Masking the taste of protein

With protein enrichment increasingly moving into more mainstream products, taste has become a crucial concern

Protein is an ongoing mega-trend. Formerly used by athletes as a muscle building staple, most consumers are now well aware of the need for high protein levels in their diet.

However, manufacturers who want to capitalise on its current popularity and include protein in their formulations are faced with the sensorial disadvantages that are associated with most of the commonly available protein sources.

Animal as well as vegetable variants often add an unpleasant mouthfeel and off-notes that can best be described as dry and bitter … or even cardboard-like. To mask these undesirable attributes, Sensient Flavors, one of the world’s leading flavour manufacturers, has developed a solution that is based on a combination of different flavouring technologies. This sophisticated approach is suitable for all protein sources and can be applied to all kinds of flavoured products.

Consumers

The number of consumers seeking out foods with high protein content has skyrocketed in recent years.

According to studies by Frost & Sullivan and Grand View Research, the global market for protein ingredients is forecast to increase in value to $31 billion by the end of 2018. in particular, consumers buy into protein-rich products for health reasons; they want to increase their muscle mass, maintain their weight or achieve a toned and well-defined body — and protein is the perfect ingredient to help them reach these goals.

It is also very beneficial for the body as it grows older. In view of the world’s ageing population, it has the potential to help vast numbers of people lead more active lifestyles. Another protein plus-point lies in consumer perception: fats and carbohydrates are split into “good” and “bad” variants by health professionals. However, proteins are generally perceived as being “good” and as a key element of a balanced and healthy diet for all age groups.

Applications

The current high demand for protein has stimulated the creativity of product developers across the globe, with innovation in high protein launches being driven by the snack and dairy segments in particular. However, although 2014 Mintel research showed that snack bars and yoghurts accounted for the majority of high protein launches, the protein trend has spread so quickly that it’s now possible to find protein in almost every conceivable type of product on the market.

From RTD sports drinks and instant powders to bakery products, diet shakes and even confectionery, protein-enriched alternatives are omnipresent. But as the diversity of products continues to increase, superior sensorial qualities are becoming ever more vital in the battle to stand above the competition.

Barbara Lezzer, Director of Marketing, Europe, Sweet and Beverage, at Sensient, comments: “The variety and intensity of off-notes that have to be covered is the key challenge when it comes to protein masking. Most current protein masking solutions just involve strong flavour usage, but this is an unsophisticated approach that often leads to low levels of consumer acceptance.”

“We at Sensient follow a different route. Our natural protein masking solutions are a combination of different Sensient flavouring technologies, which have excellent synergies. We make use of the individual enhancement properties of each technology to calm the negative taste of protein while promoting the desired flavouring profile,” she adds.

To achieve the best possible sensorial results for each application, Sensient recommends working closely with the company’s technical team. Barbara Lezzer adds: “From concept ideation to product launch, we partner with our customers every step of the way. This approach delivers complete product solutions built upon innovation, depth of market vision and creativity. Our value-added services help our clients excel in highly competitive markets and create protein-enriched products that really appeal to today’s consumers.”

Foresight

The high protein trend has clearly changed the way people eat these days. During the course of the next few years, the market will see a rise in the diversity of the protein sources used in food applications, from plant-based proteins such as pea to marine-based sources such as algae.

Experimental proteins such as insect protein or synthesised meat protein will take longer to gain acceptance. However, every protein source is likely to pose numerous sensorial challenges to manufacturers. As a consequence, the role of flavour experts such as Sensient will become more important in the future development of tasty and healthy, protein-rich foods and beverages.

Companies