As bakers attempt to add value and differentiate their products with vegan formulations, they often encounter undesirable flavor development as well as a lack of “wow.” Flavor extracts may assist by masking off-notes, modulating mouthfeel and boosting characterizing notes to deliver the deliciousness consumers expect.

“When we think of premium bakery products, we typically think of buttery, egg-enriched and indulgent cream-based fillings,” said Susan O’Shaughnessy, senior applications specialist, Edlong. “As bakers move into the plant-based space, they are faced with the challenge of not only replicating the taste of these ingredients but also their functionality to create products that stand out in terms of texture and mouthfeel.”

When replacing ingredients with vegan alternatives, bakers may lose some of the indulgent textures and flavors in their finished products.

“We often find there to be off-notes and a grittier mouthfeel from many vegan replacement ingredients across the board,” said Gina Maioriello, applications technologist, Synergy Flavors. “This can add to the problem we face with indulgence while giving the product an off-putting texture. Finding the right combination of ingredients for the type of product being used is key with the help of flavor modulation to balance the taste and smooth out the mouthfeel.”

Eliminating dairy and eggs from baked goods results in an increase in plant-based ingredients, many of which bring undesirable sensory notes. Nuts, seeds and whole grains tend to be high in unsaturated fatty acids, which are susceptible to oxidation. When that happens, a rancid flavor develops. Plant proteins, on the other hand, may contribute bitter off-notes. Some fibers will do the same. The lack of “wow” may occur when vegetable oil substitutes for butter, plant-based hydrocolloids or proteins replace eggs, and real cheese and other dairy ingredients.

“Most vegans also stay away from refined sugar due to some animal products being used in its production,” said Yannick Leen, business unit director, sweet, Symrise Inc. “Brown sugar, agave syrup, coconut sugar and others are frequently substituted in its place, and each can bring its own sweetness and textural differences.”

Bakers can use masking flavors to get more functionality without impacting the label.

“Masking flavors are also often used to bring a product base closer to a neutral point,” Ms. Maioriello said. “Although maskers offer more taste modulation than a standard flavor might, they are still declared as flavors on ingredient statements.”

Once formulators achieve that neutral taste, vegan dairy- and egg-type flavors may help mimic the taste profiles of conventional baked goods. When used in conjunction with vegan colors, it may be possible to deliver the visual richness associated with egg yolks, butter and cheese.

Better-for-you bakers often use functional ingredients while also reducing added sugars.

“We often use maskers in the nutrition space due to masking of functional ingredients, but we have found a great use for them for vegan applications, such as protein bars and cookies,” Ms. Maioriello said. “Sweetness enhancers are beneficial both for products that have a lower added sugar content, as well as in vegan baked goods to help round out the flavor profile.”

All five basic tastes — bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami — along with when and how they are perceived in traditional baked goods should be considered when trying to replicate the same eating experience in a vegan version. Because this can be challenging, bakers may choose to lean into the vegan flavors rather than suggesting it tastes like the traditional version with eggs and dairy.

Coconut fat, for example, is often used in place of animal-based dairy in sweet baked goods. Too much coconut, however, may have soapy off-notes.

“In such cases, the producer wants to eliminate this note,” Ms. O’Shaughnessy said. “However, unlike in some plant-based products, they don’t actually want the product to mimic dairy but rather they prefer it to retain its signature coconut taste.”

This can be achieved with the right flavor modifier. Such flavors increase or decrease specific characteristics or alter the way a specific flavor is delivered and perceived by the consumer without impacting a characteristic flavor of its own.

“Masking flavors can be built into a characterizing flavor or be used separately, whatever the baker’s preference is,” said Rochelle De Loache, applications technologist, IFF Nourish. “Mouthfeel flavors can include mouthwatering or cooling sensations. Mouthwatering, for example, is especially useful in applications where ingredients might be perceived as drying or bitter.”

Formulators can get the most out of flavors when they look at them beyond taste and consider mouthfeel.

“Flavors that can both stimulate a basic taste receptor and emulate specific mouthfeel qualities are incredibly useful for improving applications,” said Hanna Santoro, senior bakery scientist, ADM. “For a fully desirable sensory experience, formulators must consider the main taste receptors and which ones should be in the forefront depending on the application.

“It’s also crucial to consider aspects that elevate mouthfeel, such as creaminess,” Ms. Santoro continued. “Traditional baked goods typically already demonstrate this functional attribute because the fat from butter or milk tends to coat the mouth. Vanilla is a fantastic solution for vegan products, because it provides a distinct sweet and smooth flavor while also offering a perception of creaminess.”

In addition to vanilla, maple and caramel-type flavors can contribute a sense of creaminess or milkiness to a bakery application.

“A lot of times, these flavors will trigger the memory of home baking and give a person more of a nostalgic feeling,” said Roni Eckert, senior food scientist, Wixon.

Mouthfeel considerations are paramount with melt-in-your mouth sweet baked goods. That’s because melt influences the way flavor is delivered and perceived.

Because vegan fats do not have the same fat content as butter, nor the same fatty acid profile, they do not have the same melting point. This may impact the mixing of batters and doughs, as well as bake times.

“A more challenging aspect of butter replacement is encountered when looking at laminated products,” Ms. O’Shaughnessy said. “The flavor must withstand double processing where the fat being used is flavored first and then must survive the processing and baking steps where flavor can easily be lost if the levels and flavor are not correct.”

Ms. Santoro offered the shortbread cookie as an example of how a fat is contributing not just flavor but also texture and function.

“Consumers expect a certain level of buttery flavor and crumbly texture when biting into this type of cookie,” Ms. Santoro said. “Our vegan butter flavors are designed to help with creating the same taste and mouthfeel that you would get from traditional shortbread. It’s also incredibly useful in other vegan offerings, like buttercream frostings and brownies.”

Vegan cheesecakes have multiple challenges. The graham cracker taste is typically made with butter and the cream cheese contains dairy, and in New York-style cheesecake, that cream cheese gets whipped with whole eggs.

“The plant-based cream cheese bases that are being used often come with a bitter and astringent taste,” said Meg Jurcan, scientist, Sensient Flavors & Extracts. “A masker can help remove that and help you get a more traditional tasting product. A dairy-free butter flavor works in the crust. It is also useful in vegan puffed pastry, as it adds mouthfeel.”

 This article is an excerpt from the March 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Flavors, click here.