The study published in the Journal of Food Science, analyzed the sensory profiles of three functional ingredients common to energy drinks – caffeine, ginseng and taurine – and found that high levels of caffeine and ginseng have a big impact on overall flavor characteristics.
The research also indicates that finding new ways to reduce the bitterness in functional drinks could mean that manufacturers are able to produce energy drinks ‘with more health benefits’.
“The findings from this study can be used when selecting palatable amounts of caffeine, ginseng, and taurine to incorporate in an energy drink formulation. The findings can also be utilized to predict the changes in sensory characteristics when reformulating functional ingredients in energy drinks,” wrote researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Energy drinks generally provide additional energy and stimulation with a formulation of high concentration of stimulants. Such drinks generally contain high levels of caffeine, but can also contain other functional ingredients such as antioxidants, ginseng, taurine, and B vitamins.
The energy drinks market is one of the fastest growing segments of the functional drinks market, with both Mintel and Goldman Sachs predicting that the market will be worth $10 billion this year.
Previous research into sensory profiling has suggested that using a mixture of tastants can result in an increase to all flavor intensity ratings. Other studies have shown that tastes can be suppressed with the addition of more tastants, and so the addition of more ingredients to a formulation increases the chances that the final taste will be altered.
The aims of the study were to investigate the effects on the sensory properties of three common functional ingredients (caffeine, ginseng, and taurine) in a non-carbonated model energy drink.
The study found that high levels of caffeine alone led to a decrease in the perception of sweet and fruity flavours, but increased the perception of bitterness. Whilst high levels of ginseng alone also were also associated with the perception of highly bitter flavours.
The combination of high levels of caffeine and ginseng added to the energy drink solution increased the intensity of bitter flavour attributes even further.
The results of the study saw no significant effects on sensory attribute ratings for all levels of taurine tested, indicating the level of taurine in a drink has very little effect on its flavour.
Such results suggest that having very high levels of caffeine and ginseng combined can create an intensely bitter flavor profile that is can very difficult to mask. The researchers wrote: “It is known that caffeine and ginseng are two functional ingredients which have negative sensory characteristics that are difficult to mask, which is supported by our findings.”
However the authors stated that there were currently no products on the market that contained either the lowest or highest levels of ingredients tested in the study.
The authors wrote: “current commercially-available beverages may not be as bitter as the model solutions that were studied in this experiment.”
The authors of the study claim that their findings could be used to predictchanges in sensory characteristics when formulating energy drinks that contain caffeine, taurine, or ginseng.
The authors indicate that future studies should attempt to determine a method of reducing ginseng bitterness in energy drinks, and identify acceptable bitterness levels of caffeine and ginsing in energy drinks through consumer testing.
Source: Journal of Food Science
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01655.x
“Sensory Profile of a Model Energy Drink with Varying Levels of Functional Ingredients—Caffeine, Ginseng, and Taurine”
Authors: L.C. Tamamoto, S.J. Schmidt, S-Y. Lee