By Prasad Rajaram Gaikwad

As rightly said, “Being healthy is not a life goal, but it’s a way of living life”, keeping yourself healthy is the real-life intonation. Nowadays,health concern is increasing tremendously because of the changing lifestyle. And the recent rampant epidemic of COVID- 19 is transforming this concern into a social revolution. World health organization (WHO) defined health as “state of complete physical, mental & social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Your wellness is considered as health promotion by improving quality of life, proper functioning of body and practice to avoid diseases1. And how one can achieve this wellness? The answer lies in three fundamental facts of life.

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Sleep

Nutrition is the food which you eat to feed your body through the meal. Intake of proper nutrition is a critical aspect of maintaining health and wellness. So when it comes to nutrition, health-conscious societies are changing their habits to prefer high-quality food. During the purchase of any food product, the keen customer is curious about what are ingredients? Why are they used? Where they came from? How much is added? And so on.  If the label does not contain anything of a consumer’s disinterest, then it satisfies the consumer. This label appears to be clean for the consumer. And this gives rise to the term “clean label”. It has no regulatory definition nor any particular customer understandings, but roughly it means all-natural or made from all-natural ingredients with minimal processing. The clean label also shelters other ambiguous terms like organic, Genetically Modified Organisms GMO-free, dairy-free, low sugar, low salt or low fat. The consumer perception recognizes clean label as an ultimate way towards sustaining health and wellness. It should provide information about the list of ingredients, nutritional information & sustainability practices. Many consumers are unaware of the background from where the ingredients are coming. They are dependent on the label of the product for their understandings. So it should be clear enough and knowledgeable to the layman. The clean label makes it easy for the consumer to recognize what they are purchasing2.

The data reported by Market Watch shows that the global market for “clean label ingredient” in 2020will be 10.35 Billion USD and it is estimated to rise by 17.14 Billion USD in 2026 with the CAGR of 7.4%3. The estimation by Euromonitor shows the sale of 160 billion USD clean label foods in the year 2020. A global study by Ingredion found 82% of consumers give importance for recognizing the ingredients present in the food they purchase. At the same time, a short and simple ingredient list was preferable for 81% consumers. It shows the clean label trend is now a thumb rule to survive the cutthroat brand competition. The quest for clean ingredients without compromising taste or economy is need of time now. Several packed food companies have already announced their clean labelled product and started reworking on existing product formulations.

In the food formulations, the flavourings are added to impart desired taste and odour to the final product. It plays an essential role in satisfying the requirements of taste buds. The flavour blends, spices, herbs, aroma compounds, essential oils, extracts, oleoresins, absolutesall broadly contribute to flavourings. And they can be a prominent tool for claiming clean label if used suitably. The understanding of different perspectives for the clean label can make it easier to decide the use of flavourings in product formulations.

What is natural?

While dealing with flavourings for the clean label, we first need to realize what is natural. Dictionary definition suggests natural means something “as found in nature and not involving anything made or done by people”. The commodity should be derived from nature having an animal, plant or microbial origin. It is obligatory to broaden the term natural for relating it to wellness and healthiness of consumer. The consumer relates naturalness to authenticity, purity or transparency in an ingredient used.  According to the origin of the flavour ingredients, they are classified into three categories.

  1. Natural Flavour Ingredients
  2. Nature Identical Flavour Ingredients
  3. Artificial Flavour Ingredients

To claim the product as clean, food manufacturers are now shifting from artificial flavour ingredients to natural for flavouring purpose. The natural extracts derived from herbal plants atlow temperature are too used to impart desired flavouring character. Simultaneously we also have to deal with the price expected hike. When we conduct their safety testing as strict as artificial, then the chances of hazard surely reduce. Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) is the usage level permitted by Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) upon safety testing of flavour ingredients.

Replacement is the remedy

One trick to clean label for the food industry is “replacement”. It is better to avoid artificial flavour, colour, or chemical preservatives in the food product. Use of natural flavour over artificial, natural colour over synthetic dye, natural preservatives over chemical can be the replacement. Flavour professionals need to alter the composition of artificial flavour by using permitted natural flavour ingredients. Similarly, monk fruit extract, curcumin, beetroot extracts are some natural colouring agentswhich can replace synthetic dyes.

Natural flavour ingredients beyond flavouring

As we have seen, natural flavour ingredients are useful for giving taste to a food product. But they are capable of doing far more than this. There hidden properties can be beneficial to achieve health benefits naturally. It is well known that many herbs & spices have a natural antimicrobial agent in them, e.g., Eugenol in clove or cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon.These agents can be applied during formulating clean product. Many essential oils have antimicrobial as well as antioxidant properties. The citrus essential oils are rich in limonene which is attributed to antibacterial & antifungal properties. The hydroxyl group present in phenolic compounds of essential oils are vital for its antimicrobial action. Oregano oil, clove oil, thyme oils etc. are already tested for their antimicrobial activity in meat & meat products. The intense aroma of these essential oils can be a hurdle, but encapsulation can reduce the excess intensity. It is a promising way for clean labelling where you are using natural ingredients over the chemical one5.

Some studies showed the usage ofantioxidants in product formulations when loaded onnanocarriers. Natural antioxidants like β-carotene, curcumin or spice oleoresins can be employed on natural nanocarrier like casein micelles or cyclodextrin to apply in the final product. Thus it can satisfy the claim of clean label6.For oxidative stability, rosemary extract and ascorbic acid is an effective combination. So we can say that flavourings are the versatile player in clean labelling . But as such inclusion of natural ingredients in food can lead to sensory dislike by the consumer. So, sensory properties should also maintain through FMPs.

Aromatherapy is the art of using aromatic essential oils for the wellbeing of a person. Itkeeps the person rejuvenated, relaxed and refreshed. The specific essential oils applied in aromatherapy are extracted without any chemical solvent by physical extraction methods. Such essential oils have multiple uses in aromatherapy apart from its sensory characteristics7. In the recent era of life, the demand for aromatherapy is highly increasing for mental health. So the same essential oil which is used for flavouring can also benefit our health.

The way towards clean label

The industry needs a well-defined strategy to achieve clean labelling.The shorter list of added ingredients, eco-friendly packaging, and certified products is the need of time. There is a four-stage strategy given below in the pursuit of clean label8.And itapplies very well for the use of flavour and flavouring ingredients in any food product.

  1. Shorter ingredient list
    • Easy for consumer understanding
    • Complicated to formulate
    • Maintain the sensory quality
  2. Replace artificial ingredients
    • Artificial flavour by natural
    • Artificial ingredient by natural
    • Artificial additives by natural
  3. Clean packaging & supply chain
    • Eco-friendly supply chain
    • Reusable packaging material
    • Clean technology
  4. Sustainable practices
    • Environment-friendly practices
    • Corporate social responsibilities
    • Ethical farming practices

Summary

The perception for clean label product may vary for each individual due to the absence of fix regulatory standards, and it may create some doubts. The high-intensity sweetener Stevia which obtained from stevia leaves is not acceptable by some consumers as a natural ingredient. Being organic doesn’t make every ingredient clean because the potassium bicarbonate is allowed by the National Organic Program (USDA) as organic but not for clean label. So the ingredient suppliers can even get puzzled because what appears clean today may not remain the same for tomorrow. The science will definitely answer these doubts one day, but what consumer deserves now is transparency. The clean label has extended responsibility of the producer, supplier, processor and even consumer of ingredients towards health and environment. Each one has to be aware and awake to contribute to the change. Till that we can only say “what matters is the inside product, not just outside label”.

References

  1. Mullen KD. Wellness: the missing concept in health promotion programming for adults. Health Values. 1986;10(3):34-37.
  2. Bowen J. The rise of clean label. New Food Mag. 2019. https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/article/91202/controlling-contaminants-the-new-facet-of-clean-label/. Accessed April 13, 2020.
  3. Clean Label Ingredients Market 2020 With Top Countries Data.; 2020. https://www.marketwatch.com/press-release/clean-label-ingredients-market-2020-with-top-countries-data-business-revenue-future-growth-trends-plans-top-key-players-business-opportunities-industry-share-global-size-analysis-by-forecast-to-2026-2020-02-04. Accessed April 13, 2020.

The author is a student of M. Tech, Institute of Chemical Technology,Mumbai, Maharashtra

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