Flavour beyond sweetness: Givaudan's 'counter-intuitive' approach to sugar reduction

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

The peach and passion fruit reduced-sugar dairy drink, prepared by Michelin-starred chef Thomas Buehner. © Givaudan
The peach and passion fruit reduced-sugar dairy drink, prepared by Michelin-starred chef Thomas Buehner. © Givaudan

Related tags Flavour sugar reduction Sensory profiling

Can onion really make soda taste sweeter? By identifying the molecules responsible for complex, full-bodied flavour notes, Givaudan uses “counter-intuitive” ingredients, such as onion or celeriac, to reduce sugar by up to 50% without losing flavour.

Givaudan launched this new approach during a tasting session at Amsterdam’s Proeflokaal culinary school this week where Michelin-starred chef Thomas Buehner demonstrated the techniques used at the start of Givaudan’s development process – identifying key molecules in onion ice cream instance – to the final product: a 50% reduced sugar orange soda and a reduced-sugar peach yoghurt drink.

Vice president of flavour science and technology Andrew Daniher explained the logic behind the method. “Normally you would not look for such flavours in something that has such a strong, sulphurous aroma such as onion. But when you taste it with a nose clip on, you can really focus on the taste attributes and decouple the distracting aroma. We are trying to focus on the positive drivers that sugar brings beyond sweetness.”

Celeriac, for instance, helps to build back some of the body and richness that is lost when sugar is removed.

According to Sophie Davodeau, head consumer sensory insights, Givaudan found that traditional descriptive methods for sensory were insufficient to quantify this ‘flavour-building’ approach.

A few years ago, it therefore developed a sensory-profiling methodology, which it calls a ‘holistic language’. “By measuring how [flavours] interact and combine, we are starting to see the full picture,​” she said.

Once Buehner and other chefs identify the interesting combinations in the kitchen, Givaudan flavourists try to identify the relevant components in the lab. Taking an extract of the food in question, they conduct a routine analysis to identify the known ‘taste active’ molecules (such as sugar alcohols, amino acids, organic acids, minerals and some nucleotides) that are present.

“The next step is molecular reconstitution,” ​said Daniher. “[Once] we understand what the known taste actives are, we reassemble them into the appropriate proportions and we taste them, looking for the same effect as [the onion or celeriac ice cream]. If we get basically the same effect, we have a match. That’s exciting because it means we are dealing with the naturally occurring molecules that bring the taste.”

If it does not find a match between the culinary target and the reconstitution, however, that means there are unknown taste-active molecules present in the target. The flavourists conduct more in-depth flavour analysis to identify them, which can lead to the discovery of new natural components to create flavour ingredients.

The interesting components could be present in any number of foods. As Buehner said, “celeriac and onion open only one door. There are many more.”

Using such “counter-intuitive​” ingredients seems to have echoes in flavour pairing​, which brings together unusual combinations, such as chocolate and caviar. But Givaudan’s approach is more about discovering what is contributing to overall taste satisfaction, explained Nely Vlasblom, product manager for beverages.

“Food pairing is typically based on commonalities in volatile flavour components, [for instance] coconut and mango have lactones in common. In this programme, we are looking for components that drive holistic taste attributes – complexity and balance – in single recipe items such as the celeriac root,” ​she said.

Beyond sugar and sweeteners

According to Vlasblom, Givaudan's flavour approach allows manufacturers to reduce sugar without adding in sweeteners, natural or artificial.

“Sweeteners are a very effective way for manufacturers to reduce sugar and is likely to remain the popular solution,” ​said Vlasblom. “However there are some consumers who, as well as wanting to reduce their sugar intake, also want to avoid sweeteners.

According to consumer panel research conducted by Givaudan, more Americans are avoiding artificial sweeteners than avoiding sugar: 42% compared to 26%.

“There is also a growing consumer trend towards lighter, more refreshing and less sweet taste experiences. It is this under-served consumer space we are focusing on to deliver natural, less sweet products with a fully satisfying taste.”

Givaudan did not give details on how its ‘beyond sweetness’ ingredients compared to a sugar-reduction process using natural or artificial flavours, but said pricing “would be aligned with other flavours”.

Manufacturers can list the resulting ingredient, which could contain scores of different components, as ‘natural flavouring’ on a product label.

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