When preparing new dishes, many food innovators strive to enhance taste while retaining nutritional value. It calls for the right ingredient blend, which not only adds to the flavor directly, but can intensify other flavor ingredients. To add flavors to a wider range of foods, the industry leverages different techniques to modify the flavors of nutritional ingredients. Below are some flavor-modifying examples and safety considerations.
“Flavor modifiers,” either intensify or block flavors. For example, “coolant flavors” have little or no taste, but stimulate cold receptors in the mouth to make the flavor of menthol in candy more intense. Conversely, flavor modifiers can block flavors. In savory dishes where a sweet taste is typically not desired, sugar can enhance other relevant characteristics. In this case, a chemical such as lactisole will temporarily block sweetness receptors, and the savory flavor will predominate.
Linguagen Corp. has also found that adenosine monophosphate (AMP), a naturally occurring nucleotide substance, can block bitter food flavors. AMP works much like lactisole. It will not directly alter the bitter flavor, but instead alters human perception of “bitter” by blocking the associated receptor.
Omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in fish oil and other oils can benefit cardiovascular health, but may impart a strong fish-like taste and odor. To mask this and other flavors, industry has started to encapsulate ingredients, through micro or nanotechnology.
Encapsulation is the encasing of an ingredient in a starch or other material (natural gums, proteins or hydrocolloids) and then spray-drying the mixture to form a capsule around the ingredient. Recently, difficult-to-add nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and certain vitamins, have been altered to nanoparticle size (typically less than 100 nanometers) and encapsulated. This fosters a controlled nutrient release and masks odors or tastes.
Nano-encapsulation may also increase nutrient bioavailability. If not monitored, the ingestion of nanosized nutrients could possibly reach toxic levels. Unfortunately, relatively few safety studies exist on nano-sized nutrient consumption to fully expose the actions of nano-sized nutrients. Therefore, the FDA stated that it will evaluate nano-sized food additives case-by-case to determine safety.