By: Veena N *
Natural flavours are those that derive their aroma or flavour chemicals from plant or animal sources. The US Code of Federal Regulations defines “natural flavour” or “natural flavourings” as the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis that contains the flavouring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar material, meat, seafood, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavouring rather than nutritional. Whereas, the UK Food Law defines a “natural flavour” as a flavouring substance obtained, by physical, enzymatic or microbiological processes, from natural material such as: vegetable or animal origin where the material is either raw or has been subjected to a process normally used in preparing food for human consumption and to no process other than one normally so used.
In order to prepare natural flavours with the desired smell, the flavourants are extracted from the source substance using various extraction methods like solvent extraction, distillation, or simply using force to squeeze it out. These extracts are then further purified and added to food products in order to give them a particular flavour. Premium and super-premium ice cream products contain only pure extracts and natural flavours to complement relatively high levels of dairy solids and the very high qualities of all of the ingredients whereas economy brands of ice cream contain artificial flavouring materials. The current demand for natural products is higher than ever, with customers looking for flavours that more closely mimic those that they might find in nature. Flavours are often added to the base mix before freezing prior to the addition of particulates (fruit, nuts, candy pieces, ripple sauces) to the ice cream and level of addition typically in the range of 1-3 ml/kg.
Natural Flavour Ingredients
The important natural flavouring substances for ice cream and frozen desserts include: vanilla; chocolate and cocoa; confectionery and bakery inclusions; fruits and fruit extracts; nuts; spices; and liqueurs.
Vanilla: Vanilla is the most popular flavour and accounts for 30 percent of the ice cream consumed. It comes from a plant belonging to the orchid family called Vanilla planifolia. There are several varieties of vanilla beans among which are Bourbon, Tahitian, and Mexican. The Bourbon beans are used to produce the best quality vanilla extracts. This flavouring material is usually obtained in extract form, but also available in concentrates and pastes, powdered vanilla and sugar preparations. True vanilla extracts are usually prepared by the extraction of finely cut vanilla beans in a solution containing not less than 35 percent alcohol. Vanillin is the principal flavouring essential in vanilla.
Chocolate and Cocoa: Chocolate and cocoa are obtained from the cacao bean (Theobroma cacao). Four principal types of cocoa bean are: Forastero; Criollo; Nacional; and Trinitario. Forastero cocoas are dark brown, strongly flavoured, slightly bitter and comparatively high in fat content. Fermentation and roasting are key elements that govern chocolate flavour. The desirable flavour notes of cocoa products are e.g. cocoa, bitter, rich, bouquet, sour, astringent and acrid. Chocolate products used in flavouring ice cream are natural or alkalized cocoa, chocolate liquor, blends of cocoa and chocolate liquor or chocolate syrups. The amount of chocolate flavouring to be used in ice cream depends upon the desired length of flavour and colour.
Fruits: Fresh fruit and fresh frozen fruit are the most desirable flavouring materials. The aged fruit-sugar mixture used to produce good results with many ice creams and the ration of fruit-sugar may vary from 2:1 to as high as 9:1. Fruits (Apple, banana, blackberry, blueberry, cherry, grape, peach, pineapple, plum, raspberry, strawberry, lemon, orange etc) may be used whole, sliced, crushed, diced, pureed (coarse, medium or fine) or as juice and is usually added at about 15-25 percent by weight in the mix. While fresh fruit can taste fantastic in an ice cream concoction, extracts can give the ice cream an added flavour boost.
Spices: Spices like cracked black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, all spice, cardamom, ginger and sesame can all be used sparingly as natural flavours in frozen desserts. Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are often used to enhance or modify the flavour of chocolate products. Spices may be added in ice cream mix either in the finely ground dry form or as extracts. These flavours are very strong therefore, only a small quantity of these flavours is needed to produce the desired flavour.
Vegetable Flavours: Vegetable flavours like carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato, taro, corn, beet puree, tomato, cucumber and red cabbage are all being used in various formats in ice cream desserts.
Liquor Flavours: Liquor flavours such as: coffee; hazelnut; Irish cream; almond or orange liquor can all be used in various ice creams. However, a combination of the liquor itself along with natural or artificial flavours is most often used.
Should We Consume Natural Flavours?
The source of natural flavours is plant or animal material. However, these natural flavours are highly processed complex mixtures created by trained food chemists. They may contain many chemical additives. In other words, natural flavours aren’t much different than artificial flavours in terms of chemical composition and health effects. Studies have proved that when “natural” appears on food packaging, consumers usually tend to form positive opinions about the product, considering the food being ‘healthy’. But from a health and safety standpoint, we should avoid foods with natural or artificial flavours by choosing fresh, whole foods whenever possible.
* Assistant Professor, Department of Dairy Chemistry, College of Dairy Science and Technology, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana, 141 004, Punjab