Two of life’s constants are that challenge leads to change, and change leads to additional challenge. This is especially true in the world of technology and the ever-evolving flavor industry. When food producers started using a pasteurization process to create food products that were virtually free of microorganisms, a positive result was food with a much longer shelf life. Although this delivered a huge benefit to the general population, it also created additional challenges for the food producers. The process of pasteurizing food, although beneficial, caused many of these food products to lose their natural flavor and nutrients.
This new challenge, however, allowed companies such as Firmenich and Givaudan the opportunity to explore new ways to re-introduce this lost flavor back into food products. Simply adding essential oils and extracts was not enough to make many of the foods palatable, so by using technologies such as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, the natural flavoring chemicals in food were isolated, identified, and quantified. Through this reverse engineering and the use of synthetic chemicals, the flavor industry was born.
As we approached 1970 and beyond, many new industries were formed to develop more natural chemical equivalents to their artificial counterparts, through enzymatic treatment of natural ingredients such as grains. “I would say that just 40 years ago, 70-80 percent of all flavors were artificial,” offered Don Poole, CEO and Founder of B&D Flavours of Canada. “Today the market demands more natural flavors, to the point that 80-90 percent of the flavors we manufacture are now natural.” Additionally, the current trend to eliminate pesticides and other harmful materials typically sprayed onto food crops has led to a positive surge in organic farming and the creation of a wide range of organic flavors.
Today’s interest in health and healthy food choices has driven much of the focus and technology of the flavor industry. “In the ‘70s, the focus on food was to make sure it tasted great. Make it sweet, make it smooth and creamy, and the saltier the better,” added Don. “The mantra was ‘let’s just add more sugar, salt, and fat to our food products.’” This is obviously not where the industry is now. Present-day consumers want to live long, healthy, happy lives. They want their food choices to be healthier for them and not compromise the taste expectations that drive their food choices.
Through medical research and improvements made in the scientific understanding of the foods we consume, the industry has made a dramatic move toward “better for you” ingredients such as antioxidants, natural sugars, and natural coloring. “Much research has been done on the positive effects of various antioxidants on the repression of many forms of cancer,” stated Don. “Additionally, the ability to add back natural sugars, nutrients, fiber, and vitamins into many of today’s products has allowed the flavor industry to be an innovative and supportive partner of the larger food industry, and its health and wellness platform.”
The flavor industry continues to evolve and innovate. Whether it’s through the development of natural sweeteners such as stevia and sucralose, the enzymatic treatment of natural ingredients such as grains, or the ability to develop “super clear” flavor systems that can add flavor and nutrients to water products without compromising the pure clarity of the water, this industry continues to evolve to meet the challenges of the day. Whether it’s the 1930s, the 1970s, or the year 2030, flavor companies continue to lead the way in developing healthier food offerings that greatly improve our enjoyment of food and our overall quality of life.