Flavour to taste

10 November, 2006
A visit to Unifine's Research and Development facility, tucked away in Roosendaal, Holland, is like being back in a school's science laboratory, only with many more rooms full of test tubes, flasks and bubbling liquids. Hayley Brown pays a visit
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Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients' Centre of Excellence in Roosendaal, Holland, claims to be able to create any flavour, bringing 150 years of experience to the table. Well-trained panel members, selected for their sense of taste and smell, are crucial to the flavours business. The sensory labs, in which they operate, looks like a scene from a science fiction film, as the experts sniff away in their small, white, square booths. They have their own unique 'flavour language', developed so that they can communicate smells and tastes objectively, which includes words such as metallic, violet, musky, woody, vanillic and even catty!
Sucrea is the brand name under which all flavours are sold and its liquid flavours have some exotic titles, including Orange Favorit, Rum Belmonte, Bari Bitter Almond, Lemon Palermo and Vanilla Mauritius. Toffee Compound is one of the newest additions to the portfolio, designed to create a smooth creamy toffee flavour. Each flavour is made up of hundreds of compounds and ingredients - hence the need for a multitude of laboratories. A Tiramisu flavour, for example, is made from 210 different ingredients, added in 16 different stages, with around 10-15 ingredients at each stage.Athol Bruce, area sales manager in charge of the flavours business from the UK, says: "Some flavours can contain over 300 ingredients. Your brain often suggests what you're going to taste. If I put a yellow sweet on the table you might think that it was lemon, even if it was cherry. Making flavours is a very difficult and complex process."Central to the flavour-detecting and creating process is a mystifying piece of equipment, pure joy to any chemistry professor; the Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) machine is effectively an 'electronic nose', designed to solve a wide variety of problems from fragrance and cosmetics production, chemical engineering, environmental monitoring to food and beverages manufacturing. The machine costs around ?100,000-?150,000 and can detect and discriminate among complex odours using a sensor array, meaning that it picks up each odour's individual fingerprint or 'smell-print'.Fingerprints from known odours are used to construct a database and train a pattern recognition system - a 'mechanical bloodhound', as it were - so that unknown odours can be classified and identified. Bruce says: "If you put a flavour in the top of it, it will identify and give you the characteristics of that flavour. It is possible to reconstruct and detect the 'DNA' of any flavour. By using this, we can match any flavour that our customers want us to make."== FLAVOUR LIBRARY ==Roosendaal's R&D facility also has a flavour library, from which tailor-made blends are created. "Blueberry is a very popular flavour in the UK," says Marjan Beetstra, a flavour technologist at the facility. "What I would recommend for a Dutch customer varies widely from what I would recommend to a UK customer. What is popular in one country can be disliked in another. The UK loves caramel, but the Dutch do not. And Caramel itself can be burnt, creamy, buttery and so on; Rolo caramel is burnt/creamy. Vanilla flavours also taste and smell completely different among countries; the Russian flavour is extremely different to the French, depending on preference."At the moment Unifine's flavours can be described as natural. "The future is natural and this is what our customers in the UK want," says Bruce. There are complications, however. For example, the strawberry flavouring is made from natural sources, although the ingredients themselves do not necessarily have to come from strawberries. Under new EU legislation coming into force in the next couple of years, a strawberry flavour cannot be called natural unless 90% of the flavour has the same components as those identified in strawberries."We have a lot of work to do in preparation for this new legislation, as the trend in the market is for natural products. The price implications will be huge. It is a minefield to understand and there are grey areas."Bruce explains: "Most of us eat all day long and pick up snacks in garages and so on, so we have developed healthy, minimum guilt flavours that make you feel good. On the other hand, we also developed a strawberries and cream flavour, which went into a muffin launched in time for Wimbledon last year. This was so successful the product stayed on the market," says Bruce.Unifine is also looking to develop a Red Bull flavour, which it will call 'energy'. "It is a flavour that is classed as an energy booster because it contains caffeine. We are looking to put this flavour into cookies and muffins throughout the UK. But to use such flavours, bakeries will have to move into that grey area of the unknown."Flavours developed for Christmas, which, according to Unifine, "is no time for mincing about", include Boozy Rum and Raisin, All in One, Rich Citrus, and Whisky Custard Cream, designed to give the humble mince pie a new dimension. "Everything the caterer and baker needs for the festive season can be found under one roof from Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients," according to the company. There are fonds and cake mixes for rich Christmas gateaux and trolley desserts; marzipan for making celebration cakes, figures and individual lines; and decorations, inclusions, toppings and gels to add a holiday sparkle to tarts, flans, pastries and cakes.== FESTIVE DECORATIONS ==Also made in time for the holiday season are Unifine's Sucrea festive 2D shapes, including stars and Christmas trees. Made from natural and GMO-free ingredients and treated in the same way as chocolate drops, dried fruit or other traditional inclusions, these can be dropped into batters and doughs at mixing stage or used as a topping. For a small tooling cost, Unifine can create any design and for any volume.Bruce explains that flavours can also be used to mask certain reactions that happen in the baking process, to standardise the flavour of the end product, and can be used as a solution to the current demand for reduced sugar, fat and salt. Bruce says: "A good example of this was the recently developed Golden Syrup flavour. Customers are reducing the amount of sugar they put into flapjacks, sponge puddings and cake mixes, but they still want to retain the flavour. The same has been done with products such as maple syrup, butter, caramel, toffee and bun spice, which is usually made with oil." n----=== Facts about Unifine ===Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients is a producer and supplier of ingredients for bakers, and food producers of all sizes.The company has been in existence for over 150 years and exports its products to more than 53 countries across the world. Wherever possible, its products are additive-free and derived from natural ingredients in the main.Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients is owned by Dutch ingredients business Royal Cosun. The Group has had a presence in the UK for well over 30 years and works with a dedicated team of technicians, headed by chef patissier Graham Dunton. In October 2005, the UK business moved to purpose-built premises in Milton Keynes. Its warehousing is based in Birmingham and managed by food distribution specialist Rhys Davies.Products in the Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients portfolio are sold under the Sucrea, Fruibel and Wyko brand labels. Sucrea includes flavourings, compounds, fonds and dessert products, pastry mixes and fillings, custards, decorations and ice cream products.Fruibel includes chocolate, fruit fillings and glazes. Wyko comprises ambient sauces and dressings, savoury bakery fillings, fonds and roux.Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients has been the subject of a ?12m investment programme in new plant and acquisitions over the past decade. Its customers now benefit from a wider choice of ingredients, such as aseptically packed lines, couverture produced in-house and ambient savoury sauces and fonds.



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