The product is already enjoying success in finished products with a large breakfast powder beverage brand for children in India using it as a solution to mask some bitter herbal compounds it added for improved health, said Markus Beba, VP of Sales and Marketing with NTC. Other early successes include an almond dairy drink and with a dark chocolate manufacture, he added.
Given the commercial interest in polyphenols such as catechins and caffeine, NTC’s development partners at Natural Advantage identified plant derived semi-volatile compounds capable of suppressing bitterness. The companies identified several natural plant-derived fractions with bitter masking activity and combined the active fractions to create the optimal product.
We currently sense bitter compounds (and sweet and umami tastes) when they bind the specific G-protein coupled receptor on our tongues. Specifically for bitterness, it is the TAS2R receptor family (taste receptors type 2), which is thought to be comprised of at least 25 bitter receptors, some of which can recognize a wide variety of bitter compounds.
More than 500 bitter compounds have been identified and at least 100 of these compounds have been ascribed to one or several taste receptors, said NTC. To further complicate matters, our sensitivity to bitterness varies between individuals.
Beba told FoodNavigator-USA that there are several reasons for a lack of discovery in bitter blockers, including
• The current method of discovery is through trial and error. This implies taking a bitter compound and taking one extract after another and testing a various dosages to see whether the bitterness is diminished;
• This is further complicated by our ability to perceive bitterness. Within the human population, our ability to sense bitterness is heterogeneous meaning that you may be able to taste a specific bitter compound while others may not and vice-versa. Hence when testing for a specific blocker, the panel of tasters needs to be selected to ensure they all have the ability to taste the target bitterness;
• The number of bitter compounds is very large which amplifies the screening process many fold.
“In terms future discovery, there are a number of discovery companies who are now focusing on bitterness,” said Beba. “They companies use human receptor expressed on human cells to screen for bitter compounds. Although this is also a random process, the screening is objective and extremely high throughput.”
NTC’s solution, which works on the TAS2R receptor family, is being launched now. The company has already tested the market with a few commercial sponsors to gauge their interest, said Beba.
“The average application level is around 0.1% w/w,” explained Beba. “In terms of applicability, we have a liquid and a powder version meaning that we can cover just about all application needs.
“Our target focus is mainly beverages, tea, coffee, dark chocolate, energy drinks, protein & dairy drinks, candies, gummies and confectionery bars.
“It's very early days but we have already successes in beverages rich in herbal extracts and protein beverages and dark chocolate to reduce their astringency/ bitterness,” he added. “Products being plant derived and declared as natural flavors helps of course.”
The isolated fractions are said to be heat & light stable, vegetarian, non-GMO, allergen free, and labeled as natural flavor on finished food or beverage. The ingredient is also “very cost effective”, said Beba, “and in line with other flavor solutions”.
These products have been widely tested in applications including coffee, dark chocolate, some teas, caffeine rich energy drinks, protein beverages, chewing cadies & gummies, chewing gum and confectionery bars.
Mr Beba and NTC’s VP of innovation, David Johnston, PhD, have a long history in the flavor industry, having held senior executive positions at flavor giant Firmenich for many years. NTC began in 2012 with the release of an acid masker for dairy products. The company has also launched a natural fat enhancer, a stevia masker, and natural alternative garlic and onion flavors.
The garlic and onion flavor replacers are doing well, Beba told us. “We focused on markets such as India and China where certain sectors of the population cannot ingest garlic and onion for religious reasons. Given that our product is not derived from onion or garlic species, it was a no-brainer.”
On the other hand, the stevia masker is more effective in the US than Europe simply because stevia has difficulty taking off as it still carries a E-number in Europe. “The market is growing but less aggressively than the US,” he said.
So what’s next from NTC? “We are just extending our vegetarian fat replacer range with two new products,” Beba said. “These are butter and margarine boosters. Both products are plant derived, diacetyl-free and increase the mouth-feel as well as the eggy-ness in various sweet and savory applications.”