Taste is highly personal. Think back to the last beverage you ordered. Maybe it was tea – and you were asked if you would like it served hot, iced, sweetened or unsweetened; with lemon or milk. In general, such decisions are influenced by your culture, your location, past experiences and even by your current state of health.
“Nutritional products such as Ensure® have important health benefits however the taste of the product plays a critical role in the delivery of the nutrition,” explains Monica Tortorice, a senior flavour scientist at Abbott. We all know that sometimes making healthy food taste great is not as easy as it sounds, same as balancing the nutrients consumers need with the taste they want is a process on its own. This is exactly why Abbott puts flavor, texture and aroma first in every product it makes but also ensuring that products meets the therapeutic nutritional needs of their consumers.
“The more nutrient-dense a product is, the more challenging it is to make the aroma and taste appealing,” says Tortorice. “Important ingredients like HMB (also known as beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate) is found in Ensure® NutriVigor, which helps in supporting muscle health. HMB on its own doesn’t taste that great however we need to include this ingredient to provide consumers with the muscle health support they need. These are primary considerations we take in our development process.”
“It’s even trickier making products for people who are ill,” says Normanella DeWille, PhD, a research fellow and product developer at Abbott. “People who have cancer often have their sense
of taste impacted. Everything tastes or smells different. At Abbott it’s our job to intensify certain flavour elements and sweetness levels to ensure our nutritional supplements are enjoyed by patients whilst they get the critical nutrition they need.”
Starting with the best ingredients and processing techniques
Behind every one of our products is a great recipe and quality ingredients. That’s why the Abbott team first sources the best ingredients by partnering with high-quality farms and trusted suppliers.
“We look at each ingredient closely for its quality and the benefits it brings to our products,” says Normanella DeWille, “For example, our years of research tells us that combining proteins from milk as well as those from plants gives our products the smoothest mouthfeel possible, which has a huge effect on overall taste and experience.”
The processing of these ingredients also matters. For example, exactly how protein is extracted from milk to produce milk protein concentrate affects taste and texture. We find that milk protein concentrate is a key ingredient in a wide range of complete nutrition products including Ensure® and PediaSure®.
“If the protein is extracted in a harsh manner, for example through the use of excessive heat, there can be an impact on overall taste and texture,” said DeWille. Therefore, our scientists only work with suppliers that use gentle methods of extracting that protein.
Minimizing undesirable tastes
If you’ve ever turned up your nose at a piece of pungent fish, you’ve smelled exactly the sort of obstacles flavour technologists are up against in making nutritional products taste great. After all, some of Abbott’s products, include fish oil for omega-3 fatty acids, which play a valuable role in overall health and healing. And while fish oil can taste and smell fishy all on its own, once it oxidizes (reacts to oxygen), that smell gets even stronger.
“Fortunately, through a lot of research, we’ve been able to find an antioxidant blend that prevents fish oil from oxidizing,” says DeWille. She explains that, when combined with rosemary extract through Abbott’s pending patent on the technology, those antioxidants help scientists get fish oil into their nutritional drinks and still taste great. The end benefit; your loved ones get all the nutrition they need and a great taste.Tapping into favourite flavours around the world
Once a product’s nutritional base is made, it’s up to flavour scientists to turn that base into a nutrient-laden treat, so to speak. Fortunately, Abbott scientists have been perfecting their flavour technology talents for 30 years. While some flavors are universally appealing – chocolate, strawberry and vanilla are popular worldwide, whereas some countries have their own unique flavour preferences.
So how do those global tastes play out within Abbott products? For example, mushroom and chicken soup are popular flavours for Ensure® in the United Kingdom. Also, wheat and green tea are loved in China and a special saffron almond flavour is popular in India.
Once Abbott identifies preferred flavours and flavour combinations, Abbott scientists are able to dig into them to determine the best way to apply them to nutritional products for that specific market. The products then provide the nutrients that children, moms and adults need daily with different flavours that make drinking the nutritional shake exciting and delicious.
Ensure® NutriVigor, Similac Mom® and PediaSure® are available at major retail pharmacies and retail outlets nationwide.