A greater focus on clean labels that are easy to understand is among trends in the flavor industry today, according to Food Ingredients First.
Consumers are looking for exciting and innovative flavors, but they also want to know where herbs and spices come from, Ricardo Ibañez, marketing manager for Sensient Technologies Corp. in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told the publication. The company has introduced 100% natural and organic Sensient Natural Origins extracts to respond to this demand.
“Today’s consumers have a huge sense of adventure and a seemingly endless thirst for new experiences. At the same time, a deep desire for truth and authenticity is driving them in the direction of the past and towards ingredients with trustworthy backstories — often stretching back to ancient times,” he said.
The clean-label trend has now extended to flavorings and extracts, with natural herbs and spices becoming much more popular. At the same time, consumers are looking for simpler labels with a shorter list of ingredients, which they perceive as an indication that the product is better for them.
According to Sensient research from 2017, consumers look for the terms "natural" and "extract" on labels, with 72% of them believing their presence tends to define "clean label," Food Ingredients First reported. The company's Natural Origins lineup of extracts is designed for this audience, Ricardo Ibañez told the publication, because the sources — from herbs, fruits, flowers and hops, spices, vegetables, teas, coffees and cocoas — lend themselves to more transparent labeling and traceability. These assets can benefit manufacturers of extracts and other flavoring products since consumers are scanning the shelves for those products.
Coming up with natural extracts can mean major adjustments in the production process, however. Sensient said it developed Natural Origins extracts using low temperatures and also low-pressure and high-pressure extraction and distillation techniques. Such practices can help copy the natural flavors and aromas of botanicals without damaging or degrading them.
Flavors are an important and easy way for food manufacturers to clean up their labels. Kantha Shelke, principal at food science and research firm Corvus Blue, LLC, told Food Dive that many consumers want their food to "do no harm" and contain ingredients that don't have chemical-sounding names.
Sensient is not the only company doubling down on clean label ingredient R&D. Last month, DuPont Nutrition & Health announced it was creating a new clean label R&D hub to be located at its Denmark headquarters.
It's important to note, though, that natural flavors simply use naturally sourced chemicals. They can sometimes be chemically identical to artificial flavors, but just not synthesized in a lab, according to Business Insider. And the artificial flavors might actually be healthier. John Cox, executive director of the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, told the publication that because of the manner in which they're made, "artificial flavors often undergo even stricter safety evaluations than natural flavors."
There also is no guarantee that natural flavors are made from the substance they are mimicking. According to NPR, orange flavor may be made from oranges as well as grass and bark extracts. University of Minnesota flavor chemist Gary Reineccius told the radio network that it doesn't make sense to always use a substance in its flavoring. At one time, he said, there were 10 times more grape-flavored products than grapes — meaning alternative items to create a grape flavor were needed so that grapes could be used for other products, such as jelly and wine.
Consumers don't always know the backstory of their flavors. Even if the origin of a natural flavor sounds less than appetizing, the clean-label trend guarantees that natural flavors are here to stay.