Flavoring Tips and Tricks

Consumers want great-tasting products, but the road to creation is tricky. While Sensapure’s application lab spends all day creating great-tasting products, we also get questions about how someone can do it independently. We have broken down the process and created a step-by-step guide to help you create a great-tasting product all on your own. We will review active ingredients and bases, acids flavors, sweeteners, and salts that are all part of the flavoring process. We also have broken down the best starting points and percentages for each element that goes into a product. With this step-by-step guide, you will be on your way to mastering the flavoring process.

July 31, 2023

Section A. – Flavoring Process, Steps by Step

A.1 - Decide On Your Actives.

Before creating a flavor system, it helps to understand common active ingredients in product bases. Knowing what influences the taste of a product helps facilitate expectations for what a product can taste like. We will be outlining active ingredients and how their taste profiles affect the flavor system paired with it.

Let’s start off with an ingredient mostly found in pre-workouts and energy drinks. Caffeine. You can’t have a pre-workout without a stimulant, and caffeine has reigned supreme for years. What challenges does this pose? Caffeine is bitter. A sensation that is hard to cover up because it lingers in your mouth, and we are exceptionally sensitive to it. Using flavor modifiers such as bitter blockers, sweetness enhancers, or maskers are the first line of defense against bitter notes. Flavor modifiers also help against ingredients like guarana extract (a natural stimulant) that is both bitter and earthy. Other actives like vitamins bring an earthy, often chalky, taste that can’t be ignored if flavor modifiers are abandoned.

Here at Sensapure, we’ve made the job of selecting the right flavor modifier easier than ever. Designing several custom masking, bitter blocking, and flavor-enhancing modifiers that work in any application.

A.2 - Base Neutralization – Introducing: Flavor Modifiers

In addition to using flavor modifiers to combat bitter, earthy, and chalky notes, is using vanilla flavoring. Vanillas share many chemicals with bitter blockers like maltol and vanillin. If you are aiming for a vanilla-flavored product, you can reduce the amount of flavor modifiers and increase the amount of vanilla flavoring to mask bitter and earthy notes. Another flavor we like to use to hide abrasive active ingredients is lemon. Incorporating a lemon flavor can help immensely when flavoring products using a lot of extracts. It helps add a layer of brightness that covers up fishy undertones from collagens and extracts.

Lastly, some bases and active ingredients are stubborn and don’t want to be hidden. Dynamine is a classic example. As one of the more difficult actives to flavor, many shy away from using it, but we have the solution. While flavor modifiers and vanilla flavoring certainly help, the real secret is adding sodium citrate or monosodium glutamate. They don’t mask the flavor but rather act as a coating across your mouth. This causes unpleasant sensations to essentially slip off your tongue. It doesn’t affect the flavoring or sweeteners but does help to hide the strong sensations of active ingredients.

A.3 - Zesty, Tangy, Zing – Bring On The Acids.

Once you have a base, and know the potential flavoring issues you will face, it’s time for the flavor system. Let’s start with acids. Comprising approximately 3-12% of a product, acids bring a lot to the table. They help enhance the flavoring added and clarify the flavor profile. The two most common acids are citric and malic, and believe it or not, they taste different. Citric acid has a strong hit upfront. You taste it immediately, and it fades quickly. Malic, on the other hand, slowly builds into an extremely sour taste.

A common misconception is a flavor is sour on its own. That’s false. Unless the flavor has a high amount of acids in the formula, which is uncommon, even a lemon flavor won’t be sour. The sour sensation we taste in products is entirely from acids. If aiming for an extremely sour tasting product, go for malic acid as it is the sourest of acids. Many bases, however, already contain acids in them. This is most common with pre-workout beverages. In those cases, you won’t need to add as high a percentage of acids, if you need them at all. So, be sure to familiarize yourself with your base before adding acids to ensure the correct percentage of acids are added to the product.

A.4 - Sweet, Savory, Yummy – Let’s Get Flavoring

Now, let’s talk about flavors. It may be surprising that the thing consumers care the most about, taste, only comprises 2-7% of a product. While it’s a small percentage, it packs a big punch. We have compiled a sampling of our favorite tips when it comes to dealing with flavors.

To start, the most important part of using flavors is choosing a flavor profile that will work with your base, and not against it. As discussed previously, if the base has strong earthy or bitter notes, choosing a vanilla flavor profile helps mask the base notes. If you have a naturally neutral base or have neutralized it with flavor modifiers, then the world is your oyster.

Though, a word of caution, when selecting your flavor profile, keep it simple. Fruit fusions have gained popularity in recent years but are difficult to perfect without consumers tasting a generic fruit flavor. Having an orange pineapple guava banana hydration beverage might sound amazing, but the fruits can blend and become indistinguishable. The goal of flavor systems is to create something consumers can identify. The good news is that leaves a lot open to creativity.

This brings us to our final flavor trick. Like using vanilla and lemon as flavor modifiers to hide unwanted tastes from the base, you can use other flavors in surprising ways. For example, we use lemon in many fruity profiles to add fresh and crisp notes. For apple-flavored products, adding a small amount of lemon (starting at 0.5%) will help sharpen the apple notes, and no one will detect the lemon flavor. You can use this trick with any fruit profile like apple, peach, pear, pineapple, strawberry, etc.

Another flavor we use as a supporting flavor is blue raspberry. This is a great flavor to add to anything you want to taste like candy (starting at 0.5%). Try adding it to cotton candy, even though cotton candy is often strawberry flavored, it will add candy notes to the profile and make it pop. Add it to a watermelon flavor if you are aiming for a jolly rancher profile. Or try it in a popsicle profile. It’s great to boost the flavor profile while remaining undetected.

A.5 - Mmmmmm…. Sweeteners

The next step in the flavoring process is sweeteners. This element is most influenced by budget due to the drastic price differences between natural sweeteners and artificial ones. A natural sweetener, like monk fruit extract, costs around $250/lbs. Whereas an artificial sweetener, like sucralose, is around $27/lbs. As a result, a product that is naturally sweetened will use less sweetener than a product artificially sweetened, and that will affect the taste.

Understanding budget constraints helps establish realistic expectations for the final product taste, and help answer the following questions:

  • Do you want your product to be all natural, and not as sweet?
  • Or do you want your product to be sweet, but not all natural?

Don’t be afraid of turning to artificial flavors if the product is not tasting exactly how you want it. These include sweeteners like sucralose, and Ace K.

Common natural sweetener options include cane sugar, stevia, and monk fruit extract. A frequent question we get asked when it comes to natural sweeteners is often about stevia.

  • Do you have anything that helps with the stevia burn in our product?

Stevia is a finicky sweetener to work with because it has a burning sensation if too much is used. While flavor modifiers, like a bitter blocker, can help reduce that stevia burn, we find the best thing to do is to reduce the amount of stevia being used. It’s that simple. It will make the product less sweet, but by adding another sweetener, like monk fruit, it brings the sweetness back to the desired level.

A.6 - Salty

The final element of a flavor system may seem self-explanatory, but adding salts helps with so much more than enhancing flavor. Salts round out mouthfeel, reduce astringency, help flavors pop, and mask off notes. There are many kinds of salts out there, but let’s start with our top 3 favorites and when to use them.

  1. Sodium Chloride

Otherwise known as common table salt. This is, can you guess, the saltiest. It works great in electrolyte products where tasting salt is a part of the experience. Like how flavors aren’t sour without acids, flavors aren’t salty without salt. So, if you want to taste the salt on your tongue, go to sodium chloride.

  1. Sodium Citrate

This is the sodium salt of citric acid and is often found in pre-workout bases. This is a great salt for sour-tasting products. It boosts the noticeability of acids and makes that sour taste pop. In addition, it’s a great choice for fresh fruity profiles to help give them that pop of freshness.

  1. Sodium Glutamate

We saved the best for last. This salt is a favorite in our applications lab, and often the go-to salt for any product. What makes this one so great? It acts as a masker and can work better than some flavor modifiers. For bases that have a strong metallic, or mineral taste, add some sodium glutamate and watch how well it masks those sensations (starting at 0.5%).

Other salts to try out are potassium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride. They are often found in bases and for that reason aren’t utilized in flavor systems much but are worth having in your arsenal.

Section B.) – Starting Points for Formulation Percentages One Step at a Time

Now that we understand what goes into building a flavor system, we created a chart that details the range each of these elements should strive to be in. While there are exceptions to the rules, successful flavor systems follow these guidelines. We have broken down the elements composing three beverage categories: pre-workout, protein, and hydration. Use this chart, and our step-by-step guide below to begin flavoring your product’s flavor system.

B.1 - Taste Your Base Isolated.

The goal is to have a neutral tasting base for flavors to be presented on, without being overpowered by unpleasant sensations. Tasting your base first will give you an idea of what your flavor system will look like. For example, pre-workout beverages often use citrulline malate in the base, which is extremely acidic. Knowing that your base is very acidic tells you to lower the acid levels in the flavor system. Sometimes you don’t need to add acids at all.

B.2 - Neutralize Your Base If Needed.

If your base has bitter, metallic, earthy, fishy, or moldy notes coming through you will need to neutralize it before throwing in flavor. Now’s the time to add flavor modifiers. Refer to the chart above for the suggested starting percentage for your product type.

B.3 - Time To Add Some Flavor!

Once your base is neutralized, it’s time to start building the flavor system. Starting with flavors. Refer to the chart below for the suggested starting percentage for your product type.

B.4 - Add Sweeteners.

As previously discussed, natural sweeteners are typically used at lower doses compared to artificial sweeteners due to pricing. We suggest consulting your budget to see which sweetener type will best suit your product.

B.5 - Add Salt

Refer to the chart above for the suggested starting percentage for your product type.

B.6 - Taste testing.

It’s the moment of truth. Taste your product and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the flavor profile clear or muddled?
  • If you were to taste this without knowing what the flavor is, could you correctly guess it?
  • Is it too sweet, or not sweet enough?
  • Are elements of the base shining through that haven’t been masked properly?
  • Are the acid levels too high or too low?

Does the flavor taste a little dull and need some salt or lemon flavor?

B.7 - Rework as needed.

Hardly anyone nails it on the first try. It’s a normal part of the process to go back to the drawing table and adjust the flavor system. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t like the first round or two of flavoring. A good thing to try first is simply upping the doses of everything in your flavor system. Your acids, sweeteners, salts, flavor, flavor mods, up it all by 1-2%.

It’s tempting to work on a product until it’s perfect, but sometimes the best thing to do is to take a step back. Giving your palate a break from tasting and coming back later is often the solution to solving a flavoring problem.

B.8 - Add your color.

Coloring your product is the easiest step in the process, so we saved the best for last. Keep in mind the color of base will affect the color of the final product. If your base is dark brown, it will be nearly impossible to get a neon green colored product. Refer to the chart above for the suggested starting percentage for your product type.

Section C.) - Trust the Processes

Flavoring is as much a science as an art. Numerous factors change the flavoring process, making each project new and unique. Our flavorists spend their time working on creating flavor systems that are custom made for each base, and they even tweak their process every time. It’s important to keep in mind that this guide is a great starting point, but every base will need its own flavor system that may not follow these guidelines perfectly. But that’s the fun part. Variations in ingredients, ratios, and flavor profiles will change the flavoring process. That’s our most important tip when it comes to flavoring. Allowing the process to change and adapt to each flavor, and not shying away from experimenting, will result in a great tasting product. All it takes is a little creativity.

Download our free
"2024 Flavor Trends"

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.