Natural flavors can take on a different profile based on the application.

The clean label movement has put pressure on bakers to remove artificial flavors from recipes. In doing so, however, they often are challenged with delivering the same robust, stable taste associated with artificial flavors consumers have grown accustomed to.

On finished food products, flavors are labeled as either natural or artificial. Supplier labeling, however, is different — as well as highly regulated — at the industrial level so that the processor knows the flavor source. For example, if a flavor manufacturer calls a natural flavor “mandarin orange,” then it must be 100% sourced from the name fruit. The supplier also may call it “mandarin orange WONF,” with the acronym standing for “with other natural flavors.” This suggests that not only are mandarin oranges part of the flavor, but also that there are other naturally derived flavors. This information is not communicated on the packaged food product ingredient statement.

However, if the baker chooses to describe the product by its flavor on the principle display panel, then it requires declaration. For example, a strawberry-filled toaster pastry made with strawberry WONF could be labeled “strawberry flavored with other natural flavors.” If it was described using a fanciful name, such as “strawberrylicious,” reference to WONF is not required.

Regardless if the natural flavor is single-sourced or WONF, the industry faces unique challenges because of the high temperatures needed to manufacture baked foods.

“Natural flavors can be weaker, so a larger amount or more concentrated flavor, may be required,” said Kayla Blanding, application technologist, Synergy Flavors. This can cause challenges in formulation when it comes to the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. Additionally, fewer raw materials make trying to develop a decadent flavor naturally challenging.

“There are several flavor components that can’t be found in nature, which means it’s more difficult to find a natural replacement for those flavor profiles,” Ms. Blanding continued.

Nick Lombardo, applications scientist, culinary, Flavorchem, said the company sources innovative natural raw materials that inspire authentic, on-trend flavor profiles.

“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,” Mr. Lombardo said.
Flavor manufacturers must adhere to strict standards when making claims.

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 bakery applications,” he said.

Natural flavors may also take on a different profile based on the application. Consumers have expectations of a flavor, and that includes similar tastes in different foods.

“Now more than ever we are seeing crossover of flavors from one product to the next,” said Cyndie Lipka, senior flavorist, Prinova USA. “The challenge is that some products can tolerate a flavor with a higher price point while others cannot.”

For example, consumers don’t seem to have a problem paying more than $3 for a naturally flavored ready-to-drink pomegranate iced tea. To achieve that same taste profile in a breakfast muffin can be cost-prohibitive with a natural flavor, as it may break down during baking and distribution thus requiring a higher usage level.

Winds of change

Mother Nature has a way of impacting the price of raw materials and affecting the availability of natural flavor extracts.

“Natural flavors and colors are impacted by seasonality, climate, natural disasters, political unrest and more,” said Otis Curtis, business development, taste and nutrition solutions at Kerry. “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 more than half of the world’s vanilla supply,” Mr. Angelich said. “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. It is, however, an opportunity to get creative. For example, a cookie no longer has to be just vanilla; it can be vanilla ice cream flavor or birthday cake vanilla.

“An alternative is to build a compounded vanilla flavor with other natural flavors,” 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.”