Clean label flavors: Interview with an expert in flavor technologies

Clean label flavors: Interview with an expert in flavor technologies

By PreScouter Editorial Team
Laura A. Arias, Principal Flavorist & R&D Manager, Andean Region | Metarom Group
Laura A. Arias, Principal Flavorist & R&D Manager, Andean Region | Metarom Group

Laura is a food and chemical engineer focusing on flavor creation, product development, and flavor applications for various categories in the food and beverage industry, including sweet goods, bakery, dairy products, savory, and snacks, etc. She is passionate about flavor design and creating sensory experiences. 
Laura has extensive knowledge of molecules and raw materials, as well as developing products focusing on clean labeling (sodium/sugar/fat reduction, plant-based) and regulatory affairs.

“Flavor technologies now are focusing on sodium and sugar reductions, improving the taste of plant-based products and residuals, or bad notes that come from different kinds of ingredients used in foods.”

The “clean label” movement has been around for years. Has the perception of clean label flavors changed over time?

As clean label food options grow in development, more consumers are embracing flexible diets by limiting certain foods associated with being bad for both personal health and the environment. Flavor houses have responded to this by promoting natural options and being an important part of launching ingredients for self-care and “better for us” alternatives, encouraging consumers to adopt small healthier habits by thinking about the list of ingredients of all processed foods.

 What has changed and why?

Health and wellness have emerged as a critical focus and have become the norm for consumers, creating healthier food and ingredient opportunities. Consumers put eating healthy as their current top priority for health and wellness. So, as a contributor of ingredients to processed food, the flavor industry has been innovating in clean production technologies and improving molecular research. These points are gaining notable investment, and many hold the potential to be further commercialized. I mean, the technology always connects the dots for production, from start to finish, making better ingredient solutions to sustain the holistic needs of the global population.

This is happening because sustainable nutrition is an important topic as consumers consider the nutritional profile and environmental/ethical implications of the food they eat. Also, plant-based alternatives are pressing ahead toward the mainstream, improving offerings in taste, nutrition, and environmental impact.

Do you anticipate any changes?

The continuous battle with COVID-19 has greatly influenced health, technology, and the demand for sustainability, shaping the future of ingredients. The pandemic also drove consumers’ desire for tangible, substantial benefits (e.g., quality and function) to help human and planetary health. I think, in the next two years, healthy products will concentrate on solutions that support consumers’ self-care practices and boost nutrient density while being low in fat, sugar, and sodium. In addition to being eco-friendly, sustainable proteins will need to be economical and deliver nutrition, safety, and technical components, which creates an opportunity for flavor houses to create or improve effective flavor technologies.

A sustainable food supply chain will be the next space where food companies will benefit from technology-driven ingredients. Also, it will be important for us to develop ingredients that act on food waste and loss, which will help mitigate global hunger and food insecurity.

What are some flavor technologies that could signal “clean” other than traditional liquid flavors like essential oils and extracts?

The flavor is fascinating. When we refer to flavor, it can be described as a substance that reacts in the mouth and offers a taste to the food. When food is processed, flavors can impart aromas and improve the taste. For example, the pasteurization process in natural orange juices increases the temperature within a certain period; when that process occurs, all the natural aroma and flavor components of the oranges decrease, so we can use the natural orange flavor to increase the lost flavor notes and improve the taste. In this case, we use essential oils or extracts derived from oranges.

As I mentioned, flavor technologies now are focusing on sodium and sugar reductions, improving the taste of plant-based products and residuals or bad notes that come from different kinds of ingredients used in foods. We could find technologies that use better clean label ingredients, such as saltness solution to replace table salt, as it is natural, vegan, and kosher.

What are some challenges that you faced when developing a clean label product? And what approach did you take to overcome these challenges?

As a flavorist, every change in consumers’ health, environment, and market tendencies always means new challenges. When I create a new flavor or technology, I’ve been involved in searching for molecules and ingredients that can help me build the perfect clean label product, but nowadays, many raw materials are rare or difficult to get. The flavor industry always has challenges with new materials, and it is known that many flavor houses patent new ingredients and molecules to satisfy this need, and it is our responsibility to immerse in this research.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions in the clean label market?

I think that explaining the future of food is hard and educating consumers on a whole new category is challenging. A clean label doesn’t mean that foods only contain natural ingredients, are vegan or vegetarian, or have a bad taste or texture. Brands will need to employ clever storytelling to create a space in consumers’ minds for this new category. It is challenging to make consumers and brands understand this technological process in a simple way, especially with ingredients like flavors. The clean label promotes mental and physical wellness, ethical environmental practices, and something more important and sometimes overlooked: the improvement of food shortages due to global warming and improvement processes with new technologies.

What are some of the most unexpected developments for clean label flavors in the past 2-3 years?

As plant-based foods become the norm for eco-conscious consumers and well-being enthusiasts, veganism is spreading across the mass market. Of course, this is a big opportunity to continue delivering values in new ways, but creating flavor solutions to improve taste in vegan formulations by using molecules, vegan raw materials, and plant-based ingredients is challenging. 

What are some existing or emerging technologies that many companies are not considering but have great potential in the clean label market?

Ingredient solutions that help to reduce food loss and food waste will help close the gap in food insecurity. Food loss and food waste have become issues of great public concern, with a massive impact on the environment and food insecurity. Many notable efforts by businesses, jurisdictions, and nonprofits exist to handle such challenges (e.g., basic best practices).

Is there anything that you think I should know that I have not asked about?

Based on my last point, technology will play a bigger role in reducing, repurposing, and eliminating food waste and food loss in the entire food supply chain. Food and beverage players can learn from startups that have begun to set out food waste and food loss with upcycled ingredients, from production to retail to consumer.

This excerpt was taken from our Intelligence Brief “Clean Label Flavors.” The full report can be viewed here.

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