Effective Use of Colors for Optimal Flavor Perception

Posted on:November 10, 2019

Clean labeling efforts may mean colorants will be avoided, yet color may prove essential in capturing how consumers perceive a food product, noted Debra Zellner, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Montclair State University, and Affiliated Faculty Member at Monell Chemical Senses Center. Zellner provided an illuminating discussion of how the color of food (and its packaging) affects consumers’ expectations for odor and flavor in her presentation: “The Effect of Color on Odor Perception: Toward More Efficient Ingredient Use.”

The odor associated with food is perceived orthonasally (when detecting the food’s aroma) or retronasally (when food is in your mouth, i.e., “flavor”).

Food color affects the perceived intensity of orthonasal odor, with colored foods (regardless of color) rated as having more intense odors than clear foods. In contrast, colored foods were perceived retronasally as less intense than clear foods.

Food color also affects flavor identification, which in turn affects how well a consumer likes a food. “Most people are terrible at identifying flavors or odors,” commented Zellner. If the flavor and color of a food are incongruent, subjects will perceive the flavor to be something congruent with color. For example, a clear cola soda might be perceived as lemon/lime rather than cola.

If the flavor and color of these popsicles are incongruent, consumers will identify the flavor to be more congruent with the color. For example, consumers will associate the red popsicle with flavors such as raspberry, strawberry or cherry—even if the red popsicle actually has a blueberry flavor.

How well a color matches the flavor of a food also affects how well the food is liked, with foods less well-liked when their flavor and color are incongruent—unless it is apparent what the flavor is supposed to be. As explained by Zellner, “Green beer is still okay on St. Patrick’s Day,” because you know the beverage tastes like actual beer—not mint or apple.

Zellner detailed some of the psychology underlying these results. When stimuli are paired together repeatedly over time, an association between them develops. For example, if you are a coffee drinker, a brown-colored beverage will elicit the perception of coffee. The odor perception due to the color alone is similar but weaker than that produced by the actual stimulus [i.e., coffee aroma], but color can add to and enhance the actual odor.

One recent study tested how a raspberry/lemon-flavored beverage was perceived when colored yellow, red or left clear. When colored yellow, the soda had more of lemon aroma than did the same beverage when red or clear in color. The effect was limited to the scent, however, because the color did not influence the perceived taste of the beverage

Inspired by New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton, Zellner’s group also investigated whether packaging color provides a clue to the flavor of the food inside. Unflavored, neutral- colored hard candies were wrapped in various colored papers. When still wrapped, the color of the wrapper influenced what flavor the sub-jects believed the candies were. After unwrapping, however, the wrapper color did not affect the flavor subjects assigned to the candy. Most subjects predicted that unwrapped, neutral-colored candies were mint, vanilla or coconut in flavor. The perceived flavor when tasting the uncolored candy was often vanilla or butterscotch, flavors normally associated with neutral colors.

A similar study in potato chips (which looked alike, despite different flavors) found that packaging colors affected the perceived flavor of the chips, but only if the subject was already familiar with the packaging color scheme used for different flavors.

In summary, food or packaging color can influence odor or taste perception or expectation in a variety of ways. Food color increases orthonasal (sniff) but not retronasal (in the mouth) odor perception; color can intensify one odor component in a complex product with multiple odors; color does not increase flavor intensity, but color will change expectation, identification and enjoyment of a flavor; and food color matters more than the packaging color, especially when food color predicts flavor. However, when all flavors look similar, packaging colors can influence flavor expectations.

“The Effect of Color on Odor Perception: Toward More Efficient Ingredient Use,” Debra Zellner, Ph.D., Professor, Psychology, Montclair State University & Monell Chemical Senses Center

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Clean Label Conferences at

An Update on Label-Friendly Surfactants and Emulsifiers

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Surfactants and emulsifiers constitute probably the most technically complicated category of food ingredients, declared Peter Wilde, Ph.D., Research Leader, Quadram Institute of Bioscience, University of East Anglia (UK), in his presentation “Challenges & Solutions: An Update on Label-Friendly Surfactants and Emulsifiers.” Wilde laid down a foundational outline of emulsifier and stabilizer chemistry from which he launched an off-road overview of emerging clean-label alternatives.

The magic of emulsions is illustrated in how the mixing of two liquids or a liquid and a gas can transform the mixture into a solid,” he began. The key is high-shear mixing. “When you create very small droplets of oil in water, they behave as hard spheres. If you get enough of them, they form a hard material with a solid appearance.”

The droplets must be stabilized against re-coalescence, how- ever, which is where stabilizers and emulsifiers come in. Gums and thickeners stabilize the water phase. Emulsifiers stabilize the oil-water interface.

Recent consumer demands for clean labels have shifted the industry’s focus toward natural emulsifiers and stabilizers, such as phospholipids. “They are ubiquitous in nature, as every plant and animal cell are stabilized by phospholipids,” said Wilde. Phospholipids, such as lecithin, are naturally present in egg yolks and oil seeds. Some proteins, too, can function as natural emulsifiers and stabilizers.

When searching for foods with clean labels, consumers prefer natural emulsifiers, such as lecithin derived from egg yolks and oil seeds—fearing chemical-sounding ingredient names of which they have no familiarity.

In past decades, the focus was to chemically enhance natural ingredient materials (starches, fats) in order to improve their functionality. For example, natural triglyceride fats were enzyme-treated to create mono- and diglycerides. Unfortunately, this does not comport well with modern clean label expectations, so the focus today is on all-natural, minimally enhanced emulsifiers and stabilizers that are both label-friendly and effective.

“There has been a lot of recent work with saponins, such as quillaja extracts from soapbark,” said Wilde. However, the health effects of saponins are still being debated. Some exhibit anti-carcinogenic qualities at certain levels; some contain anti-nutrients, such as oxalic acid; while others are known to be toxic at high levels,” he explained. As with all bioactive materials, the dose makes the poison.

Also, ingredient label designations trump function, no matter how natural an ingredient may be. Pointing to a commercially available bile salt supplement, Wilde noted that, while he included it in his presentation as a bit of a joke, “(it) really is an excellent emulsifier. It is an approved supplement, so we know that it is safe. However, I do know that it would not be particularly label- friendly.”

Wilde also discussed ongoing research into plant chloroplasts, which contain huge amounts of tightly packed galactolipids. Although they require high levels of processing for extraction, they may also offer the added benefits of promoting satiety and aiding fat digestion.

“Hydrophobins, secreted from filamentous fungi, generated a lot of interest a few years back,” continued Wilde. Highly effective stabilizers, they have been shown experimentally to stabilize ice cream and the foam in beers. He added, however, “They remain difficult to extract and handle.”

Additional and ongoing research investigations include frog- hopper (spittlebug) excretions; tannins; galactomannans from spruce trees; prickly pear cactus extracts; and microbial fermentation extracts.

“Proteins and polymeric emulsifiers may not be as effective as synthetic emulsifiers, but they do provide additional functionality by forming thick layers at interfaces that impart long-term stability,” explained Wilde. Proteins, while not compatible with traditional surfactants, can form elastic films and incredibly strong and stable structures. They can also create unique mouth-feel sensations.

There are process innovations as well. While highly effective, mono- and diglycerides do not project a clean label image. However, they do not have to be listed on the label, if created in situ through the addition of lipase enzymes as processing aids, as is done in bread baking. Added to the dough, the lipase enzymes are destroyed during baking.

New sources of potential emulsifiers and stabilizers continue to be discovered, noted Wilde. “Understanding the structure- function-performance relationships of stabilization and emulsification is key to identifying candidates that, with some minor process modifications, can become viable clean label stabilizers and emulsifiers. Some might even come with added functional and health benefits,” he concluded.

“Challenges & Solutions: An Update on Label-Friendly Surfactants and Emulsifiers,” Peter Wilde, Quadram Institute of Bioscience/University of East Anglia (UK)

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Clean Label Conferences at

Consumer Attitudes & Protein Sources: An Overview

Posted on:November 3, 2019

CONSUMERS AROUND THE GLOBE are increasingly interested in eating more protein, and they are obtaining that protein from an evolving variety of sources. Julie Johnson, General Manager of HealthFocus International, presented illuminating results from several recent surveys in her presentation titled “Emerging Global Consumer Views on Protein: Usage Patterns and Preferred Sources.” This included a 2018 Healthfocus International study of more than 12,000 primary household shoppers from 22 countries and a 2018 U.S. study with more than 2,000 primary household shoppers. In addition, results from a large 2017 global study of more than 9,000 individuals who reported they were increasing their consumption of plant proteins and/ or decreasing their consumption of animal proteins were highlighted.

According to Johnson, today’s consumer has health-related priorities beyond just eating well: mental and emotional well-being; maintaining a healthy weight; getting regular exercise; and having an active lifestyle are all important. Most consumers (90% globally) believe they are currently eating a healthy or very healthy diet, but they still see room for improvement. Reducing sugar remains the highest priority among specific dietary changes that global consumers want to make. Close behind, however, nearly a third of global and U.S. consumers report that adding protein is important.

More than three quarters of global and U.S. consumers believe adding more protein to a food or beverage makes it healthier.                          Photo Source: iStock-EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER

What makes a food or beverage healthier in the mind of consumers? More than three quarters of consumers believe adding more protein to a food or beverage makes it healthier. A similar percentage believe using plant-based protein also makes a food more healthful. These related, but distinct, beliefs are observed in consumers of all ages. However, these views—especially that using plant-based protein improves the healthfulness of a product—are most apparent in younger consumers under the age of 40, said Johnson.

Consumer interest in dietary protein is apparent when looking at the protein content of popular diets, such as the keto diet. While few consumers may actually follow a specific diet, many consumers borrow elements that resonate with them and incorporate them into their eating habits. Johnson noted that the interest in the keto diet has helped create new opportunities for marketing protein-rich foods, some of which have not traditionally been considered healthy due to their fat content.

Protein consumers, particularly in the U.S., ascribe a plethora of health benefits to a high-protein diet. An increasing number of consumers, especially men and younger shoppers, choose foods specifically because they are high in protein. Very few consumers believe they are getting too much protein, and even those that feel they are getting enough may still report trying to increase their protein intake. When consumers choose protein now, it is not plant OR animal protein; it is usually plant AND animal protein. As Johnson described, it is about adding health and nutrition, not just about adding plants—and both plant and animal sources of protein are considered healthy by consumers.

While consumers are embracing all types of proteins, the source of the protein still matters to many of them. Protein sources considered “good” by consumers include natural sources; complete sources of protein; and those that are free from artificial ingredients. Perhaps surprisingly, only 25% think plant-sources proteins are automatically “good.” Consumers are interested both in traditional sources of protein, such as egg white protein, milk protein and plant proteins, but also in less obvious sources of protein, such as grains. Novel protein sources, which are just starting to make traction in the consumer protein market, include algae and hemp.

Most consumers view proteins of any kind as either good or neutral; only red meat, pork/sausage and insect protein were viewed as “bad” by more than 20% of U.S. consumers. Fish, nuts and lean meats stand out among protein sources as proteins that consumers want to consume more often.

In contrast, although insect proteins are considered sustainable and get a lot of buzz, consumers show little interest in adding them to their diets. This disinterest may change, however, as the sustain- ability of food is important to consumers and will likely play an increasing role in driving protein demand in the future.

“Emerging Global Consumer Views on Protein: Usage Patterns and Preferred Sources,” Julie Johnson, General Manager, HealthFocus International,

This presentation was given at the 2019 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at


Unraveling the Science of Clean Label Fats & Oils

Posted on:October 23, 2019

Selection of clean label alternatives for fat and oil ingredients depends on several factors. They include how the manufacturer defines clean label; the desired functionality of the ingredient in application; and physical properties, such as melting, crystallization or viscoelasticity. All of these factors are influenced by the ingredients’ chemical properties, explained Neil Widlak, MSc, Consultant, Fats and Oil Technologies in his presentation, “Factors to Be Considered for Selecting the Best Fats & Oils to Meet Clean Label Requirements.” Despite the considerations for use of such alternatives, from cost to quality to functionality, in the end, it all factors down to chemistry.

Triglycerides (TAG), esters of glycerol plus three fatty acids, form 98% of a fat’s composition, noted Widlak. The type of fatty acid—short carbon chain or long; degree of saturation (the higher the saturates, the more solid the fat); position of the fatty acids on the TAG molecule; and diversity of the TAG population—determines a fat’s properties and functionality. These properties can be changed through clean label process modifications, such as fractionation (e.g., physical rather than use of potentially objectionable solvents) and interesterification (e.g., use of enzymatic versus chemical hydrolysis).

While clean label, cold-pressed and/or expeller-pressed soybean and canola are readily available, they’re not available in the volumes (or prices) of commodity processed oils. And these alternatives may not be as easily interchanged, because of differences inherent in flavor and color—natural variances not removed during the “cleaner” extraction process. However, in terms of functionality, said Widlak, “Cold-pressed canola, expeller-pressed canola and organic canola have identical fatty acid composition vs. the commodity oil.”

A wide variety of fats can be produced with palm and cotton- seed oils through fractionation. “Clean label fluid shortenings, pumpable shortenings and oleogels can be used as alternatives for plastic/semi-solid fats in many baking applications, such as cakes, muffins, cookies, brownies. However, fluid, pumpable and oleogels lack the solids and structure of plastic shortenings and may not perform as well in applications where the plastic characteristics are essential to the distinct dough layers and volume found in puff pastries and Danish-type pasties,” offered Widlak. 

Palm kernel and coconut lipids, high in medium-chain saturated fatty acids, impart desirable quick melting at room temperature, but must be supplemented by the addition and or interesterification of fats having a higher melting range to achieve the desired melting range …to near body temperature to perform well in confections,” he added.

The goal of high performing shortenings or a confectionery shortening is dependent not only on its solid content and melting range, but also on the crystalline habit and behavior of the solid fats. All three characteristics must be examined and monitored throughout shelflife to ensure the shortening will meet a finished product’s performance standards.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (e.g., linolenic [C18:3]) are more prone to oxidation and polymerization and should be kept to a minimum in oils used for frying or roasting, noted Widlak. Common varieties of soybean and canola oil contain high levels (greater than 2%) of linolenic fatty acids. High oleic varieties of these oils have been developed to lower the linolenic content and raise the oleic content, thus improving the oils frying, roasting and shelf-stability.

Research by the USDA indicates desirable fried food flavors are” contributed from the partial decomposition of linoleic (C18:2) fatty acids. Therefore, it may be advisable for oils used for frying to contain a portion of linoleic fatty acids to impart a desired fried food flavor. The ideal level would need to be determined based on the frying methods, type of food being fried and shelflife expectations,” Widlak noted.

Coconut oil does not form polymers/gums or an undesirable flavor from oxidation in popped corn because of its high levels of medium- chain saturated fat, which is very stable at high temperatures. Coconut oil is also an excellent oil for roasting, although foods with high moisture content could accelerate hydrolysis resulting in soapy off flavors in the roasted product and shorten shelflife, advised Widlak.

As he concluded, Widlak emphasized that oils, which are liquid at room temperature, cannot replace fats that are solid or plastic at room temperature and provide equivalent function/performance. It’s all a matter of understanding your application—and the chemistry within.

“Factors to Be Considered for Selecting the Best Fats & Oils to Meet Clean Label Requirements,” Neil Widlak, MSc, Consultant, Fats and Oil Technologies

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Clean Label Conferences at

Uncertain Clean Label Regulatory Environment

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Will FDA issue regulations defining natural and redefining healthy? Or will these claims become less common on food packages due to the risk of challenge? What are the implications for development of the clean label category, when ingredients disfavored by some consumers are important for taste, shelflife and even safety? Leslie Krasny, Partner, Keller and Heckman, LLP, considered these questions in a riveting and information-packed presentation on clean label complexities. The title of her talk was “The Impact of Regulatory Requirements and Litigation Risk on Clean Label Product Development and Marketing.”

“As we know, the concept of clean labels for foods has expanded to cover transparency, essentially creating a right-to-know expectation among consumers regarding disclosure of almost any information they may consider to be important,” she began. And, label challenges can be very costly and disruptive to manufacturers. The stakes are high but anticipating challenges can help mitigate or avoid such risks. Here are some highlights from her presentation.

At the Federal level, the FDA may cite label claims as violative in warning letters, which don’t represent final agency action but can trigger class action lawsuits. And all states have food laws that either incorporate the FDA’s labeling requirements or have similar requirements.

Regarding natural, the FDA’s informal policy defines the claim to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives, regardless of source) has been added to a food that would not normally be expected in that food. “The definition is ambiguous, and we have no idea what the last part means,” declared Krasny.

As for the USDA, meat, poultry and egg products typically have not been the subject of label claim challenges, because most claims must have prior approval from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Under the USDA’s informal policy on natural, foods must contain no artificial or synthetic ingredients and also must be “not more than minimally processed.”

Unfortunately, said Krasny, plaintiffs often seek to apply the USDA’s “not more than minimally processed” criterion to FDA-regulated foods in challenging “natural” or “no artificial ingredients” claims. “Moreover,” she continued, “these definitions are not regulations, so there is no clear Federal preemption.”

Plaintiffs file lawsuits under state consumer protection laws for false, misleading or deceptive marketing, because there is no private right of action for consumers under the FDA and FTC regulatory frameworks. These federal and state laws apply a “reasonable person” standard. Some courts have opined that an interpretation of a claim may be considered “reasonable,” if held by a significant minority of consumers(12%). Courts often substitute their own judgments regarding whether interpretations are reasonable, and many class actions proceed based on the subjective views of the named plaintiffs.

What about terms that are arguably similar to healthy? In the final rule regarding that claim (decades ago), the FDA declined to define “wholesome,” “nutritious” and “good for you,” but stated that if these terms appear in association with nutrient content claims, the terms are implied nutrient content claims and unless defined by the FDA (which has not happened), could cause the products to be misbranded, Krasny stated. Plaintiffs have accused companies of creating misleading “healthy auras” through use of such terms when the healthy criteria are not met.

Class actions lawsuits for food labeling claims are trending upwards (a 9% increase in 2018 alone), but these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, noted Krasny, because many challenges are settled privately for significant payments, often with label changes, with no complaints filed.

In her closing remarks, Krasny recommended making the legal review of label claims part of a company’s product development strategy early in the conceptualization process. “That way, you can make informed decisions based upon a company’s risk-management policy. Some companies are willing to assume high risks; others are very risk-averse.” Left unanswered was the question of whether it is better to avoid risky label claims altogether and just let clean ingredient statements do the talking. Cautioned Krasny: “Just be careful out there!

“The Impact of Regulatory Requirements and Litigation Risk on Clean Label Product Development and Marketing,” Leslie Krasny, Partner, Keller and Heckman, LLP.

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Clean Label Conferences at

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