Naturally fermented sour and rye flavors can provide a clean taste that may help mask the sharp bite of certain grains.

Taste is paramount in the baking and snack industries. Few would disagree. But with health and wellness top of mind for today’s shoppers, bakers are challenged with creating nutritionally desirable products that meet consumers’ flavor expectations.

“Today’s educated consumer demands a tasty product that is also less processed and more natural,” said David Bom, technology development manager, Sensient Flavors. “Bakers are using flours that are whole grain and gluten-free, adding vegetable proteins from pea or soy, including fibers from chicory root, or utilizing flax seed or chia to achieve the naturalness that the consumer desires.”

Unfortunately, these ingredients can introduce off-notes such as bitterness to the finished product. And reducing sugar or fat can lead to texture or mouthfeel issues.

Flavor modulators can amplify salty flavors without additional sodium.

“Leaving these problems unaddressed could hurt the palatability of the finished product,” Mr. Bom said.

Further, the ingredients added to compensate for sugar and fat reduction may negatively impact flavor, too. High-intensity sweeteners, for example, may contribute off notes. They also tend to have varying sweet peaks, as compared with sugar’s well-balanced sweet delivery, which impacts flavor intensity.

This is why bakers turn to masking and modulating flavor systems. Masking agents, or flavor systems as they are known in the industry, prevent undesirable flavors from being perceived by the consumer. Flavor modulators, on the other hand, refer to ingredient systems that assist with making other flavors or tastes — like salty or sweet — more pronounced. The key is knowing how to find the sweet spot between using one or the other.

Masking flavors are non-characterizing, so they do not affect the front label of a product. This is useful in several baking applications. There are two standard masking options: blocking and distracting.

Cocoa powder can benefit from flavor masking systems.

“The first uses flavor materials that bond with receptor sites to block undesirable perceptions, such as bitter taste or pungent aroma,” said Paulette Lanzoff, technical director, Synergy Flavors. “The second, and more commonly used method, fools the senses in order to distract consumers from the off-notes present in the application.”

Kayla Blanding, application technologist at Synergy Flavors, said masking flavors are useful in reducing or eliminating off-notes such as bitterness, metallic or unfavorable tastes in baked foods. Ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, preservatives and glycerin benefit from masking technology in baked foods because of the bitter taste often associated with these ingredients.

“Even seemingly normal ingredients such as whole grain, cocoa powder and sodium bicarbonate can benefit from flavor masking,” she said.

Synergy Flavors has experience in masking several nutritional products beyond baked foods. Solutions found in other product channels also may work well in this sector, Ms. Blanding said.

Flavor masking and modulating are about highlighting the good — and hiding the bad — even in the simplest of baked goods.

“We have been working a lot with protein-enhanced baked goods,” she said. “Pea protein, for example, is becoming an increasingly popular protein because it is plant-based and not genetically modified, which appeals to consumers looking for healthier baked good options. Additionally, it is more cost-effective than other proteins, such as whey.”

Pea protein is not without a downside, however. It is often perceived as bitter with an undesirable flavor. Sensient’s natural masking flavors can reduce these off-notes. The company’s scientists used masking technology to suppress off-notes present in an apple protein bar, which contained 30% pea and soy protein isolates. The sensory team evaluated the masked product against an unmasked control and found that when compared to the control, the masked product possessed greater sweetness, significantly reduced chalkiness, enhanced apple/fruity aroma and reduced grainy/beany notes.

In some cases, bakery products may also lack a basic taste such as salty or sweet, yet the baker does not want to add salt or sugar to the recipe. This is where flavor modulators may assist.

Flavor modulators amplify tastes and textures that consumers find appealing without negatively impacting the Nutritional Facts Panel.

“Salt modulation helps add depth to flavor without additional sodium,” said Peggy Dantuma, director of bakery technical sales, Kerry. “The key to flavor modification and masking is to keep all flavor components balanced within a formula and make sure that no one flavor note stands out in an unexpected way.”

In a reduced-sugar cookie recipe, not only is sweetness reduced, but bitter notes from the chemical leavening agent also tend to become more pronounced. Flavor modulators may assist by increasing the desirable sweet taste while masking baking soda aftertaste.

Shelf life extending ingredients also may be a source of off-notes in baked foods. This includes chemical and clean label preservatives and food-grade acids.

“Either a masking flavor or combination of flavors can be used to bring the flavor back in line with expectations,” Ms. Dantuma said.

A natural masking flavor can be used to cover the off-notes. Alternatively, a flavor such as “natural creamy vanilla” masks off notes and imparts vanilla background flavor with mild dairy notes.

“You need to look at making the flavor robust and balanced to deliver the best in baking,” Ms. Dantuma said.