Shopper label reading
Consumers prefer to have the phrase 'natural flavors' on ingredient statements.

Natural volatility

Mother Nature has a way of affecting the price of raw materials, too.

“Natural flavors and colors are impacted by seasonality, climate, natural disasters, political unrest and more,” said Otis Curtis, business development — taste and nutrition solutions, Kerry, Beloit, Wis. “This impacts pricing, availability and quality.”

For example, the recent weather events in Madagascar have affected the global vanilla market. A cyclone that struck the island destroyed an estimated 30% of its vanilla crop.

“Madagascar produces over half of the world’s supply of vanilla,” said Anton Angelich, group vice-president at Virginia Dare. “As a result of the cyclone, global vanilla extract supplies are scarce. In light of this shortage, many food companies are considering switching to vanilla flavors.”

The challenge is to find a vanilla flavor that matches the taste of pure vanilla natural extracts. The opportunity is to get creative. A cookie, for example, is no longer just vanilla. It’s vanilla ice cream flavor or birthday cake vanilla.

“An alternative is to build a compounded vanilla flavor with other natural flavors (vanilla flavor W.O.N.F.),” Mr. Curtis said. “This solution can provide the same vanilla taste expectation while requiring a smaller quantity of vanilla beans. The result is a greater consistency in pricing, availability and quality.”

Natural flavors also may be weaker. In this instance, larger amounts or a more concentrated flavor may be required.

“In some applications, this can cause challenges in formulation when it comes to the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients,” said Amy Loomis, business development manager, Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, Ill. “Further, in general, there are fewer raw materials to work with for natural flavors. This makes developing complex decadent flavors challenging.”

There are several flavor components that simply cannot be found in nature, or obtained in the volumes required to commercially produce natural flavor. Raw material identification is a constant process.

Baker baking bread
Heat processing may be detrimental to some natural flavors.

“We are always sourcing innovative natural raw materials that inspire us to create authentic, on-trend flavor profiles,” Mr. Lombardo said. “There are many exciting technological advances in extracts that allow us to meet demand for clean label while still delivering exciting, bold flavors at a justifiable cost.

“For example, carbon dioxide supercritical fluid extraction of spices, peppers, herbs and alliums that have been toasted, roasted or smoked prior to extraction offer authenticity in building ethnic flavor profiles. We can use these types of extracts in emulsions, oil-based flavor systems and seasonings for a wide range of applications.”

Flavorchem recently developed proprietary extraction methods specifically for botanicals. The technology enables the company to provide botanical flavors for sensitive applications, such as ready-to-drink beverages and specialty foods, including confections, condiments and baked foods.

“Targeted fermentation is another example of an evolving technology that allows for more cost-effective natural flavor ingredients,” said Paulette Lanzoff, technical director at Synergy Flavors.

Regardless of the technology, some foods are simply more challenging than others. Heat processing, for example, may be detrimental to some natural flavors.

“Bakery products undergo a physical and chemical change in a lower heat/longer time system,” said Mary Reynolds, research scientist — bakery at Kerry. “There is greater chance of volatility and reaction with other ingredients. Leavening agents, preservatives, flour, stabilizers and emulsifiers all have the potential to interact with the natural flavor unless the flavor is formulated to take these interactions into account.”

Ari Gastman, research and development director and senior flavorist for beverage and sweet flavors at Kerry, added, “It’s quite challenging to use natural flavors in the growing category of plant-based protein beverages. These beverages have significant off-notes that are challenging to overcome without the use of artificial flavors, which provide a more impactful taste profile.”

Alcoholic beverages may be challenging, too, because of their composition and process. Interestingly, natural flavors for alcoholic beverages have a built-in clause that allows for up to 1,000 p.p.m. (parts per million) of artificial ingredients to be added to the flavor.

“You are still able to call that flavor natural,” said Cyndie Lipka, senior flavorist, Prinova USA, Carol Stream, Ill.

Ms. Lipka said food companies distributing to the global marketplace have additional challenges when working with flavors.

“There are different standards between countries,” she said. “The E.U.’s standards are much more rigorous than the U.S., with fewer ingredients available for flavor creations designated as E.U. natural.”