Masking: Mastering Authenticity & Taste for Plant-based and Better-for-You Products

How Flavors Can Help Create Better-Tasting, Healthy Foods

Consumers are hungry for healthier products. As a result, plant-based, nutritionally fortified, and no/low/reduced sugar, sodium, or fat products have become mainstream. So to meet demand for healthier products that still taste great, food manufacturers are turning to masking flavors.

It’s easy to understand consumers’ interest in eating more nourishing and health-forward products. Numerous studies tout the health benefits of reducing meat from diets. Plant-based foods also answer the increased call for sustainability. And with the global health crisis, an increasing number of people have examined how they can improve their well-being through the foods and beverages they consume.


Yet even as the pandemic eases, the demand for more sustainable food and beverage products is likely to continue. The global plant-based proteins market is expected to grow an average of 10% from 2021 to 2027, reaching $23.4 billion by that endpoint. The potential to get a piece of the plant-based pie continues to entice more and more launches in the space. With that growth, food manufacturers are exploring new proteins. However, each of these proteins can come with unique challenges for creating taste or development.

The plant-based space isn’t the only area consumers have gravitated towards to improve their health. They have also incorporated more better-for-you foods and beverages — those fortified with nutrients and vitamins as well as ones with no/low/reduced sugar, sodium, or fat — into their regular diets.

The practice of fortifying foods isn’t new. As far back as the 1930’s, companies have added vitamins and minerals to provide better nutrition to their consumers. The difference today is consumers actively search out foods that support their health. A recent International Food Information Council survey found that 62% of respondents try to consume protein, 56% try to consume Vitamin D, and 52% look for Calcium in their diet. Respondents also seek omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and prebiotics in what they are consuming.

masking fortified products trend data

Food Manufacturers Respond, But Challenges Exist

Food manufacturers have been eager to answer consumers’ calls for plant-based and nutritionally balanced products. In recent years, companies have developed numerous innovative plant-based products as alternatives. From burgers and nuggets to dairy products and more, companies have tried to meet the growing desire for great tasting alternatives that provide their dietary requirements and support a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.

Manufacturers have also introduced products you might not expect to have added ingredients, like bottled water with vitamins, calcium-fortified orange juices, chia seeds with added probiotics, iron-fortified bread — and even vitamin-enhanced hard seltzers or energy drinks.

However, substituting or adding ingredients to foods and beverages can be challenging. That alteration can inherently change the product’s flavor and texture from the taste consumers are accustomed to and, often, expecting. When it comes to plant-based, many consumers also prefer that their substitutes not taste like the original product, but instead have a healthier, more natural taste that is still delicious. Either way, there are challenges food manufacturers face as they look to ensure the full experience. From taste to mouthfeel, the experience needs to be so good that it differentiates their offering from other products in this ever-expanding, competitive space.

The Magic of Masking

So how can food and beverage brands vying for consumer loyalty in these health-forward spaces compete? By reducing off-notes and making sure the texture delivers that satisfying, authentic mouthfeel. Manufacturers can overcome these challenges by “masking” — adding other flavors to neutralize, balance, or enhance. However, this is a delicate art that requires a depth of experience and specific expertise.

“Protein substitution or addition is not always the only issue when developing better-for-you foods. Sometimes, the challenge for masking is about the interaction of the protein with other ingredients, the need to mask off-notes from preservatives, other fortification ingredients, or even masking notes developed from processing or over shelf life.”

Global Director of Innovation and Commercial Development, Edlong

Masking Creates Opportunities to Create Winning Formulations

With the increasing opportunities in this sector, the food manufacturers that can crack the code on taste have the potential to fill empty plates and win consumers worldwide. This begs the question of how food manufacturers can bridge the gap between developing healthier products and not sacrificing on taste.

To clarify the challenges and opportunities in the plant-based and better-for-you development process, Edlong has actually created this playbook. With it, manufacturers can understand what to consider when developing plant-based and better-for-you products.

For more information on this topic, make sure to check-out our new Masking Playbook which outlines the underlying flavor science that is pivotal to success, best practices for using masking flavors, and how food scientists are positioned to deliver formulations that meet and often exceed consumer expectations.

Topics: Better For YouDairy-freeMasking & mouthfeelPlant-Based


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