15 June 2021 / The experts of the Vitagora ecosystem / Vitagora publication / Science and technologies

Improving the aromatic expression of processed fruit products: how to stay natural?


Consumers and the market showing strong demand for natural and “clean label” food products. But how do you remove all aromas without impacting the organoleptic qualities of your product, especially fruit-based ones? Discover two ways to improve the aromatic expression of processed fruit products while remaining natural: enzymes, and fermentation.


Why this should interest you?

  • Fruit used for processed products have little taste, though consumers expect tasty products.
  • Most consumers equate “food flavourings” to “synthetic additives”.
  • Fruit have unexpressed aromatic reserves, a natural potential to be explored.
  • These aromatic reserves can be released while remaining in a natural process thanks to enzymes.
  • Fermentation is also a clean label solution for modulating the natural aromas of fruit-based or plant-based products.


Enhancing taste, providing an exotic flavour or creating new ones: aromas are widely used in food processing. Yet, they are often associated with a negative connotation of artificiality: according to a survey conducted by the SNIAA (the French national union of food flavouring ingredients) in 2020, 63% of respondents think that most food flavourings are "chemical", "artificial ".


At a time when the naturalness of a recipe is imperative, doing without flavourings is a tempting approach… but is it possible to remove them without impacting the organoleptic qualities of your product?


Atelier du Fruit, an SME created in 2012, works on improving the aromatic quality of processed fruits in a “clean label” perspective, without added food flavourings or stabilisers, by exploring two paths: enzymes and fermentation. Some of their innovations can be discovered below.


Atelier du Fruit

Atelier du Fruit is an SME, created in 2012, which designs and develops soft technologies applied to processed fruits and vegetables, and offers tailor-made R&D support to agri-food industries. In particular, Atelier du Fruit works on natural and “clean label” processes, without adding flavourings or stabilisers, to optimise the aromas of fruit-based food products.


Founded by Alain Etievant, who has more than 17 years of experience at IFF/Frutarom, this SME brings together a team of 9 doctors and engineers from different backgrounds, specialised in biotechnologies (enzymology and fermentation). Their expertise is reinforced by a strong knowledge of plant matrices, experience of industrial plant processing and a constant search for natural extraction processes.


Atelier du Fruit followed Vitagora's acceleration program, ToasterLAB, en 2018. 

Clean Label: what to do with aromas?

Natural and additive-free: the “clean label” trend

“Clean label” is a very strong consumer trend in the food sector and a response to consumers’ expectations for more natural and healthier products.

According to a 2019 Kantar World Panel study, 88% of French people prefer products with "more natural ingredients", and 76% pay attention to the composition of the products they buy. Food additives have a particularly bad reputation with consumers. According to a YouGov study for LSA, a French trade magazine, conducted in January 2020:

  • 54% of respondents see the presence of an additive in a product as an element discouraging the purchase
  • 47% are not satisfied with the work done by brands to reduce controversial substances or additives in their products
  • 87% of French people know what an additive is
  • While 85% look at the labels of the products they buy, 63% cannot recognise the name of an additive


To address mistrust, the “clean label” trend is based on four principles (based on this definition):

  • Reduce the list of ingredients to a minimum
  • Remove additives considered risky
  • Replace purified and/or denatured ingredients with natural ingredients
  • Clarify the list of ingredients on the label to reassure consumers


This trend is starting to gain momentum: a study conducted by ANSES (French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety) and INRAE (French National Research Institute), as part of the Food Observatory (Oqali), reveals that the use of additives in industrial food has globally decreased over the last 10 years. In 2016, 18.3% of food did not contain additives, compared to only 13.7% in 2008 (source).


Food flavourings: a tainted reputation of "synthetic additives"

According to the ANSES website, food flavourings, either natural or synthetic, are chemical substances not consumed as such, but "introduced into foods to give them a particular taste or smell. Their use must be indicated in the list of ingredients of the foodstuffs concerned ”.


Flavourings are regulated by several European regulations, namely, CE / 1331/2008 for their authorisation, CE / 1334/2008 for their conditions of use (maximum doses, prohibited substances, labelling rules, etc.).


But what is the consumers’ perception of aromas? In 2020, the SNIAA (National Union of Food Aromatic Ingredients), conducted a survey with OpinionWay on this issue. As a result, consumers appear "a little confused when they are faced with the labels of flavoured products". They sometimes struggle to understand the differences between the terms flavour, taste, aroma, etc. ". While the share of natural flavours is growing, 63% of them assimilate “flavours” to a synthetic, “chemical” additive (source).


To do without flavourings, and to further reduce the number of additives, even when they are natural, is therefore an additional step in a “clean label” approach.


Unexpressed aromatic reserves: a treasure revealed by enzymes



"Aromatic reserves": what are they?

“We realised there are enormous aroma reserves in fruit, and in particular in the fruits intended for processing! ", explains Alain Etievant, founder of Atelier du Fruit.


Indeed, in a study carried out as part of his thesis at Atelier du Fruit, Stéphane Gaborieau compared 14 strawberries, including 9 for industrial use and 5 for the food market, both in terms of aromatic profile and in terms of their potential aromatic reserve, that is to say, the sum of the olfactory compounds linked to a sugar which are released by enzymatic cleavage and perceived by the mouth and/or the nose.


This study concludes that the potential for "sublimation" of table strawberries is low (potential increase in the concentration of volatile olfactory compounds possible by around 6%) while it is 50% for strawberries intended for processing.


How do we let fruit express its potential reserves, while remaining in a natural and clean label process, namely, without additives?


Releasing the treasure with enzymes

Aurélie Cendrès, a doctor in agri-food biochemistry, works as a project manager at Atelier du Fruit. As part of her research, Aurélie Cendrès is writing her thesis on the identification of the presence (or the absence) of aromatic reserves in a fruit, and on the development of a process making it possible to quantify and qualify this aromatic reserve.


“The aromatic reserves of fruits are volatile compounds,” she explains, “but these compounds are linked to a sugar and too heavy to be truly volatile. Therefore, to unleash the unexpressed aromatic reserves, one should cut the link between them and sugars, thanks to an enzymatic cut."


To meet this challenge and develop innovative processes for the manufacture of high value-added natural fruit flavours, Alain Etiévant and his team launched the collaborative innovation project Natarome+ in 2015, accredited by Vitagora.


"We then had a whole team working on the issue, with academic partners such as INRA, the University of Avignon, and industrial partners such as Protéus, Jean Niel, Agro'Novae Industrie, and Senoble", Alain Etiévant recalls. For 48 months, Atelier du Fruit and the project partners worked on the sublimation of the aromatic reserves of fruits and in particular the potential of enzymes.


“To succeed in releasing the aromatic reserves,” Aurélie explains, “we tested different enzymes of natural origin on the fruits in their initial state. As a result, we can see directly whether an aromatic reserve is being released."


After several years of development, satisfaction is high, as expressed by Aurélie Cendrès: “We have carried out numerous proofs of concept, with several major groups in the food industry, on the use of enzymes to release non-expressed aromatic compounds. The results of the sensory analyses speak for themselves: we obtain riper, sweeter, slightly jammy fruity notes. "


Many applications to come

One year after the end of the Natarome+ project, the results are massive: several theses, publications, the development of a new range of natural flavours at Jean Niel for applications in drinks, smoothies, and dairy products (find out more here – in French), etc.


At Atelier du Fruit, at least 4 “enzymatic duos” qualified as “potentially all-purpose” have been developed. Working in synergy, these duos make it possible to highlight the aromatic reserves for most fruits.


Already tested in Spain, enzymes for aromatic release are now integrated into the usual process of a partner company of Atelier du Fruit. In France, Atelier du Fruit expects many commercial opportunities, since the applications are intended both for B2C consumer products (jams, compotes, confectionery).



Fermentation: achieving repeatability

While the enzymes work very well, another biotechnology is used by the scientists at Atelier du Fruit: fermentation.


Starter cultures: under-explored flavour modulators

“Fermentation on fruit matrices or vegetable matrices can give both extraordinary results and real failures. Sometimes we find the same aromatic notes on different fruit matrices”, Alain Etievant laughs.


For example, in the case of apples, fermentation produces aromas of "caramel apple note" or "apple tarte Tatin". But other cultures also make it possible to obtain notes close to confectionery (honey, etc.), or even to modulate towards floral aromas (apple blossom, cider-like notes, etc.). As part of a project on reducing added sugar, the Atelier du Fruit team worked on passion fruit juice, usingfermentation to make it sweeter and less acidic.


For Alain Etievant, there is no doubt: "Cultures are very interesting as flavour enhancers and aroma modulators, but the remaining question is: why? What mechanisms make it possible to obtain good results in terms of the aromas?


While the fermentation of dairy products has been widely studied and is very well understood by scientific communities in the agri-food sector, there is still a lot to be explored about the fermentation of plant materials and fruits. At the start of 2020, Atelier du Fruit launched the KARPO project, within the framework of PIA (French regional investments program for the future), to shed light on these mechanisms.



The KARPO project

"With the KARPO project, we want to understand the different fermentation parameters involved in the production of a particular taste of a fruit matrix", Alain Etiévant explains. “It's a very ambitious project in which we are moving step by step.”


He explains: “We screened 4 lactic starter cultures - pure lactic acid bacteria strains - to test up to 8 matrices of different fruit purees: apples, bananas, strawberries, apricots, etc. This gave us thousands of results to analyse. For these analyses, we use two complementary methods: GCMS (Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry) and SPME (Solid Phase Micro-Extraction)."


"SPME will allow a relatively comprehensive extraction of volatile and therefore aromatic compounds, and these will be analysed and identified through the use of GCMS", he explains.


Starter cultures, matrices: a double exploration

Camille Duc has a PhD in microbiology and biotechnology and is an agri-food engineer. He joined Atelier du Fruit to work on the KARPO project.


He explains that “we are analysing the data obtained in our tests. On the one hand, we hope that this analysis will allow us to identify accurately which cultures to use according to the aromas, or the aromatic universe - spicy, floral, roasted, etc. - that we want to obtain. On the other hand, we also hope to identify which nutrients must be present in the fruit matrices to obtain the desired aromas.”


Indeed, while the cultures plays a key role, the components of the fruit matrix on which it operates are also crucial. Camille Duc confirms that certain compounds already seem to be particularly important. “This is the case with organic acids: certain acids will be consumed by lactic acid bacteria to transform them into strong or weak acids." As a result, organoleptic profiles will be modified.



A wide variety of applications - from fruit ice cream to vegan substitutes

“Of course, fermentation is not an aroma! The aromatic molecules resulting from fermentation are less concentrated and less powerful: it is a question of naturally modulating the aromatic expression of a fruit puree or juice, and in a clean label approach, so as to remove food flavourings from the list of its ingredients”, Alain Etievant concludes.


The applications are as diverse and varied as fruit-based products… or vegetable-based ones. The entire Atelier du Fruit team is very enthusiastic: “We also work in the realm of savoury food, for applications on meat substitutes, where the desired aromas are more buttery and umami. In this respect, fermentation has an incredible potential, with products that are far superior, in terms of taste, to the majority of products currently on the market!”


And the applications are not limited to the food industry: cosmetics also represent a very promising market for the clean label trend. “There is still a lot to explore,” Alain concludes with a smile. “The cultures, the matrices… you can work on it for a lifetime!"


Go further

You can read a the following scientific publication by Aurélie Cendres:


Aromas, natural, Clean Label, Formulation, Fermentation, Fruit


Contact us

A food engineering graduate from Montpellier Supagro, Mélissa takes great pleasure in the variety of topics that she deals with in her work as a Vitagora innovation engineer, in particular the scientific and entrepreneurial projects of the Vitagora's members for whom she provides support. 


if you want to find out more about the R&D programs of Atelier du Fruit, or to be connected with Alain Etiévant and his team, contact Mélissa Nourry : melissa.nourry@vitagora.com.




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