Prova SAS - Combat the off-notes of pea protein with effective flavour masking

"The superior power of population cannot be checked without producing misery or vice," said the philosopher and economist Thomas Malthus. It seems that his prediction is playing out on a global scale. In 2017, the United Nations estimated that the world's population would reach 8.6 billion in 2030, and more than 9.8 billion by 2050. With more people living on the planet than ever before, how will it be possible to feed humanity in a way that is healthy, affordable and sustainable? The answer, patently, is to find more efficient nutrient and protein sources. Indeed, the latter are indispensable for the development of the human body. The consumption of proteins allows the intake of essential amino acids and are, therefore, crucial for maintaining a healthy diet.

Food manufacturers have been actively working to come up with new alternative sustainable protein sources... Pea protein has made it onto lists of 2017 food trends, probably because it crosses over into so many other trends.
- Alessandra Ognibene-Lerouvillous, PROVA

Due to the soaring trend of sports nutrition, food manufacturers are launching a growing number of highin- protein products, which contain proteins from various sources. Dairy proteins remain the most popular; indeed, among new sweet items containing proteins, 70% are sourced from milk, compared with 28% from plants and around 2% from other sources like eggs.

Whey protein is now considered to be mainstream, but alternative sources are now growing. Vegetal proteins, for example, are proving increasingly popular. According to the Innova Market Insights' database, the number of sweet products containing plant proteins is growing much faster than those with whey protein. Among these plant-based sources, soy is widely used as well as others like oat and pea. In fact, sweet products containing the latter registered the highest growth rate by far with 548% in 2012-17.

"Food manufacturers have been actively working to come up with new alternative sustainable protein sources," explains Alessandra Ognibene-Lerouvillous,global marketing and communications director - CSO. "Pea protein has made it onto lists of 2017 food trends, probably because it crosses over into so many other trends: high-protein diets, plantbased eating, and those avoiding meat, gluten and dairy."

Among plant proteins, rice, hemp, lupine and potato are also increasing in popularity, showing that many vegetal raw materials can be used to produce protein ingredients. However it is pea protein, with its low anti-nutritional factors and high digestibility, that is proving to be the leader among these vegetarian and vegan alternatives.

The pros and cons of pea protein: nutritious but with undesirable off-notes

Why is there such enthusiasm for pea protein in particular? The main reason lies in its superior nutritional profile. Peas are high in amino acids like arginine and lysine - two nutrients that play a role in muscle synthesis - and also have an abundance of leucine, isoleucine and valine, three amino acids that are grouped together as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs are especially popular as they promote the expansion of muscle mass. The catabolism of BCAAs in muscular cells' mitochondria also produces energy.

Furthermore, pea protein is gluten-free and contains no fat or cholesterol. It is easily digestible, as proved by its good protein digestibility corrected amino acid score. Pea protein also has an impressive protein efficiency ratio - a measurement of its ability to generate new body mass. Additionally, it is an excellent alternative to soy protein, which is often associated with genetically modified organisms in consumers' minds.

However, pea protein has strong and unpleasant off-notes that are associated with olfactory descriptors, including earthy, grassy, beany and savoury. That is why it is necessary to use flavourings to mask these off-notes, mostly in sweet food and beverage products. True expertise is required to mitigate the powerful and harsh taste of this protein.

It is essential to know the organoleptic characteristics of the ingredients to mask.
- Fabienne Clément, PROVA

PROVA brings innovation and scientific methods to the table

PROVA has invested a significant amount of time and energy into designing innovative and natural masking flavour solutions for pea protein products. Its work relies on three phases: the creation of a specific vocabulary for pea protein, followed by the development of natural masking solutions and then the validation of their masking effect with sensory tests.

No scientific work is possible without defining a common vocabulary that makes communication possible.

"When we talk about masking flavours, it is essential to know the organoleptic characteristics of the ingredients to mask," explains Fabienne Clément, a flavour creation lab manager at PROVA. "Numerous analysis sessions enabled us to develop a specific vocabulary dedicated to the description of the pea protein."

PROVA's approach to creating a language involves several steps. First, a panel is set up that tastes several pea protein samples from across the world, as well as those found in the market. This panel generates a list of sensory descriptors, thanks to a method called free-choice profiling (FCP). These descriptors are then classified using quantitative - such as how many times they are mentioned - and qualitative criteria.

Finally, the descriptors are selected; some are eliminated, while others are retained to create a sensory wheel. For each descriptor, an olfactory reference is created to illustrate it. The resulting vocabulary enables PROVA's teams, customers and partners to collaborate more efficiently.

"Before starting our formulation work, our flavourists conducted long investigations to find the molecules with the best masking effect for vegetal notes," explains Clément. This step was necessary to distinguish key masking and non-masking flavouring substances. Then, the key masking flavouring substances were split into several aromatic blocks. According to Cécile Corai, a flavourist at PROVA, "aromatic blocks are groups of raw materials that belong to the same flavour family. All these blocks constitute a toolbox that makes the masking of pea protein off-notes possible."

Following the principle of experimental design, different combinations of blocks were applied using varying dosages to optimise the masking impact. The result was the development of a flavour portfolio with the best-performing natural masking solutions that adapted to various sweet food and beverage applications, either in liquid and powder forms.

The importance of testing

Validating the efficiency of flavours through sensory tests is crucial to not only prove their masking effects, but to also understand which notes are most efficient.

A panel of experts from PROVA's R&D teams evaluated sugared-dairy beverages with a 5% pea protein content. Two main tools were used to conduct these tests; the first were ranking assessments that ordered several blind-coded samples from the least to the most masking, comparing them with the unflavoured pea protein solution. Thanks to this technique, it was possible to emphasise the flavours with the most striking masking effects.

The flavours selected from the ranking tests where then submitted to the second test: a conventional profile with repetition. This assessment was conducted by an expert panel trained in pea protein descriptors. Each participant was able to identify the intensity of every pea protein descriptor by ranking the blind-coded products on a structured scale of one to ten.

"In today's world, where consumers are expecting functional food and beverage products that help them develop their potential, proteins have become indispensable," concludes Ognibene-Lerouvillois.

In this sense, the importance of pea protein stretches beyond taste profiles. Possessed of a clean manufacturing process, a high nutritional profile and a much smaller carbon footprint than animal proteins, it is proving to be the ideal product for a supplements market increasingly open to vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian alternatives.

PROVA will be showcasing its newest flavouring solutions at Hi Europe in Frankfurt on 27-29 November at stand 8K90.

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