Innovative food technologies – from AI and data analytics to novel processing techniques – increasingly play a role in new product development. Food tech startups are helping speed up the process, improving taste and texture and creating new ways of sourcing ingredients. A panel of speakers at the Fi Europe CONNECT 2020 virtual event outlined some of the ways they are driving innovation in taste solutions.
“In today’s world, it is unthinkable not to have any tech,” said Jasper Schouten, CEO of 1-2-Taste, an online platform that connects small and medium-sized enterprises with suppliers of taste ingredients and technical services. “If you cannot find your ingredient online, you cannot innovate. If you don’t offer your ingredient online, you are jeopardising future growth.”
Support for SMEs
He explained that SMEs may not know where to look for flavour ingredients, and often are unable to meet minimum order requirements. However, these companies tend to be the fastest innovators, and account for about half of the market in value terms.
“The opportunity is gigantic, but it is very difficult to reach them and give them the attention they require and deserve,” he said. “…We also want to give the suppliers reach so they can grow.”
FlavorWiki is another online platform working to optimise flavour development in NPD. It allows companies to evaluate products and communicate about taste and texture – even among untrained consumers, and even at a distance.
Online flavour mapping
“If you ask a consumer what they taste, they have a hard time describing it,” said Daniel Protz, FlavorWiki founder and CEO. “But if you put in front of them accurate descriptions or pictures, then they know, so they actually have knowledge of this but they don’t have any practice working with that experience.”
By asking users to select from a series of binary descriptors, the FlavorWiki platform provides accurate sensory profiles, including when consumers are in different geographical regions with different cultural taste preferences.
“This is something we have seen has been really helpful in the Covid period when ingredient suppliers’ people cannot travel, but we also see more and more that this data can be used in presenting information to buyers of ingredients or flavours,” he said.
While FlavorWiki and 1-2-Taste help to connect companies and improve communication around taste ingredients, other companies are using technology to improve the ingredients themselves.
Tech for sugar reduction
DouxMatok is one such company, using silica as a carrier particle for flavour delivery. The company has started with sugar, and says its technology works to deliver taste directly to receptors in the mouth.
“We love the taste of sugar. We crave it,” said David Tsivion, VP R&D at DouxMatok. “…But we also know that overconsumption of sugar is bad for us and alternatives are not as sweet or desirable as the original thing is.”
Common solutions to reduce sugar include offering smaller portion sizes, using alternative sweeteners, or even gradual reduction of sugar across a food category to get consumers used to a lower level of sweetness. However, Tsivion argues that all of these fall short.
Dubbed Incredo sugar, DouxMatok’s ingredient is 99.9% sugar, but more efficient delivery makes it linger on the tongue and taste more intensely sweet than regular sugar, allowing for a sugar reduction of 30-50%.
In addition, because a manufacturer will use less of it, they can add other, more desirable ingredients, such as protein and dietary fibre. This kind of reformulation can be challenging for manufacturers, but the company has a team of culinary experts and food technologists who can help reintroduce any functionalities that are lost when sugar is reduced, while improving products’ health profile.
“We already know what works and what doesn’t so we can provide a shortcut,” he said.