Demystifying Masking

August 17, 2018

By Jason Mittelheuser, Technical Business Development

In my last post, we discussed the differences between masking and blocking. Let’s take a closer look at masking.

Types of maskers

Remember, the intention of a masking ingredient is to mitigate off-notes while providing a neutral flavor profile. Masking can be further categorized into several different sub-groups, including phantom aromas, strong tastants and chemesthetic sensations.

Phantom aromas

This involves the use of flavor ingredients that have both a taste and smell. These ingredients aid in helping the mind to ignore the taste and/or odor of another compound. Typically, these ingredients will increase our perception of sweet, salty, or umami, based on the finished application and what off-notes we are looking to cover.


  • Vanillin: vanilla, sweet, creamy

  • Maltol: cotton candy, fruity, caramellic

  • Strawberry Furanone: strawberry, caramellic, cotton candy

You can tell by the descriptors above that these particular flavor ingredients impart sweetness, via both taste and smell. Since sweetness is a key driver of taste preference, these ingredients can play a key role in sweetness enhancement and bitterness reduction. Just know it can be a delicate balance — it's important to aid these ingredients at a subtle level in order to not perceive a characterizing flavor.

Strong Tastants

Strong tastants involve the use of ingredients that don’t have an aroma, and can only be perceived on the tongue. Ingredients that fall in this category include sweeteners, salts, and acids. Unlike phantom aromas, since we can only taste these ingredients, they need to be called out on an ingredient label.


  • Acids can have a complimentary role depending on the ingredients in your product.  For example, malic and lactic acid provide a cleaner taste profile when using stevia compared to citric acid.

Chemesthetic Sensations

This group is similar to phantom aromas, but they aid in masking by activating our trigeminal nerve.  This activation results in sending additional signals to brain, which in turn reduces our perception of off-notes.  The key in using these types of ingredients is to use at subthreshold usage levels.  The goal is to activate the trigeminal nerve without actually perceiving the heating or cooling effects.


  • Flavor ingredients, like menthol or other cooling compounds, can play a significant role in reducing off-notes in products that are highly concentrated in bitter ingredients, like energy drinks, protein, and OTC products.

The Takeaways

When dealing with difficult ingredients like protein or actives, your flavor supplier may consider masking and the different options available to them. The choice quite often depends on your end application. What a flavor supplier is able to do is easily identify — out of the various types of masking that we've covered, which is the best for you? I hope this helps "demystify" some of the science behind masking. Reach out at or email if you’d like to hear more.

About Jason

Jason works within FONA’s beverage team as Technical Business Development, where he focuses on delivering business growth and technical results for customers. He started at FONA in 2009 and has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry/bio-chemistry from Northern Illinois University. Jason is a regular presenter at Flavor University, where he helps food professionals from all walks understand the science behind their flavor.