A Question of Taste
Sports science is having an increasing impact in the world of business, and the area of sports nutrition is no exception. Top sportsmen and women are always looking at ways of improving their performance, and do so in the knowledge that their bodies are similar to a Formula 1 car – no matter how good the engine and the driver, if you put in the wrong fuel, it won’t perform very well!
As a consequence, athletes from all sports are always looking for new nutritional supplements that might give them the edge over their opposition. Yet when it comes to sports nutrition – product quality, efficacy and taste rank highly. According to an independent survey carried out by sports nutrition brand, Kinetica, ‘Taste’ was considered one of the key influencers of purchase for 57% of respondents. Yet how much do we really understand about clean label declarations, which are interpreted in different ways across the food industry? It’s a fact that consumers want clean label (i.e. natural ingredients) which essentially should deliver great taste together with functionality in protein-based products.
So what’s the science behind the taste?
Added protein can create sensory problems in finished products, including bitterness, chalkiness and hardening, which can reduce consumer appeal and shelf-life. For brands such as Kinetica Sports, flavour experts achieve the best tasting protein beverages through rigorous research, testing and studies. For example, a recent study was conducted examining how dairy proteins affect taste perception, with the aim of diminishing undesirable flavours. This is identifying the specific volatile components that contribute to flavour challenges. The research continues with the aim of pinpointing the specific taste profiles of these protein components in order to develop flavours that could mitigate unwanted tastes in added-protein products. For example, when developing a vanilla flavour for a protein-based nutrition drink flavour-markers in the protein base can be identified, which the vanilla needs to be built around.
The changing consumer profile is seeking new and interesting flavours – many of which are already on the shelves across the country. Flavour engineering techniques has led to the improvement of traditional flavours such as strawberry, chocolate and vanilla as well as a positive stride towards more sophisticated flavour profiles as the market broadens. Flavour profiles such as exotics, super fruits and flavour fusions are leading the way. What’s more, as consumers want to cut down on sugar without losing out to taste – clever, innovative flavour engineering enables this to be achieved.
Unlike most sports nutrition brands, Kinetica has a purpose-built Centre of Excellence for Nutrition which houses its modern laboratories, which are used for scientific research, product development and analytical work. The expertise in whey protein, sensory science and flavour chemistry, along with the trained panelists who taste each new product using skilled flavourists enables them to create all-natural flavours using essential oils, oleoresins (a highly concentrated, quite viscous extract) and other natural extracts.
In products such as Kinetica, naturally derived chemical substances (found in natural sources that we can retrieve) are used such as Citral from litsea cubeba (evergreen shrub) and Linalool from the Cinnamomum camphora (ho leaf). These natural substances are blended and mixed together in different levels and mixtures to give different profiles – in much the same way on a ‘macro scale’ as you would use certain ingredients to make the difference between a chili con carne and a Bolognese sauce when cooking in a kitchen. The base ingredients of ground beef, onions and tomato are the same in both, but the other ingredients you add take the dishes in very different directions.
Allowing flavour to compromise the palatability of sports nutrition products for the sake of functionality would compromise a growth opportunity in the food market. Flavour is constructed not as an add-on or an after thought but as a flavour specifically designed to work with the base. Boosting the taste profile when it comes to protein bases is also a massive challenge when creating formulations and the industry must look at ways of trying to overcome this to deliver on two crucial levels: taste and functionality. Yet the real focus now isn’t about flavour masking, but more about flavour engineering – creating high impact flavours that complement a wide range of protein types. This approach aids the creation of high-impact flavours that help deliver the healthy, convenient and premium positioning sought by many sports nutrition manufacturers. As market demand now extends beyond the traditional standard flavours of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla, manufacturers and experts look to predict and track global flavour trends, enabling them to develop fresh, innovative, marketable flavours that are specially formulated to perform exceptionally well in protein sports supplements.
The science supporting flavour engineering of whey proteins is evolving rapidly, with research programs studying the sensory profiles of a range of protein ingredients to identify and isolate characterizing flavour components. This will provide a guide map that will allow flavours to be engineered specifically for use in nutritional products and work with individual protein sources.
Hugo Youngman, brand manager for Kinetica Sports explains, “Our own independent research confirms that when it comes to sports nutrition, taste really does matter. Yes consumers demand products that ‘deliver’ in terms of the direct nutritional benefit they bring such as helping with endurance, power and strength, but it’s the taste and texture of our products that really drives appeal. Our lineage with our exclusive flavour house supported by our own dynamic taste company ensures our consumers receive the best possible taste solutions when it comes to sports nutrition.”
As more and more consumers enjoy the benefits of sports nutrition-derived products, manufacturers and ingredient suppliers need to deliver their products in formats, textures and tastes as attractive and appealing as any other product on the surrounding shelves by inspiring taste solutions that will meet the demands of serious sportspeople, as well as recreational consumers. Whilst increasing numbers of products are developed to meet the needs of diverse consumer groups, so too does the need for rapid product development and product differentiation in developing the most functional and marketable products around – whilst at the same time refusing to sideline taste for the sake of functionality.
Performance matters, but taste is crucial.