Your top questions about flavoring functional foods: Answered


Functional foods—packaged foods that contain nutritional value-added components, such as proteins, vitamins, and botanical extracts—are a rapidly growing category. In 2021, the market was estimated to be worth $280.7 billion USD, and it’s only expected to keep growing. From 2022 to 2030, its expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is 8.5 percent.  

As a manufacturer or brand in this space, there’s ample room for your business to thrive. However, to fuel your growth, it’s essential to ensure you’re offering the foods and flavors that consumers prefer. Consumers are leaning heavily toward functional foods and beverages that offer value-added nutrition to support their lifestyles. This shift in focus toward health-conscious choices has led to a robust demand for organic, natural, non-GMO and vegan ingredients as well as value-added ingredients like vitamins and herbal extracts. 

This can land formulators in a difficult spot: value-added ingredients don’t always taste good. Here’s a quick glance at the possible off-flavors you can get with certain ingredients:  


So how can you mask those off-notes to create foods that are delicious, texturally intact and meet consumers’ demands? By learning more about the many dimensions of functional food flavoring and choosing the flavor profile and tools that are best-suited to each individual product. Read on for answers to some of the most common questions manufacturers have about flavoring functional foods and beverages:  

How Do I Know Which Flavors are Best for My Product? 

When you’re flavoring a functional food or beverage, you need to think strategically. Start with the ingredients you’re using and their potential off-notes. Then, choose flavors that can effectively pair with those ingredients to naturally mask or balance their off-notes. 

For example, let’s say you’re developing a vitamin beverage. Vitamins pack a great nutritional punch, but they can also have unpleasant bitter notes. For this beverage, a citrus flavor profile is an effective choice because while citrus fruits have some natural bitterness, their acidic, sweet flavors counterbalance that bitterness to make them juicy and satisfying. Try a lemonade, key lime or tangerine flavor profile to surround the nutritional ingredient’s bitterness with the natural balance citrus flavors offer.  

But not all bitterness is the same. While citrus works to cover the intense, possibly even sulfury taste vitamins can produce, the bitterness you might get from botanical ingredients tends to have an earthier quality. Imagine eating a sage or basil leaf right off the plant—it has a strong herbal flavor, but that flavor is unmistakably garden, a sharp departure from bright citrus taste. 

Instead of citrus, a variety of berry profiles tend to work with botanicals because they offer a sweeter, flowery taste and are enhanced by stemmy, green notes. It delivers the flavor consumers expect from a botanical product without the harsh impact. 


Developing your product’s flavor profile can be a careful calculation, and sometimes, the flavor you initially had in mind for your product isn’t a fit for the final formula. Focus on what you need to build into your recipe to fill any “gaps” it might have. For example, let’s say you’re working with a thick milk protein like whey protein concentrate or casein. You wouldn’t market this product as a simple orange or berry…that would taste odd and confusing for consumers. For products that use these, as well as their vegan alternatives, effective flavor choices are rich, decadent profiles like chocolate fudge, marshmallow-like vanilla, and caramel. And if fruit is still in consideration, embracing the richness with orange cream or berry smoothie can go a long way. You need flavors that enhance and build creaminess into the product, creating richness that masks any earthy, beany or otherwise unwanted tastes.  



What Should I Do About Lingering End Notes? 

We often get this question from manufacturers who are focused on nutrition bars. With these, protein masking is key—and often, the solution is increasing sweetness to balance out protein’s bitter notes. Lean into one of the flavor profiles we described above or explore other decadent flavor profiles to prevent lingering end notes in your nutrition bars.  

Although end notes aren’t as much of a concern in other products, they’re still something to consider when crafting your flavor modulation. Similar to highlighting sweetness in nutrition bars to prevent unpleasant aftertastes, it is beneficial to highlight strong, persistent flavor notes in other products to keep end notes at bay. You can do this by adding a small bit of salt to the recipe to balance a sweet, fruity flavor or enhance a decadent, rich flavor and drown out any bitterness or metallic tastes that could otherwise linger.  

Which Off-Notes are the Most Challenging to Mask? 

There’s a reason why we’ve mentioned bitterness so much in the previous answers…bitter ingredients can be difficult to work with. Other challenging tastes include metallic and fishy profiles. In contrast, flavors like salty and sweet can be somewhat easier to modulate, as there are strategies for adjusting recipes to change consumers’ perception of these flavors without actually reducing the amount of salt or sugar in the product.  

However, it’s important to remember that with the right formulation approach, any flavor can be neutralized, masked or complemented. When we create flavor formulations, we rely on our vast library of masking or modifying flavors and bitter blockers to build creative, effective strategies for covering unwanted notes. We have strategies for just about every flavor profile, covering up excess bitter, fishy, and metallic notes. Sometimes, flavors can be counterbalanced. In other cases, they need to be covered. Our team of experts can advise you on the best way to handle unwanted notes in your functional product.  

Are Certain Flavor Profiles Better-Suited for Specific Applications? 

In short, yes. Certain flavor profiles are better choices for specific applications than others because of the ingredients that tend to be in these applications.  

Vitamin gummies are a popular option in the functional foods market. Since they often contain BCAAs, minerals, herbal ingredients and fatty acids, there’s more than vitamins’ bitterness to mask. Depending on a gummy’s specific recipe, there might be metallic, sulfur and sour notes to cover. With a specific list of notes to cover in your base and masking strategy, you can eliminate flavor profiles that wouldn’t work for your product—for example, a “spicy” profile like cinnamon or ginger might not balance these notes effectively and may even make them more pronounced. 

More Questions? Ask Our Team of Experts

Flavoring functional products isn’t always straightforward, but generally, it’s a logical process. Start with this fundamental question about your product: what are the possible off-notes its ingredients can produce? Then, identify what the product needs to balance or cover these notes. Learn about the general notes each ingredient class tends to produce so you have a baseline idea of which flavor profiles to pursue early on in each product’s development. With this baseline understanding, you can dial into exactly where each note tends to appear (top, middle, end) and target those notes with customized flavor modulations.  

Got any lingering questions we didn’t answer here? Reach out to Custom Flavors today! 




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