Donald Pszczola

Donald E. Pszczola

They can be called by many names. Taste modulators. Flavor enhancers. Masking agents. Salt replacers. Bitterness blockers. Sugar extenders. Sweetness enhancers or inhibitors. Umami potentiators. Whatever their moniker, these ingredient or flavor systems are called in when things don’t taste right, usually because something has been added (such as a botanical or a mineral) or replaced (such as salt or sugar) in a formulation. And not too surprisingly, they are playing an increasingly important role in today’s food formulating, creating products that are not only more flavorful but can help address growing health challenges, as well.

Before looking at their particular relevancy in the marketplace, let’s quickly review the senses of taste as a background. Individuals experience the sensation of taste when flavors in food and beverage products interact with taste receptors in the mouth. A taste receptor functions either by physically binding to a flavor ingredient in a process analogous to the way a key fits into a lock or by acting as a channel to allow ions to flow directly into a taste cell. As a result of these interactions, signals are sent to the brain where a specific taste sensation is registered. There are currently five recognized primary senses of taste—sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and (the newest member of the club) umami, described as the savory sensation associated with amino acids, especially L-glutamate. Future discoveries, of course, will help further shape our understanding of taste—and subsequently taste modification.

For the food formulator, working with your basic taste sensations can present its fair share of challenges. For example, high-intensity sweeteners such as those containing stevia compounds are being developed as an alternative to sugar, which critics are linking to such health problems as obesity and diabetes. However, with the new emergence of stevia-based products over the past couple of years, there also has been a flurry of taste modulators to help mask their bitter, licorice-like aftertastes. (And from what I hear, some work better than others.) In any case, there may be an increasing need for these taste modulators as some food companies are pledging to reduce sugar content in their foods. Most recent, General Mills announced its plans to reduce the amount of sugar in its cereals marketed to children.

On the salty side, ingredient suppliers are offering a variety of ingredients such as yeast extracts and mineral blends to help food manufacturers reformulate their products so that they have less sodium content without compromising taste and texture—not always an easy task because of salt’s uniqueness as an ingredient. This reduction is being done, in part, by the growing pressures from health organizations, medical communities, and consumers to limit salt intake because of concerns that high-sodium diets can contribute to hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

With the bulk of salt (80%) coming from restaurant and processed foods, organizations such as the American Medical Association are calling for a 50% reduction of sodium over the next decade. ConAgra Foods Inc. announced that it will reduce 20% of the salt content in its food products by 2015. Through the use of sea salt, Campbell Soup Co. has reduced the sodium content of its tomato soup product by 32%. The company also is planning to reduce sodium up to 35% in its canned pasta line. The Sara Lee Corp. will reduce the salt in many of its food products by an average of 20% over the next five years. And, according to market research organization Mintel, expect to see other food companies take the lead as well, with sodium reduction continuing to gain momentum over the next years.

Utilizing umami offers food formulators benefits in the area of taste enhancement. A feature article in the November 2009 issue of Food Technology describes different ways that product developers are using umami as a tool to amplify flavor, aid in sodium reduction, and promote satiety. This month’s Ingredients section will also look at the role that umami plays in taste modulation and the synergistic characteristics that it provides in food formulating.

When approaching taste modulation, it would be tempting—but erroneous—to look separately at the five senses of taste. Twenty years ago, if I was to attempt an article on taste modification, I probably would organize it around the basic senses of taste, treating each one distinctly and, depending on which sensation was being covered, describing their applications simply as sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. And most likely I would not have even included umami way back then. But today, I think it is very important to understand the synergies that occur between the different taste senses.

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Blockers aren’t just found on the football field. They also play a very important role in food formulation, helping to bring out different taste sensations. Salt, for example, just doesn’t provide saltiness, but it can enhance sweetness and block bitterness. Blocking the perception of acidity can enhance the perception of sweetness. A sweetness enhancer can help reduce bitterness while a sour blocker can increase the perception of sweetness.

Umami synergy characterizes the interaction among free glutamate, IMP, and GMP. Consider, for example, combinations of tomato sauce with meat or Cheddar cheese with beef. Studies have shown that umami can generate amplified and lingering taste sensations far greater than any single ingredient can create. Now keeping in mind today’s various explorations of cuisines from around the world and how formulators adapt them to mainstream tastes, imagine the different scenarios that umami can help create.

It gets even more complex—as well as exciting—when you consider other factors. Salt can help increase aroma. A sweet solution will taste sweeter in the presence of vanilla aroma. And it would be interesting to speculate the potential of taste senses on satiety and its effectiveness as a tool in weight management.

Furthermore, just as umami has been added to the portfolio of taste senses, it’s possible that we may uncover additional ones. For example, evidence suggests that there are calcium and water receptors on the tongue. Also, more work is being done on developing agents for heat or cooling sensations. Again, as we experiment with different cuisines, sensations such as sweet, salt, sour, bitter, umami, heat, and cool take on a real plausibility. Furthermore, it should be noted that studies are still ongoing in their exploration of the triggering of different sensations. Perhaps there are answers yet to be uncovered which could help compensate for the loss of taste sensations as we grow older.

This month’s article will look at the different approaches that ingredient companies are taking in taste modulation and how their application can help shape the future directions of food formulating. Interestingly, I chose the word “modulator” as opposed to modifier because I think the former suggests with more clarity the need for finding the right balance between the different taste sensations. While this may not be a revolutionary idea—cooks at home probably had an appreciation for this concept since the very beginning—finding that balance is critical, especially when formulating products that are low in sodium, that are made with stevia or other sweeteners as an alternative to sugar, that contain health-promoting components that also happen to be bitter, or that are based on international formulations being tailored for the mainstream.

And as one can probably already guess, the diversity of these systems and their synergistic benefits suggest that there is no one magic bullet. When a formulator is involved with reducing, enhancing, masking, or inhibiting, the approach used depends on the product formulation, and most likely, a combination of solutions that can be customized to meet the specific needs of the formulator for that product.

So let’s now take a census, if you will, of these different senses and how they synergistically interact with each other in a variety of traditional and not-so-traditional formulations.

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Improving the Taste of Stevia
A portfolio of taste modification systems from Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky. (phone 859-342- 3744,, is said to reduce the lingering sweetness and bitterness associated with stevia while providing a taste profile closer to that of sugar. These taste modifiers are used in the production of OnlySweet™—a line of natural stevia extracts developed through a partnership between the company and China-based Sunwin International Nutraceuticals, Inc. In September 2009, the two companies completed the process for self-affirmation of GRAS status for the stevia extracts they supply.

Whether stevia will succeed in the marketplace or not probably largely depends on how well taste modifications systems work with the extract. The natural flavor systems are used to address mouthfeel, masking, sweet enhancement, and blocking of bitterness that can improve the taste profile of foods and beverages containing various levels of OnlySweet, noted Kevin Gavin, Wild’s Chief Operating Officer. The stevia extracts, when combined with these taste modification technologies, are suitable for such applications as carbonated soft drinks, enhanced waters, coffee and tea beverages, functional drinks, baked goods, cereals, confections, sauces and syrups, and nutritional bars.

The current product line includes stevia extracts with rebaudioside A (40%, 60%, 80%, 95%, and 98%). The extracts, blended conveniently with the taste modifiers, offer customized solutions for balancing and improving overall sweet profile and other flavor characteristics affected by sugar reduction/removal.

The benefits of a sweet taste modifier for Reb A 60%, a stevia extract with 95% steviol glycosides, were described in a feature article, “Harmonizing Sweetness and Taste,” appearing in the 2009 December issue of Food Technology.

According to the article, which was authored by Greg Horn, the company’s Senior Director of Sweetening Technology, “a large consumer panel of more than 300 people sampled sports drinks made with Reb A 95% or Reb A 60% with taste modifiers. The results demonstrated no significance in taste preference between the two drinks—a breakthrough since Reb A 95% is approximately twice as expensive as Reb A 60% with taste modifiers.”

Horn added, “The future looks bright as flavor houses, suppliers of high-intensity sweeteners, packaged goods companies, and contract research facilities work together to explore new techniques to rapidly and cost effectively test new compounds for improving the taste of high-intensity sweeteners and to improve our understanding of the mechanism of perceiving sweet tastes.”

At the 2009 SupplySide West, Horn gave a presentation which looked at the art and science of stevia sweetening. He reviewed taste mechanism, noting that the primary sweetness taste receptor is the G-protein complex formed from T1R2 and T1R3 proteins. He described formulation challenges and solutions when working with high-intensity sweeteners. The most common issues are a delay in the onset of the perceived sweetness, a lingering sweetness, a bitter aftertaste, a metallic aftertaste, a nonlinear sweetener concentration to sweetness equivalency ratio, adaptation or desensitizing, and a lack of mouthfeel or body. Additionally, many of the high-intensity sweeteners extracted from plants have an herbal or licorice-type aftertaste. He then explained how flavor enhancers and taste modifiers are used to improve the taste of foods.

At SupplySide West, Wild highlighted several applications using stevia extracts with the taste modifiers. These included beverages prototypes such as Eye Health Spritzer (a 50% juice fortified with lutein esters, hesperidin, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, and vitamin E); a Jamaica Cactus Enhanced Water (a beauty ingredient blend in a clear green emulsion); and Papaya Graviola Amazonian Medicinal Beverage (a combination of cocoa extract, yerba mate extract, rosemary extract, nettle extract, and Cha de Bugre Extract). A hard candy sweetened with stevia also demonstrated a use for the taste modifiers.

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Enhancing Flavors and Cost Savings
At a cooking pavilion, part of the 2009 Worldwide Food Expo, on-the-go breakfast creations were showcased by Wixon Inc., St. Francis, Wis. (phone 414-769- 3000,, utilizing flavors and seasoning combinations to reduce sodium, mask off-notes, and provide consistency, mouthfeel, and overall quality. The company’s corporate chef Judson McLester prepared the “Breakfast without Borders” which featured Latin and Mediterranean flavors.

The demonstration/sampling highlighted a breakfast empanada made with chimichurri-seasoned scrambled eggs, chicken chorizo sausage (25% reduced sodium), and seasoned with black bean mole sauce. The empanada was encased in a fluffy pastry crust and served with a Fiesta Southwest Goji berry dipping sauce.

Other low-sodium dishes were also prepared, including a Thai slider topped with a spicy Asian sauce with a umami flavor to enhance savory notes, and Canadian-style turkey bacon made with a 25% reduced sodium.

The on-the-go dishes, designed with health and wellness in mind, incorporated a salt-reduction solution, KClean Salt. The product has half the amount of sodium than regular salt, while offering a clean salt taste, free of any off-taste. Some of the dishes also featured Magnifique Umami, a flavor which can enhance natural savory notes as well as the salt flavor in a lower-salt system.

Wixon also demonstrated its flavor modification technologies at a forum, Innovation Now!, held prior to the 2009 IFT Chicago Section Suppliers Night. In a presentation, Mariano Gascon, Vice President of Research and Development, addressed the question of how product developers can utilize taste modifiers to achieve cost cutting.

Two areas he described in particular were low-salt/sodium and sugar-free/low sugar. He demonstrated how the company’s taste modifiers work in several formulations and the cost savings that were achieved.

For example, in potato chips, the use of KClean Salt can achieve a 50% reduction in salt (control contained 328 mg of sodium vs the test chip which had 164 mg). An energy drink sweetened with 0.2 g of stevia was compared with one that contained 0.1 g of stevia and 0.1 g of Magnifique for Stevia (a flavor that enhances sweetness of stevia derivatives, makes stevia taste more like sugar, and reduces the amount of stevia needed). In corn flakes (control contained 28 g of added sugar), a 50% reduction in sugar was achieved through the use of 14 g sugar and 0.2 g of Magnifique Sweet Lift, a flavor that enhances the natural sweetness of sugar, masks the lingering taste of high-intensity sweeteners so that they taste more like sugar, and works well with erythritol, sorbitol, and other polyols.

Wixon’s broad portfolio of Magnifique taste modifiers also includes flavors to enhance the mouthfeel of dairy products, mask bitter aftertastes, reduce sour tastes, mask astringency, mask soy protein aftertastes, and many others.

Understanding Umami
“Although only recently accepted into the international food lexicon, umami, the fifth taste, stretches back into the annals of food history,” noted Ajinomoto Food Ingredients, Chicago, Ill. (phone 773-714-1436,, a leading authority on umami. “Many popular foods and seasonings evoke the umami taste, although it remained unidentified in a scientific sense.”

According to the company, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009, umami can be described as the savory taste imparted by glutamate and five ribonucleotides, including insosinate and guanylate, identified in 1913 and 1957, respectively. These substances occur naturally in many foods, including meat, fish, certain vegetables, and dairy products.

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Further research in the 1980s solidified umami’s acceptance as the fifth taste in the international lexicon. Umami acts synergistically with other flavors to enhance  and amplify their effect, to bring out the full boldness and richness of the entire formulation for a heightened gastronomic experience. The company claims that the 21st century will be the century of amino acids and will hold the key to future development of foods and beverages. In particular, glutamate, rich in umami, may be used to help reduce salt, lessen fat content, and even help regulate appetite.

Kikkoman Sales USA, San Francisco, Calif. (phone 415-229-3650,, offers a variety of natural flavor enhancers made from naturally brewed soy sauce that be used in any cuisine around the world. The company’s lower sodium options give product developers the ability to maintain umami’s flavor-enhancing capabilities, while reducing total sodium.

Combining culinary knowledge of umami, together with scientific expertise in receptor research and taste analysis, Switzerland-based Givaudan (phone +41-22-780-01-11,, has developed an extensive palette of natural taste ingredients which focus on umami. This approach enables the creation of flavors which provide a new level of “deliciousness” and authenticity in foods without having to rely on the addition of declarable taste enhancers.

“It is important to understand how the balance and harmony of taste affects the eating experience,” explained Mathew Walter, the company’s group leader for its culinary center of expertise. “Taste is not just about commonly used enhancers such as MSG or IMP/GMP alone—it is a much more complex phenomenon. Understanding the contribution that other taste ingredients make and using them in the right balance is essential to creating deliciousness. The Japanese refer to this taste complexity and balance as kokumi, which is a term still poorly understood outside of Japan.”

Givaudan has reportedly committed substantial resources to discovering more about umami and kokumi through its TasteSolutions™ program, using receptor research and sensory understanding to unravel the complexities of taste. Significant effort is currently focused on how umami can be measured in terms of both its strength and its temporal effects and to distinguish between the taste characteristics of different umami ingredients.

The company has discovered new molecules through the analysis of traditional fermentation processes, cooking techniques, and artisanal ingredients that are used in cuisines around the world to impart taste. In 2008–09, 70% of the patents the company filed related to taste perception and modulation.

10-Step Sodium Reduction Guide
A 10-step sodium reduction guide for manufacturers looking to reduce sodium in their products has been developed by Cargill Salt, Minneapolis, Minn. (phone 952-742-6000, These steps include: (1) identify goals, objectives, and target consumer audiences; (2) consider what low-sodium products are already available in the category and how those products are doing; (3) know the sources and levels of sodium in your products; (4) identify target goals in sodium reduction for your product; (5) reduce the amount of salt added to the product formula, change proportion of salt added to ingredients, or use a salt substitute; (6) evaluate the cost and benefit of each sodium reduction option; (7) test product both in the laboratory and among consumers; (8) identify the best way to launch the product and how it should be positioned; (9) evaluate success (did it meet or exceed sales goals and expectations, and is positioning on target); and (10) monitor consumer opinion and response to the product, watching trends to make sure it meets objectives and satisfies the needs of the target consumer audience).

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To help meet these critical steps, Cargill Salt has expanded its portfolio of low-sodium solutions for processors. The company recently introduced its Premier™ potassium chloride, developed for replacement of sodium chloride or potassium enrichment in a broad range of food processing applications. It can help consumers maintain a proper sodium and potassium balance where sodium reduction is needed and its functionality properties (low water activity and anticaking properties) make it an appealing partial replacement ingredient.

Another option for food processors is the SaltWise® sodium reduction system which may be used in processed meats, meals, soups, sauces, dressings, and salted snack applications. It reportedly reduces sodium in foods between 25 and 50%, while still delivering a desirable salty taste. Proprietary consumer testing demonstrates overall liking parity between products made with SaltWise blends vs salt at replacement levels of 33%. A granular system that handles and flows like salt, it can offer water activity control and cook yields that are comparable to salt in processed meats; it dissolves readily in aqueous solution; and is pH-, heat-, freeze-, and thaw-stable.

The company also offers Alberger® coarse topping flake salt for use in sodium reduction. Created from a process that starts with a hollow pyramid shape, the salt’s tiny, multi-faceted crystals have a large surface area and a low bulk density, providing superior adherence, blendability, and solubility, compared with cube-shaped granular salt. Alberger salt’s rapid solubility creates a burst of flavor when used in topical applications such as potato or corn chips, crackers, nuts, and pretzel sticks.

Taste Improver for Stevia and Salt
Solutions for replacing salt and sugar without compromising their taste are available from Ogawa & Co., Ltd., a leading flavor house in Japan with offices based in Richmond, Calif. (phone 510-233-0633, These natural flavor systems in liquid or powdered forms were developed specifically for stevia-containing products and for salt replacers.

Stevia Optimizer reportedly cuts the unpleasant aftertaste associated with stevia while improving a sweet-taste appearance and enhancing body.

Through a combination of stevia and flavor systems, a variety of zero or low-calorie products can be created with satisfying flavors. Usage levels depend on the amount of stevia used in the finished product. The company is also currently developing a variety of flavors for stevia-containing products—these include coffee, black tea, lemon, green tea, cola, orange, apple, and berry.

Salt Taste Improvers can reduce salt by up to 50% when used in combination with potassium chloride. The natural flavor systems, made from botanical extracts, can enhance the salt taste, quicken taste appearance, and cut the unpleasant aftertaste of potassium chloride. They have potential in a variety of applications, such as savory product and snacks, with a usage level of 0.1% recommended. Salt replacers containing the flavor system are also available from the company.

Creating New Sugar-Free Candies
A number of candy concepts utilizing sugar replacers were developed by Beneo-Palatinit Inc., Morris Plains, N.J. (phone 973-539-6644, The “Sweets Collection” demonstrated how the use of isomalt, which is derived from pure sugar beet and has a sugar-like taste, can be used to create innovative sugar-free confections of the future. Examples of prototypes included Volcano, a three-layer sugar-free candy combining flavors such as chili and ice, and small hard candies that offer sustained flavor combinations.

The development of sugar-free innovations can be challenging, but the company believes its approach can address issues such as nutritional profiles, taste, and appearance. It asserts that the use of isomalt as a sugar replacer can enhance the brilliance in color of these confections as well as prolong flavor intensity.

At the 2009 Food Ingredients Europe, the company presented an approach, Candy Innovation Matrix, which enables customers to explore and successfully blend a range of characteristics using isomalt as a functional ingredient. The matrix approach combines new flavors, different ways of packaging, and functional benefits such as dental health and low-calorie options, with different shapes, colors, and product structures to produce exciting new and improved candy concepts.

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A New Roadway to the Senses
A number of ingredients from David Michael, Philadelphia, Pa. (phone 215-632-3100,, can be used to modify the basic taste characteristics (sweet, salty, acidic, bitter, and umami) of a product. In some cases, their flavor-enhancement properties can be utilized to achieve reductions in sugar or salt without affecting the product’s taste profile. In other cases, their masking ability can inhibit an undesirable taste sensation, helping to reduce the bitterness and off-notes especially associated with nutraceutical ingredients. In addition, their use can create opportunities for cost savings, a factor especially critical in today’s economic climate.

At the company’s 2009 Innovation Roadshow, three flavor technology sessions were held, focusing on sweetness enhancers or inhibitors, salt reduction, and a line of flavor modifiers (DM Flavor Sensations™) that can be customized for particular applications. Presentations were given by George Ennis, Vice President, Chief Flavor Chemist; Benjamin Jones, Senior Flavor Chemist—Processed Flavors; and Jack Fastag, Flavor Chemist. Several prototype products featured at the event helped to underscore the growing value of taste modulators and the different ways that they can help assist the food formulator.

In his discussion, Ennis noted that sugar is a unique ingredient, combining a number of important functionality properties, such as mouthfeel, reactivity and browning ability, and sweetness profile. “Potential substitutes, when compared to sugar, fall short on one attribute or another,” he observed. “The job of sweetness enhancers is to bridge that gap between sugar and the substitutes, making possible the reducing of sugar without compromising the same sugar/sweetness curve.” (While the average American consumer will not perceive a difference in products where sugar has been reduced by 10%, beyond that level, they will perceive that the sweetness has been lowered.)

According to Ennis, sweetness enhancers are designed to intensify the perception and potency of traditional sweeteners such as sugar, fructose, and honey; smooth out sweetness profiles and complement characterizing flavor notes; increase flavor impact; minimize unwanted aftertastes of an alternative sweetener; and mask certain off-notes. He described various uses for sweetness enhancers. In a bread application, for example, sugar could be replaced with tapioca syrup and a sweetness enhancer at 0.4%. In a still or carbonated beverage application, high fructose corn syrup could be replaced with brown rice syrup and a sweetness enhancer at 0.4%. In a cereal bar, sorghum syrup was substituted for corn syrup and a sweetness enhancer at 0.4%.

Sweetness inhibitors, on the other hand, can be used to decrease the sweetness impact of products that have inherent undesirable sweetness—in a lactose-free milk, for example, they can lower the sweetness level to that of skim milk. A flavored whipped cupcake frosting made with sugar as a functional ingredient was showcased using a sweetness inhibitor to reduce sweetness perception without affecting the product’s structure. Artificial Sweetness Inhibitor Flavor 33108 was used at 0.8% in the application. The frosting also featured the sweet flavor of cherimoya, a fruit indigenous to South and Central America.

Currently, the average American consumes about 150 lbs of sugar per year. But a short supply of sugar, increased pricing, and impending taxes may change that, Ennis emphasized. Furthermore, critics have argued that refined sugar increases blood sugar levels linked to diabetes and contributes to obesity. Considerations such as these may create new opportunities for sweetness enhancers and their effective use.

Like sugar, salt is a unique ingredient in that it provides a number of important attributes that cannot be successfully duplicated by other alternatives. It not only provides a salty taste, but it functions as a flavor enhancer and at low levels it enhances sweetness, blocks bitterness, and increases aroma. Responding to rising health concerns and consumer requests, some food manufacturers have begun formulating existing lines using less salt, said Jones. But because of salt’s ability to add to and enhance the flavor of food products, formulations with reduced salt can lack a signature flavor.

Jones evaluated the number of approaches that are being taken to reduce salt. One way is to simply take out salt at a lower level. “A 10-25% reduction in salt can be achieved without much difference in the finished product,” he noted. “Higher reductions have to be done gradually over time using the so-called stealth approach.” Drawing from his own personal experience, he emphasized that salt is a learned taste and that people can be accustomed to the lower levels of sodium over time. He added that salt perception can be increased while maintaining the same amount of salt or less. This is done by changing the salt crystal size or shape so that it hydrates much faster.

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A number of options are available which can help enhance the flavor of reduced-sodium products, said Jones. For example, the addition of yeast extracts or hydrolyzed vegetable proteins can be used. Trehalose can be used to enhance saltiness and reduce bitterness. Certain amino acids can be used as well as herbs and spices. Maillard reaction products can enhance the salty effect at low levels. And flavors, in general, can be added to improve the overall salty impact.

Another common approach is to replace sodium with other salts, but not all salts can be used and at higher concentrations others have taste drawbacks, noted Jones. Lithium is toxic; calcium shows promise, but it is bitter with a sweet and sour aftertaste; and magnesium has a bitterness issue. Potassium chloride seems to be best with a flavor profile similar to sodium chloride, but it does have a slightly metallic and bitter taste at higher levels. “Up to 30% of sodium chloride can be replaced by potassium chloride without the metallic note becoming a problem,” said Jones. “In blander products, however, that note becomes noticeable much sooner. If a problem, bitterness blockers can be used which are effective at low concentrations.” Sea salt, which provides less chloride and less sodium, is another salt option being used by formulators.

To address the need for sodium reduction without flavor reduction, David Michael has developed a number of salt reduction products. The type of product used depends on the matrix of the product and the particular effect that the formulator is after, he emphasized. “One may be used in wheat and buttery-type crackers and certain ready-to-eat cereals. Another type does not work well in the wheat crackers, but is effective in cheese crackers and certain meat products. Still another product may be effective in a different type of ready-to-eat cereal.” He added that the same goes for potassium blockers—one might work well in fruit snacks but not in cereals or buttery crackers.

At the Innovation Roadshow, the company demonstrated a salt replacer (DM Choice Natural Flavor “Salt Type” Powder #33149) at 2.4% and a potassium blocker (DM Choice Natural Flavor “Potassium Blocker Type” Powder 33150) at 0.2% in a Reduced-Salt Tamind-Lime Chamoy Tablet. Chamoy, a popular snack in Mexico, combines sweet, sour, and hot taste sensations, often with a fruity flavor background, and is typically available in liquid, paste, and powder varieties. This novel, tableted version featured a tamarind-lime flavor—two popular flavors in Mexico, but specially combined in this application. Salt-reduction products were also utilized in Tipsy Chips, a sweet and savory snack that features cocktail flavors—Blood Orange Jalapeno Margarita, Pepper Sangria, and Bleu Cheese Dirty Gintini.

When replacing salt in a product, Jones advocates that taking a combination of approaches is best, such as the use of potassium chloride, Maillard reaction products, yeast extracts, and bitterness blockers.

Although much of the presentations covered sweetness and saltiness, the other taste sensations were not overlooked, with Jack Fastig, Flavor Chemist, describing the company’s capabilities in these areas. “Bitterness is often an undesirable trait in products containing herbs and botanicals, soy protein, vitamins and minerals, and other functional ingredients,” he said. “To reduce this bitterness, masking agents can be used by themselves or in combination with other ingredients such as sweetness enhancers or bitter blockers.” Acids can provide a tart, refreshing flavor, but too much acidity can lead to astringency. Fastig suggested that the use of blockers can decrease acidity or astringency, and can be used in combination with sweetness enhancers for added performance, as formulators try to find the perfect sweetness-acid balance. He also emphasized that heat or cooling sensations are playing an increasingly important part in today’s formulating. Pungency levels can be tailored in products with “heat,” or cooling sensation can be added to cocktail shooters.

“Taste is a four-dimensional phenomenon,” said Fastig. “It is no longer enough to simply describe something as sweet, sour, salty, or bitter.” He added that different taste sensations can be perceived at different locations in the mouth and their intensities can vary. As our understanding of these different mechanisms grow, new opportunities will grow for taste modulation. 

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Rebiana-Compatible Flavors
Flavors that are compatible with stevia extracts containing rebaudioside A (also known as Reb A or rebiana) are available from Cargill Flavor Systems, Minneapolis, Minn. (phone 952-742-6000, These customized flavor solutions are based on a broad product portfolio from masking technology to sweetness enhancers and are used to balance the overall taste profile in rebiana-containing formulations. These natural flavors were utilized in the recently launched Truvia™ natural zero-calorie tabletop sweetener (its product label reads erythritol, rebiana, and natural flavors).

According to Paul Kim, Technical Director for Cargill Flavor Systems, the new customized flavor solutions are ideally suited for cereal, yogurt, ice cream, confectionery, and various beverage applications, including carbonated soft drinks and flavored drinks that benefit from a natural, reduced-calorie product positioning. He emphasized that the company’s experience in taste modulation allows customers to reduce the development cycle time for foods and beverages.

The company has highlighted the tailoring of its flavor solutions in stevia-sweetened applications at a number of food shows in 2009. Here were just a few prototypes:

A reduced-sugar brownie achieved a 63% sugar reduction with a rebiana-compatible flavor solution. Natural Sugar Flavor mimics the temporal profile of sugar in this application while enriching the rich, fudgy taste.

For the confectionery segment, a sugar-free strawberry hard candy contained isomalt, maltitol syrup, and 2% or less of rebiana, malic acid, natural flavor, and natural color. A sugar-free mint candy was also featured, made with isomalt, maltitol, natural flavor, and rebiana.

A diet lemon tea incorporated “a rebiana-compatible lemon flavor with embedded sweetness technology.” Other ingredients included Truvia  rebiana, Zerose erythritol, and Natural Tea Flavor WONF.

Products already in the marketplace that are making use of rebiana-compatible flavors include vitaminwater 10™, Kraft Nature’s Splash™ drink sticks, All Sport Naturally Zero™ sports drink, Hansen’s® Natural Lo-Cal Juices, Minute Maid Premium® Pomegranate Tea, Blue Sky® Free sodas, and Odwalla® Light Limeade and Light Lemonade.

Unlocking the Future
Our understanding of taste receptors and their binding mechanisms can lead to advancements in taste modulation, creating new opportunities for the food formulator and possible solutions for such challenges as diabetes, obesity, and the development of foods for the elderly who have experienced a loss in the sense of taste.

Keep in mind, of course, that when it comes to our understanding of taste receptors, we may still be in our infancy. After all, it was only a few years ago (in 2001 to be exact) that researchers discovered the human gene they believed produced the sweet taste receptor. And although the benefits of umami have been utilized for thousands of years, until recently we really didn’t know very much about it, let alone perceiving it as one of the taste sensations. And just recently researchers discovered glutamate-specific receptors in the stomach.

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Although we may have a long way to go, the potential for what we can achieve in taste modulation is quite exhilarating, especially its impact on the development of products far (and hopefully not so far) into the future. I always suspected that this is why so many leading food, beverage, and ingredient companies (The Coca-Cola Company, Campbell Soup Co., Nestle SA, Cadbury plc, Ajinomoto Co. Inc., Firmenich SA, and Solae) have formed collaborations with pioneering companies such as Senomyx. This company, based in San Diego, Calif. (phone 858-646-8300,, uses proprietary taste receptor technologies to discover and develop novel flavor ingredients in the savory, sweet, salty, bitter, and cooling areas.

In its sweet enhancer program, the company identified flavor ingredients that allow a significant reduction of sweeteners in food and beverage products while maintaining the desired sweet taste. Using its sweet receptor-based screening assay system, the company discovered S6973, an enhancer of sucrose that enables up to 50% reduction of sugar. It received a GRAS designation in October 2009, enabling its use in such products as baked goods, cereals, gum, condiments, confections, frostings, milk products, and sauces. An earlier ingredient, S2383, may be used to enhance high-intensity sweetener sucralose, achieving a 75% reduction of the sweetener without compromising its intensity or creating off-tastes.

In the salt enhancer program, the company discovered SNMX-29, the protein that may be the primary receptor responsible for human salt taste perception. The company identified more than 250 enhancers of sodium chloride and potassium chloride that are active in the assays.

In addition, the company has a savory enhancer program which identified four savory flavor ingredients that can enhance the taste of naturally occurring glutamate and inosine monophosphate; a bitter blocker program which reduces or blocks bitter tastes, improving the overall taste characteristics of foods, beverages, and ingredients (including tea, cocoa, menthol, stevia, acesulfame potassium, and saccharine); and a cool flavor program for the discovery of novel flavor ingredients intended to provide a cooling taste effect or sensation without the limitations (weak cooling characteristics, bitter off-tastes, and limited solubility) of traditional cooling agents.

Hopefully, this article has provided a new “sense” of the different directions that taste modulation can take, and the growing number of opportunities it presents, especially when considering its synergistic benefits in food formulating.

Next month’s Ingredients section will look at how formulators are creating dairy products that are both indulgent and healthy, taking the concept “permissible indulgence” to new and guilt-free levels.

‘Rounding Out’ Taste Modifiers
Here is a brief collection of taste modulators offered by ingredient suppliers that prove helpful when dealing with taste sensations in your product development tasks.

• Masking flavors from Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y. (phone 718-788-1776,, are designed to reduce or eliminate the aftertaste of whey and soy proteins, vitamins and minerals, amino acids, caffeine, herbal extracts, non-nutritive sweeteners, omega-3s, and pharmaceutical ingredients. These multifunctional blends are available in a variety of forms including liquid, dry, natural, natural and artificial, and organic compliant. Typical use levels range from 0.05-0.25%.

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• Sodium reduction system, Grindsted® SaltPro™, is available in multiple versions from Danisco USA, Inc., New Century, Kan., (phone 913-764-8100, The system enables a processor to reduce sodium up to 50% in a finished product without compromising the functional characteristics of salt, such as flavor, texture, and firmness. It is suitable for use in fresh and processed meats, bakery products, and other prepared foods.

• Natural savory and salt enhancers, SymLife Salt™, can effectively overcome the sodium reduction challenges of potassium chloride, masking agents, and flavor-enhancing technologies. The systems, developed by Symrise Flavor & Nutrition North America, Teterboro, N.J. (phone 201-462-2389,, can provide up to 50% sodium reduction while maintaining the salty perception. Potential applications include soups, sauces, meat and poultry products, and snack seasonings.

• Yeast extracts, in conventional and organic forms, can be used as flavor enhancers, salt replacers, or monosodium glutamate replacers. This product portfolio, available from Savoury Systems International, Inc., Branchburg, N.J. (phone 888-534-6621,, includes Salt Replacer #0863, effective at a 1:4 ratio to salt; Umami Flavor #0835 for use in Asian or other savory food products; and #1079, a high nucleotide yeast extract for rounding out flavors, enhancing salt perception, or masking unwanted notes.

• Stevia-masking flavor and a sweetness enhancer are the latest additions to a line of flavors termed “Special Effects.” The line, offered by Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y. (phone 631-249-0505,, is designed to accentuate taste and aroma sensations. Also featured in the line are flavors for masking sodium; off-tastes associated with vitamins, minerals, and proteins; and astringency, as well as flavors that produce cooling, heat, and airy mouthfeel sensations.

• Flavor systems, ReduxSo™, are designed to mimic the sensation that sodium chloride delivers. The systems, developed by Bell Flavors & Fragrances Inc., Northbrook, Ill. (phone 847-291-8300,, can work in conjunction with potassium chloride and may achieve up to a 50% sodium reduction depending on the application.

• Stock bases, Chef Ready from Advanced Food Systems Inc., Somerset, N.J. (phone 732-873-6776,, can be used to make reduced-sodium seasoning blends, soups, sauces, gravies, fillings, and marinades for tumbling or injecting. The bases are said to contain up to 25% less sodium and are significantly lower in fat than traditional bases. They provide the full flavor and mouthfeel profiles of chicken, beef, turkey, seafood, and a variety of vegetables.

• Sodium-reduction solutions are offered by Morton Salt, Chicago, Ill. (phone 312-907- 2513, These include Morton Lite SaltMixture, a 50:50 blend of salt and potassium chloride, and two grades of granulated potassium chloride products (one contains magnesium carbonate as an anticaking agent).

• A portfolio of flavor solutions has been designed specifically for taste modification by Sensient Flavors LLC, a unit of Sensient Technologies Corp., Indianapolis, Ind. (phone317-243-3521, Smoothenol® system enhances the palatability of products by masking the undesirable off-notes and aftertaste of various functional ingredients and sweeteners. A custom range of salt-enhancer flavors allow for at least 25-35% reduction of sodium per serving. Other systems include MSG replacers, dairy enhancers, and other flavor modifiers.

• A mineral salts blend, sub4salt from Jungbunzlauer Inc., Newton Centre, Mass. (phone 617-969-0900,, can reduce sodium content up to 50% without reportedly a loss of taste and functionality. Its advantages include similar salty taste characteristics, no additional off-notes, easy handling, and similar dosage levels. The blend has proven effective in soups, bakery products, sauces, seasonings, and meat products.

• A salt enhancer, SaltPrint™, was developed by Firmenich Inc., New Ulm, Minn. (phone 507-233-7400, It is offered alone as a salt enhancer or in a tailor-made system complete with flavor and the salt enhancer.

• A high-purity lactic acid, Purac Fit Plus, helps mask the characteristic off flavors of stevia and other high-intensity sweeteners in beverages. The ingredient from Purac America Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill. (phone 847-634-6330,, works synergistically with other acids to boost flavor and provide a well-balanced taste.

• A sea salt, mined from the Dead and Red Seas, provides a balance of sodium and potassium. The product, NutraSalt 66, reduces sodium by 66% While maintaining excellent flavor modulation and rounding out flavor. It is available from Bon Vivant International, Edgewater, N.J. (

by Donald E. Pszczola
Senior Associate Editor 
[email protected]

About the Author

Food Technology magazine Senior Editor and key member of the Food Technology editorial staff for 26 years.
Donald Pszczola