraceutical ingredients.

We as product developers have taken on the task of providing the retail and foodservice areas with foods that meet specific dietary guidelines and that the consumer will enjoy and purchase again. Early on, the emphasis was on cereals, beverages, and nutrition bars. However, the latest movement is to put functional food ingredients into other mainstream foods. However, there are many obstacles that may need to be overcome with technical expertise. Issues such as stability, viscosity, and processing restraints aside, the flavor of the finished product is of paramount importance. If the food doesn’t meet the taste expectations, consumers won’t buy the product again. No matter how nutrient dense the food is, regardless of how healthful the food is, the extra nutrition and health benefits are useless if the food isn’t actually consumed.

Part of culinary training is to plan menus and individual dishes to achieve a balance of good flavor and proper nutrition, and product development should be no different. Technically, flavor is the combination of taste, aromatics, and physical feeling (e.g., cooling from menthol or heat from capsaicin). However, when we speak of a pleasurable eating experience, we must also remember texture and appearance.

To help ensure that the item has the best flavor possible, plus make sure that the item is in keeping with the accepted ingredients, product developers should contact their ingredients suppliers. Many suppliers have on their staff research chefs who can provide a vast array of problem-solving approaches. After all, who better to deal with flavor issues than the chef? Furthermore, the research chef can also assist in other areas usually covered by the food technologist.

The technology and expertise available from the ingredient suppliers, especially with regard to the flavor houses, are to be admired. In fact, supplier-company chefs are a resource that will almost guarantee a successful product, at least with regard to flavor. Many times during a project, I have called on the flavor houses for a specific flavor profile. For example, I worked on a project where I needed a vegetarian egg yolk flavor. The flavor company was able to provide not only the specific flavor but also suggestions for other flavors that would work in the formula.

With the tremendous upsurge in demand for ethnic cuisines such as Thai and Indian, we can take advantage of the highly seasoned and flavored attributes of these native dishes. However, as we develop new food items, it is imperative that the integrity of the dish and cuisine be maintained, especially when we are going to increase the nutritional components. Some nutraceutical components have inherent off-flavors or negative taste, such as astringency, and we can overcome these with bold flavors.

Consumers are savvy when it comes to the flavors of a specific cuisine. If we are going to say a product is a classic Thai dish, for example, we need to ensure that the proper flavors are in it. The flavor houses have available the required flavors—e.g., coconut, Kaffir lime, specific basil, etc.—for many different cuisines and cooking methods (sauté, roast, etc.), in addition to the many flavors of vegetables, herbs, etc.

Call your suppliers and let them assist. They have great people working for them who know their products extremely well. Working together, we can produce great-tasting, nutritious products.

Corporate Research Chef
Archer Daniels Midland
Decatur, Ill.