Is there such a thing as off-flavour?

In September we came together for the Uni Food Day to start a dialogue and discussions between companies and university scientist. The aim was to get new insights on cutting edge science as well as industry dilemmas in a change for a healthy, tasty and sustainable future food system. And we did so with great success and valuable output.
Read the recap of the session, or watch the full session video at the bottom of the page.

It became almost philosophic at this years’ online event Uni Food Day, when three researchers answered a question asked by Product Experience Senior Researcher Léonor from IFF, one of the world’s leading fragrance and flavor companies. She asked them: “Off notes in plant based products: Where do they come from? How to describe them? How to reduce them?  Please cover from raw material, molecules and sensory perception.” 

It is widely accepted among sensory scientists that the perception of a flavour as well as a so-called “off flavour” is nothing that can be isolated but is a part of a full sensoric product experience and that it cannot be disconnected from the expectations of the consumer in the situation. This was clear message from all the researchers answering, Senior Scientist from the Sensory Lab at DTU Grethe Hyldig, Senior Researcher Ulla Kidmose from Aarhus University and Professor Wender Bredie from the research group on Sensory Science at the Department of Food Studies, University of Copenhagen.  

This said, when taking a scientific approach to further understanding what happens to the taste, when food manufacturers replace an animal ingredient with a plant-based one, different methods can be applied depending on what you wish to investigate. 

Grethe Hyldig suggested the sensory study in which a professional panel is able to detect and express the sensory attributes in scientific words, which then can be used to developing surveys and gave examples from sea weed and potato starch.  

Consumer Expectations

Ulla Kidmose introduced an ongoing study on plant-based commercial burgers as well as cheese prototypes to be launched in September 2023, and continued the discussion opening up the perspectives of different expectations from different consumer groups - e.g. vegetarians are less inclined to turn down products containing bitter notes when this can be expected, simply because they are used to it. 



Consumers consider them as off-flavours, when they meet unique flavours that are unfamiliar in the animal counterpart

Professour Ulla Kidmose, Aarhus University

The last speaker, Professor Wender Bredie, shared a chart of the most common off-flavours in plant-based foods (see picture) explaining the chemical composition which induces this, and introduced a new technology to separate aroma extracts from food providing an opportunity to identify and perhaps extract un-wanted attributes. Wender also introduced the an ongoing project Aqrifood, a screening of the flavour potential of 30 different protein-rich crops (peas, faba beans and oats), which in the future can help the food system to identify the most promising protein rich crops apt for the Scandinavian primary production as well as food habits.  

Wender Bredie presented a chart over most common off-flavours in plant-based foods

Indeed, a lot of effort is continuously being done in order to support a transition towards more plant-based food systems, both at industry and at public research level. These efforts are supported by projects such as the Plant2Food investing in open research, the Member’s only “Green Protein Network” and applied science through programmes such as Innovationskraft.  

Did you miss out on this year’s Uni Food Day? Watch the video below or contact Heidi Høy,

The event was supported by the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science.  


Watch the video

Did you miss Uni Food Day? Watch the 2nd session on Off flavours in plant-based products right here

The 1st and 3rd session can be watched in the article 'Dairy proteins from precision fermentation: not milk, not sustainable yet?' 


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Pojektet modtager bevillinger fra EU's Horizon 2020-forsknings- og innovationsprogram under tilskudsaftale nr.  101000788.