Nutrition Meets Food Science

Importance of Colours & Flavours for Food Products with Healthy Ingredients: Prof Jagadish Pai, Executive Director, PFNDAI

Market for healthy food products is growing rapidly as more people are looking for foods that not only provide sustenance but also the health. Global market for functional food & natural health products is estimated at over 22 billion dollars in 2022 whereas the dietary supplements market is several times bigger.

With such growth industry is developing many different formats in which the healthy ingredients could be marketed including fortified foods or foods with natural healthy ingredients or even the chewable hard or soft products like tablets or gummy bears. Whatever the format, since these supplements are supposed to be consumed for much longer time than medicines, people would prefer them to be more agreeable in looks and taste than medicines.

Apple is healthy and tasty. So are mango and tomato which also look very attractive. However, not every healthful food or ingredients is tasty or looking nice. So when one thinks of incorporating these in food products sensory perception is one of the important consideration along with safety and preservation of healthy component.

Sugar, salt and oil/fat provide taste and flavour to foods. So people love sweets or savoury and fried foods since they are very pleasant tasting and having a very desirable flavour. However, these ingredients in too much amounts in our diets cause problems of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other ailments. So health professionals always advise us to reduce these. However, when these are reduced the palatability of foods also is reduced.

This requires some ingenious solutions. Low calorie sweeteners can partly replace sugar. However, there are limitations to the extent of replacement as they affect the acceptability. Another approach used is fruit flavours. They would need a little less of sugar sweetness.

Sodium in salt can be partly replaced by potassium salt making it healthier. Too much potassium may cause bitterness. MSG can be partly used to reduce salt without affecting taste. Some spices used as ingredients can also reduce the requirements of salt.

Many ayurvedic ingredients have many health benefits but have very harsh flavours. So when these are used in foods, the acceptability reduces. Many of them have high acidity, bitterness, astringency, and not very appealing colour and appearance. They could be heated and treated in a manner to make them lose some of their undesirable odour and colour but then they also may lose their health benefits if in the process the healthy components are degrade or lost.

Therefore, it is essential that their colour and flavour is improved by other ingredients. Traditionally, our grandmothers would use a lot of sugar, which would improve their taste tremendously. However, we would be exchanging one problem with another, as too much sugar is not very healthy. There are some alternatives such as jaggery, palm or coconut sugar, some very sweet fruits and some other substances like polyols etc. could be used.

For colours also some very attractive and colourful fruits, vegetables and spices & herbs could be used which would add some nice colour to the preparation. There is a possibility of these substances may add some tastes sensations of their own which should be compatible to the product. When turmeric is added for yellow colour, it also adds its typical tangy taste and odour, which sometimes may not be acceptable. Similarly, paprika or chillies add very nice red colour but also add pungency.

To prevent this problem, isolates are prepared e.g. curcumin from turmeric which is a very potent substance with very high level of healthy properties which can be added at a very low level to give the same benefit as turmeric.

There are many synthetic and natural colourant of high potency now available which have been shown to be safe at their level of usage. They can provide a very large range of shades of colour making the food very attractive. People want their food to appealing as eating is not just a physiological need but also an emotional and social one.

Flavours have been used in foods for ages, starting with use of herbs and spices. These are still used today to make the aroma of food products highly appealing. However, many times the type of foods such as sweets, desserts and others containing sugars may not like spicy flavours. Fruits and their products have also been used but now very powerful flavour substances are available which can provide at very low level of usage very fine aroma and odour needed to make the food product very appealing. These substances are also permitted only after rigorous testing to show them to be safe.

Thus, even though people may consume nutraceuticals, dietary substances, healthy foods etc. for their health benefits, they certainly would prefer these to be very tasty and delicious so they continue to enjoy their meals. With a slight addition of flavourants and colorants, the foods could be made more appealing so people would want to eat healthy foods, which taste very enjoyable.

Dr Jagadish Pai

Editor, PFNDAI

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