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How We Develop the Huel Flavours

Ever wondered how we choose what flavour to launch next? Come behind the scenes to see what’s involved when we develop new flavours.

We have a chat

First of all, our New Product Development (NPD) team get together and discuss lots of exciting flavour options. Of course, our ideas adapt and change as they are developed, but this first step is critical in the development process. These ideas could include anything from gaps in our flavour range, popular flavour trends in the market, and most importantly, feedback from our Huelers.

The Huel forum is a great place filled with your insights and new flavour ideas. We use your feedback as much as possible to optimise the flavour of existing products or launch new ones.

We monitor the trends

When developing a new product, we keep an eye on the latest flavour trends and on what is popular with consumers. We also consider many other aspects. For example, sustainability is always on our minds, as well as the different taste of our customers all around the world.

Choosing flavour manufacturers

There are many companies that produce flavours (called flavour houses, or flavour manufacturers), so when choosing the right one we always consider the quality of the facility, of their processes, and of course of the product. Above all, we make sure they support our mission of making nutritionally complete, convenient, affordable food, with minimal impact on animals and the environment.

Creating flavours is a complex process. There are over 25,000 flavour molecules recorded in the flavour database that represent specific tastes and volatiles (1). Of these, 2,254 are derived from 936 natural ingredients and are separated into 34 categories (1). Understanding all of these and how they mix with each other takes a specific kind of expertise and years of experience. The flavour houses we work with have the very best flavour chemists with the right skill set to combine this knowledge with a new challenge such as Huel.

Drying liquid flavour

Flavour houses initially produce flavour in a liquid form. However, when it comes to creating dry products such as our Huel Powder, we need the flavours to be in a dry format.

Spray-drying is the most commonly used technique for the production of dry flavourings. During the spray-drying process, an aqueous solution made up of water, a carrier (e.g. maltodextrin and gum arabic), and liquid flavour, are dried into fine particles through a stream of extremely hot air which traps volatile flavour constituents inside the droplets (‘volatiles’ are substances that evaporate quickly in normal temperatures). Gum arabic is commonly used in combination with other hydrocolloids (substances which form a gel in the presence of water) such as maltodextrin, as a carrier in the encapsulation of flavours.

This process allows the flavours to be handled and applied more easily, and makes the flavour more stable to oxidation. The process of encapsulation allows for a high retention of the volatile flavour components, usually more than 80% (2).

Getting the right balance

The most important part of developing our new flavours is selecting ingredients that provide the right nutrition. As you can imagine, these natural ingredients come with some interesting sensory attributes, such as green notes (freshness), earthiness, astringency (dryness/chalkiness) and bitterness. Taste is subjective and people react to these sensory attributes differently. So developing a new flavour is a balancing act: we always try to develop products that can be enjoyed by all our Huelers.

Natural flavours of the raw materials

The flavour of our natural ingredients (oats, peas, rice, coconut, flaxseed, etc.) is subject to small changes due to natural variances as well as growing, harvest, and storage conditions. These tiny variations can have an impact on the overall flavour profile of our products which is why we have strict quality controls and checks in place to make sure the flavour of our products is just right.

Flavour types in our products

We’ve outlined the production considerations and flavour profiles of each of our products below:

  • Powder – We use powdered flavours in Huel Powder. The flavour houses use spray-drying to turn liquid flavours into powdered flavours.
  • Ready-to-drink – We use powdered flavours in Huel Ready-to-drink. Ready-to-drink is made using a powder blend mixed together as part of the manufacturing process. This blend includes ingredients such as oats, tapioca and pea protein, as well as the flavour components.

The fine tuning of the flavours can take up to a few months, so it is a very delicate process. This includes adjusting the amount of flavour and flavour enhancements until we get the right flavour.

Sucralose

We use sucralose in our flavoured Powder (not Unflavoured & Unsweetened) and Ready-to-drink products. There are limits on how much sucralose should be put into a product per recommended portion (3), and even at 2,000 calories (the amount at which Huel products are nutritionally complete) our products are well below these limits.

Our product development team are continuously working towards lowering the amount of sucralose in the product range, however, extensive development has so far shown that natural sweeteners do not provide the same flavour or sweetness profiles as sucralose.

Read more in our Guide to Sucralose.

Salt

Salt is a useful tool in the development of flavours as it can help to bring out certain flavour components of a blend, and can increase the perception of flavours that you find pleasant (4).

The inclusion of salt can also mask unpleasant flavours, such as bitterness. However, we are always careful not to use too much salt as it will influence the nutritional profile of our products.

Flavour Boosts

We developed the range of Huel Flavour Boosts so you are able to customise the flavour of your Huel Powder and have a great Huel experience.

Flavour Boosts consist of a carefully balanced blend of natural flavouring with natural sweetener (stevia). Although these have been designed to be added to Huel at about 2%, the magic of these products is that you can add as little, or as much as you like. With the addition of stevia, the flavours add not only a boost of new flavour to Huel Powder, but also extra sweetness.

Product testing

Once our product developers feel they have created a great flavour, they share it with the rest of the team for testing (our favourite part). They conduct various taste tests including triangle tests, blind tastings, and Hueler insights. These tests objectively analyse foods for taste, smell, appearance, and texture.

A triangle test is a type of ‘difference’ test that asks if there are sensory differences between two products. This test is particularly useful when a flavour is in the larger-scale trial, i.e. running the powder through a full manufacture process. This allows us to check if there are any batch-to-batch variances, so we carry them out in all cases when recipes are scaled up to ensure consistency.

In a blind taste test, the sense of sight is taken away from tasters, which reduces bias from seeing the product. This is an important test to conduct when looking at flavour alone by isolating the senses.

Launching our new flavour

Taking all these steps into account, launching a new flavour in our existing product range can take up to 26 weeks. If we’re developing a brand new product, the process may be extended as the NPD team need to understand how the flavour will interact with the new product formula.

Once the new flavour is approved by the wider team, we sometimes send the product to a small number of regular Huelers to provide pre-launch feedback. When we officially launch to market, we eagerly await your feedback via the Huel forum and social media platforms. This helps us to create the best possible products for our Huelers.

We welcome your feedback, so if you have comments about our flavours, please get in touch.

References

  1. Flavour DB. Flavour DB Summary [Available from: http://cosylab.iiitd.edu.in/flavordb].
  2. Williams A. Polysaccharide Ingredients: Gum Arabic [Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/maltodextrin].
  3. European Commission. Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on food additives. Off J Eur Union, 2008. 354, pp.16-33.
  4. Breslin PAS, et al. Salt enhances flavour by suppressing bitterness. Nature. 1997; 387, pg.563.

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