Given the demand for ingredients that support cognitive health and energy enhancement, ingredient suppliers caution that formulation is more complicated than simply adding into the formula.

“Functional ingredients like vitamins, minerals, caffeine, ashwagandha and L-theanine may deliver physical or mental benefits, but often present flavor challenges such as bitterness, astringency, metallic notes and other off flavors,” says Carla Saunders, senior marketing manager for high-intensity sweeteners at Cargill, Wayzata, Minn. “On top of all these hurdles, consumers are also looking for reduced, no-added or no-sugar products, formulated without artificial sweeteners, adding more complexity to flavor formulation.”

Citing data from Nielsen, Saunders notes that categories like energy drinks increasingly are turning to low and no sugar formulations.

“Demand for reduced-sugar and no-sugar-added options is especially strong in the energy drink space, which is why stevia use is seeing phenomenal growth, up more than 70% in the last year,” she says.

To support this need state, Cargill offers its EverSweet + ClearFlo sweetener system, an amalgamation of its stevia sweetener with natural flavor.

“The resulting sweetener system offers wide-ranging benefits that include flavor modification and enhanced mouthfeel, along with improved solubility and stability in formulations, and faster dissolution,” Saunders explains.

Casey McCormick, senior vice president of global innovation at Sweegen, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., notes that bitter blockers is a solution that beverage formulators can apply when working with energy ingredients.

“Many energy-boosting ingredients, such as caffeine, for example, impart bitterness,” he says. “Therefore, bitter-blocker technologies such as the ones provided by Sweegen, a collaborator with Blue California, can block the bitter taste of caffeine or similar ingredients for a considerable taste advantage. 

“Bitter blockers provide a natural alternative to sugar for significantly blocking bitterants in food and beverages,” McCormick continues. “Brands seek to move from synthetic compounds to nature-based, clean-label options that work across multiple bitterants. Sweegen’s nature-based bitter blockers target specific bitterants and reduce bitterness at varying levels.”

However, McCormick cautions that bitter blockers are not a one-size-fits-all solution so formulators should consult with their partners when implementing them. 

“Work with the best bitter blocker for a specific bitterant or bitterants — partner with the supplier through the development process for successfully developing great-tasting, better-for-you products,” he says.