Learn about Food
- Types of food
- Storage, Processing, Manufacturing
- Safety, Marketing, Management
Note that each module in the Qualification - Certificate in Food Technology is a short course in its own right, and may be studied separately.
Modifying the Taste of Food
The processing of foods to enhance or alter taste, is a significant aspect of modern food technology. Using additives is an easy way of doing this - and hence an inexpensive way.
The more challenging, but potentially healthier way is to start with better raw foods. If we grow vegetable varieties (for instance), that are chosen for their optimum taste, there will be less need to modify the flavour. Often though, the varieties that give a better flavour may have other disadvantages (eg. they may not produce the optimum size of harvest).
Throughout this course, you will learn about both the good and not as good ways of enhancing flavour.
Flavour is only one factor to be considered by food technologists. Explore all of those factors throughout the course.
Some of the Flavour Enhancing Additives
There are many potential food additives for preserving, enhancing, or altering a food product's taste. The most commonly used taste additives are sweeteners, acidulants, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
These may be artificial or natural. Artificial sweeteners are often added to enhance taste without increasing sugar or calorie content. The most common artificial sweeteners are:
- Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K)
These sweeteners are especially common in weight loss related food products; despite lowering sugar content, they are rarely used in health associated products. This is due to potential negative effects, and known effects when ingested in quantity. The most common side effect of high amounts of artificial sweetener use is diarrhea. Some artificial sweeteners have been linked to headaches and other nervous system symptoms; Ace-K may be carcinogenic. (Saccharin is known to cause cancer development in rats, but the process pathway does not exist in humans.) Artificial sweeteners may be added to keep calories low, or to reduce the potential for tooth decay.
During the development stage of a product, it is essential for a company to assess the usefulness of artificial sweeteners, as use may impact marketability positively or negatively. International standards exist to define safe amounts for human consumption. Artificial sweeteners are often used as part of a diabetes management program and in foods rated appropriate for diabetics.
Natural and naturally-derived sweeteners
All natural sweeteners are a form of sugar. From a chemical standpoint, these can be monosaccharides, disaccharides, or polysaccharides. These names refer to how sugar molecules are held together.
The most common natural sweeteners used are derived from fruit (fructose), or honey. The naturally occurring monosaccharide glucose (also known as dextrose), is also commonly used. Honey is mostly composed of glucose and fructose.
Although these natural sugars are added to enhance or improve taste, too high amounts can be problematic. Other natural sweeteners include stevia and agave. These are more common in products targeting a health and organic market sector.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Also known as HFCS, this is a sugar created through the addition of special enzymes to corn syrup (a starch). The enzymes convert the starch into fructose. This is because fructose has a "sweeter" taste.
HFCS is added to many foods, including drinks, ready-made meals, bread, pasta sauces, and more. It is inexpensive to produce and use, which makes it popular among food product companies. To date, there is no clear evidence to definitively link HFCS consumption with adverse effects on human health. HFCS, however, is part of how labelling can affect the interpretation of a food's nutritive value. As it is not always labelled as an added sugar, consumers may be confused at what its presence means. Ongoing research suggests that high levels of HFCS may be linked to obesity and insulin resistance.
Better known as MSG or umami, this compound gives foods their "meaty" or savoury taste. It is a naturally occurring taste compound, and occurs in high amounts in certain foods, such as mushrooms and meat. Several varieties of glutamate are now produced commercially and added to foods worldwide. There is no difference between the chemical structure of naturally occurring glutamates and added glutamates.
Some individuals may have sensitivities or allergies to glutamates. In most cases, a reaction is short-lived. Tests are available for MSG sensitivity.
In most countries, labels must state whether MSG has been added to a food product. This may be shown as:
- Flavour enhancer (MSG)
- Flavour enhancer (621)
- Other glutamate food additives include Flavour Enchancers 622 – 625.
Natural food enhancers have been used for thousands of years. Sea salt, ground peppercorns, ginger and varieties of capsicum have been and are still widely used. Many different types of herbs are also widely used.
There are many artificial flavours, most of which are very similar to natural flavours. They may be synthetically derived to reduce cost or to prevent animal cruelty. Research into the effect of artificial flavours on human health is ongoing, though there are currently no clear links between individual artificial flavours and adverse effects in humans.
Due to perceptions about health, however, artificial flavours are an important consideration in the development of many food products, particularly in the health and children's markets.