As bakers attempt to add value and differentiate their products with vegan formulations, they often encounter unwanted flavor development as well as a lack of “wow”. Flavor extracts can help by masking unwanted notes, modulating mouthfeel, and enhancing signature notes to deliver the deliciousness consumers expect.
“When we think of high-end baked goods, we typically think of buttercream-based, egg-enriched, indulgent fillings,” said Susan O’Shaughnessy, senior applications specialist at Edlong. “As bakers move into the plant space, they face the challenge of replicating not only the taste of these ingredients, but also their functionality to create products that stand out in terms of texture and mouthfeel.”
When replacing ingredients with vegan alternatives, bakers can lose some of the indulgent textures and flavors of their finished products.
“We often see off-notes and a grittier mouthfeel from many vegan replacement ingredients across the board,” said Gina Maioriello, Applications Technologist, Synergy Flavors. “This can add to the problem we face with indulgence while giving the product an off-putting texture. Finding the right combination of ingredients for the type of product being used is key with the help of flavor modulation to balance the taste and soften the mouthfeel.
The elimination of dairy and eggs from baked goods leads to an increase in plant-based ingredients, many of which provide unwanted sensory notes. Nuts, seeds and whole grains tend to be high in unsaturated fatty acids, which are susceptible to oxidation. When this happens, a rancid flavor develops. Vegetable proteins, on the other hand, can provide bitter notes. Some fibers will do the same. The lack of “wow” can occur when vegetable oil replaces butter, hydrocolloids or plant-based proteins replace eggs, and real cheese and other dairy ingredients.
“Most vegans also avoid refined sugar due to the use of certain animal products in its production,” said Yannick Leen, Business Unit Manager, Sweet, Symrise Inc. “Brown sugar, agave syrup, coconut sugar and others are frequently replaced in its place, and each can bring its own sweetness and texture differences.
Bakers can use masking flavors to achieve more functionality without affecting the label.
“Masking aromas are also often used to bring a product base closer to a neutral point,” Ms. Maioriello said. “Although the masks offer more flavor modulation than a standard flavor, they are still declared as flavors on the ingredient declarations.”
Once formulators achieve this neutral taste, vegan milk and egg-like flavors can help mimic the taste profiles of conventional baked goods. When used in conjunction with vegan colors, it may be possible to deliver the visual richness associated with egg yolks, butter and cheese.
Better-for-you bakers often use functional ingredients while reducing added sugars.
“We often use masks in nutrition because of the masking of functional ingredients, but we’ve found great use for them in vegan applications, such as protein bars and cookies,” Maioriello said. “Sweetness enhancers are beneficial both in low added sugar products, as well as in vegan baked goods to help round out the flavor profile.”
The five basic tastes – bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami – and when and how they are perceived in traditional baked goods should be considered when trying to replicate the same food experience in a version vegan. Because it can be difficult, bakers may choose to lean into vegan flavors rather than suggesting they taste like the traditional version with eggs and dairy.
Coconut fat, for example, is often used instead of dairy products of animal origin in sweet pastries. Too much coconut, however, can have soapy notes.
“In cases like this, the producer wants to eliminate that note,” Ms. O’Shaughnessy said. “However, unlike some plant-based products, they don’t want the product to imitate dairy products, but instead prefer that it retain its signature coconut flavor.”
This can be achieved with the right flavor modifier. Such flavors increase or decrease specific characteristics or alter the way a specific flavor is delivered and perceived by the consumer without affecting a characteristic flavor of their own.
“Masking flavors can be integrated into a characterizing flavor or used separately, whatever the baker’s preference,” said Rochelle De Loache, Applications Technologist, IFF Nourish. “Tastes on the palate can include tantalizing or refreshing sensations. Mouth-watering, for example, is particularly useful in applications where ingredients may be perceived as drying or bitter.
Formulators can get the most out of flavors when they look beyond taste and consider mouthfeel.
“Flavors that can both stimulate a basic taste receptor and emulate specific mouthfeel qualities are incredibly useful for enhancing applications,” said Hanna Santoro, Senior Baking Scientist, ADM. “For a fully desirable sensory experience, formulators need to consider which taste receptors are key and which should be front and center depending on the application.
“It’s also crucial to consider aspects that enhance mouthfeel, such as creaminess,” Santoro continued. “Traditional baked goods usually already have this functional attribute, because fat from butter or milk tends to coat the mouth. Vanilla is a fantastic solution for vegan products, as it offers a distinct sweet and mild flavor while providing a creamy feel.
In addition vanilla, maple and caramel-like flavors can bring a creamy or milky feel to a bakery application.
“Often these flavors will trigger the memory of home cooking and give a person a more nostalgic feeling,” said Roni Eckert, senior food scientist at Wixon.
Mouthfeel considerations are paramount with sweet, melt-in-the-mouth baked goods. This is because melting influences how flavor is delivered and perceived.
Because vegan fats don’t have the same fat content as butter, nor the same fatty acid profile, they don’t have the same melting point. This can impact batter and batter mixing, as well as cooking times.
“A more challenging aspect of butter replacement is encountered when looking at rolled products,” Ms O’Shaughnessy said. “Flavor must survive double processing where the fat used is flavored first and then must survive the processing and cooking stages where flavor can easily be lost if the levels and flavor are not correct.”
Ms. Santoro offered the shortbread cookie as an example of how a fat not only contributes flavor, but also texture and function.
“Consumers expect a certain level of buttery flavor and crumbly texture when biting into this type of cookie,” Santoro said. “Our vegan butter flavors are designed to help create the same taste and mouthfeel you would get from traditional shortbread. It’s also incredibly useful in other vegan offerings, like buttercream frostings and brownies.
Vegan cheesecakes have multiple challenges. Graham cracker flavor is usually made with butter, and cream cheese contains dairy, and in New York-style cheesecake, this cream cheese is whipped with whole eggs.
“The plant-based cream cheese bases that are used often taste bitter and astringent,” said Meg Jurcan, scientist, Sensient Flavors & Extracts. “A mask can help eliminate that and help you get a more traditional tasting product. A dairy-free buttery flavor works in the crust. It’s also useful in vegan puff pastry because it adds mouthfeel .
This article is an excerpt from the March 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the full article on flavors, click here.