Flavours: more than just taste

6 Dec 2018

Consumer Insights

All of Puratos’ efforts are aimed at supporting customers across the globe in developing even better products and recipes for bakery, patisserie and chocolate. And as great taste is a key driver in how consumers appreciate a product, we work hard to ensure that our products taste perfect. Flavours can play a major role in this. But what do flavours do exactly? What’s their importance, and when is the use of a flavour recommended? Catherine Vermeulen, Flavour Expert at Puratos, is more than happy to tell us all about it.

Flavours, great tools to generate different sensory experiences

When you talk to Catherine (41), one thing is clear: she’s extremely passionate about flavours. Flavours are often solely considered as culinary ‘perfumes’. This is much too simplistic, states Catherine firmly. “The advantages of flavours go far beyond just perfuming your product. The beauty of a flavour is that it can trigger olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and trigeminal (nervous) sensations. This means that besides perfuming our food, flavours can also be used to improve the taste profile of our food and to boost certain sensory characteristics like melting, cooling, hot-spicy, astringent or creamy sensations (as well as many others). This way, flavours enable us to enjoy unique and pleasurable multi-sensory experiences.”Flavours can also have very surprising properties. “Did you know that some flavours can even make you salivate more? Elderly people sometimes don’t produce enough saliva, making it difficult for them to swallow or eat baked products for example. Imagine what stimulating the release of saliva could mean for this group. It could allow them to enjoy eating delicious panettone, buns or brioches again. Some flavours can do that.”


Flavour expert, a great job full of diversity

For 3 years, Catherine has been spending her working days making sure all her colleagues at Puratos worldwide have access to the best, most innovative flavour solutions. Being the one and only Flavour Expert at Puratos, her job is far from being routine. Catherine: “I love my job! I’m involved in everything that’s got to do with flavours and I’m always on the lookout for new flavour solutions. I am constantly discovering new products or recipes from all around the globe, trying – together with my colleagues – to understand different people’s taste preferences. Since Puratos does not manufacture flavours as such, I need to identify and promote the most suitable suppliers within the company and encourage partnerships with them.

I also train and advise people internally on how to use, screen and select the right flavours. To further inspire them and lead them to the creation of new concepts, I also regularly ‘feed’ them market and consumer trends in flavours. In fact, I like to see myself as a facilitator: my main personal objective is to facilitate the work of my colleagues across the globe in developing new recipes and products. Products that please our customers and their customers, i.e. the end-consumers. I help them to give their products the final touch for the perfect sensory experience.”


Why use flavours?

“As a consequence of urbanisation, we have exchanged many fresh foods for processed foods with an extended shelf life. Unfortunately, this can sometimes alter the taste quality of our food. Flavours can help to keep food pleasurable, with a truly authentic taste and without any off-notes.

The same reasoning applies when you start to develop healthier products. “There’s a huge demand for products with less fat, less sugar, less salt, more fibre or more protein. But having more or less of such ingredients in a recipe has an impact on our sensory perceptions or the ‘enjoyability’ of our food. And again, this is where flavours can help."

Last but not least, flavours help us and our customers to offer a diversity of pure or fancy tastes and experiences so that consumers don’t get bored with eating the same ‘stuff’ over and over again. And a good flavour can trigger emotions. Just because of its scent, an artisanal apple pie can indeed invoke memories of your sweet grandma, or a mojito-flavoured cupcake can take you back to a past tropical holiday.”


  Are there any disadvantages to flavours?

When asked for the disadvantages of using flavours, Catherine reacts very decisively. “For me, there are absolutely no disadvantages. It’s perfectly safe to use flavours. In the end, it is a food ingredient like water, flour and sugar and it is labelled as such. Most of the substances used to make a flavour are naturally present in meat, fruits, plants or fermented products that people have been consuming for ages. All these substances, also the artificial ones, their sources and their production processes are so strictly controlled by authorities with extensive clinical and toxicological tests that there is nothing to be afraid of. If the use of flavouring substances – natural or not – or the use of flavouring preparations is allowed at a certain dosage in a specific application, it is because they have been proven to be harmless.”

To flavour, or not to flavour?
Flavours have a lot of advantages and no disadvantages. Nevertheless, adding them to all products is unnecessary. There are products in the Puratos portfolio in which it is not necessary to add flavours and where some legal restrictions exist.

“Take real Belgian dark chocolate for example.” explains Catherine. “It is only permitted to add natural vanilla extract to it, and that’s it. But still, this chocolate has a very complex taste, very different than vanilla, right? Sometimes it has strong coffee notes. Sometimes people perceive a fruity hint of banana in it. This complexity comes from the raw materials that are used, like the variety of cocoa. And also, from differences in the process of fermenting and roasting the beans. In fact, there are many parameters we can play on to influence the taste and the overall sensorial profile of chocolate.

It’s the same for sourdough. The type of cereal you use, the micro-flora that is naturally present in your flour or in the surrounding environment, the temperature…They all have an impact on the taste, and by playing with these factors you can give bread a more roasted or fruity character.”

Better understanding the formation of flavouring substances in food  

It’s very complex to find out how each parameter impacts the taste and feel of a product. That’s why Puratos is conducting extensive studies on some of its key-products to dive deep into intrinsically created sensorial differences in smell and aroma.

“A lot of factors impact the final sensory profile of a food, and synergies can occur. It therefore takes a lot of effort to find out what happens when you make slight changes to the recipe, the production process or even the packaging of your product. Believe me: analysing the molecular composition of a product and making the right correlations between the different substances, human senses or technical parameters is far from simple.”


Enhance product flavours and trigger emotions

Catherine is a true flavour expert. She loves every aspect of her job: the global scope, the diversity of products, people and cultures, the strong link with the consumers and market trends, and perhaps most of all the way that with ‘her’ flavours, she can really trigger emotions in people. “I can recognize the perfect flavour by looking at people’s facial expressions or behaviours. As soon as their eyes start shining, I know that’s the one!”

Catherine is very eager to spread her enthusiasm. She does that in workshops and seminars, and she recognises a lot of talent within her colleagues. Her best advice: “Try, try, try and try again! Don’t be afraid to test different solutions. You can’t predict the performances of a flavour. You really have to apply it to your base (your dough for example), leave it interacting with the other ingredients, go through the whole manufacturing process to make the final application out of it (a baked plain cake for example) and then assess it. Take the time to do your screening and selection properly, dare to go out of your comfort zone and come up with ideas. Failures are really the best way to learn. And of course, use the different tools and the internal or external experts that are here to help you!”


Interested in what flavours can do for your business? Contact your local Puratos representative or discover more about the latest trends in flavours.