Why Protein (Usually) Tastes Bad
“I always enjoy working with VADE because Joe and your team truly care about making something customers will love. That isn’t always the case…” -VADE’s Co-Manufacturer- Product Specialist
Why does protein taste bad?
I remember seeing a protein bar for the first time. I’m not sure if I should name which product brand it was, because; lawyers, but it was something like “Thin-Quick Bar”. My mom kept a box of these bars in the pantry for a short while and I remember my mind melting when she told me that they were “healthy chocolate bars”... But, what-on-earth about that bar was anything like a chocolate bar? Other than the fact that it had the general shape of a candy bar, and was chocolate colored?
Oh! The betrayal I felt when I bit into that brown paste-like bar, filled with mushy cardboard and window sealer, thinking it was going to taste like a 3 Musketeers. I’m sure most of you can appreciate where I’m coming from. In fact, this experience was replicated nearly every time we had a new protein product in the house. The protein powders were as alarmingly bad as the chocolate bar. I would make a delicious looking protein shake- then upon drinking would taste something that had more in common with a glass of chocolate milk that had been dosed with paint thinner and sour cream, than it did with a chocolate milkshake.
Now, years later, I ask myself; why do protein products taste SO bad?- and also, why does VADE taste good? Is VADE actually made out of the same ingredients that haunt my tastebuds? Or is there some dark magic going on behind the scenes? Why don’t other companies taste as good as VADE? It’s amazing what you can find in the published literature regarding taste and isolated food products. Here’s what I found…
Go big or go home!
“You can either keep everything with the protein, or remove absolutely everything from the protein.”
For something to taste at all, let alone good or bad, there needs to be a seemingly impossible orchestration of different sugars, lipids, proteins, oxidation processes, short and long-chain alcohols, and tactile sensations caused by your own saliva, temaratures, and so on. These variables are dependent on one another to create a flavor experience. Of course, there are personal and cultural discrepancies, but for the most part; specific foods contain a certain combination of variables that most people register as “good-great-delicious”. However, when you isolate any one of those variables, or remove a collection of variables from a food item, you disrupt the balance which causes the positive flavor experience. This disruption of balance is what caused the protein bar and powder to taste SO BAD.
For example, milk tastes good to most people and animals, but if you take the milk and isolate the fat compounds and try to consume them, you would probably gag. The same is true for the milk proteins. Without the collection of all of the milk compounds playing off of eachother, there is very little to regard as tasty. But, despite the known limitations which cause an isolated ingredient to taste bad, there is a way to make a single compound, in a tasty food, taste good without every other compound present…
Some companies don’t want to pay up.
“Protein products usually taste awful because the proteins are not completely isolated and stabilized. Too many offensive compounds accompany the protein.”
Here’s where VADE’s magic comes into play. For years, supplement companies have tried to mask the foul taste of their products by adding fillers and loads of sweeteners to their recipes. What VADE chose to do was figure out exactly why something as simple as an isolated protein product could taste bad. VADE found that most milk-based protein powders, which contain protein compounds that are not 100% isolated, show mild levels of lipid oxidation compounds that cause "off-flavors" as well as detectable levels of lactose which causes certain flavor-fouling reactions and a chalky aftertaste.
It is expensive to get all of the lactose, or nonvolatile compounds, and all of the other lipids separated from the proteins in order to minimize the negative flavor profile of the end product, but VADE takes on the cost. Once the proteins are completely isolated, you only need to add a small amount of sweetness and the cocoa powder, or vanilla bean extract, in order to get a powder that actually tastes like the label says it will. No more awful surprises.
Now, we believe that other companies do realize that their cheap protein ingredients are causing the flavor issues, but their margins are just too good to give up. So they continue to try and overpower the cheap flavors with whatever they find lying around the lab. We’re happy to keep our secrets hidden from them so long as their customers keep switching over to VADE.
100% Whey Isolate Protein
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Why do other supplements taste BAD?
This reality is more straightforward. You have probably tried some other supplemental food products like soy protein, pea protein, meal replacement powders, greens blends, and so on. Most people, other than your hippie aunt, agree that these typically taste like lawn clippings mixed with pottery clay (aka. bad). The reason these products taste bad is because the ingredients that make up the end products fundamentally, and literally, TASTE BAD unless they are cooked or otherwise “prepared”. Soy (edamame) and peas are normally cooked, or seasoned with plenty of salt or garlic. And the grasses and plants that make a “greens blend”...well… go ahead and try to make wheatgrass, barley grass and kale powder taste like a chocolate milkshake or a strawberry smoothie. We did, but it wasn’t easy. Here’s a note from our co-manufacturer which explains how it works:
“The technology for purifying these compounds really has come a long way and we want to make sure we are always using the best available… Like you said, all plant proteins taste “bad” or a little bit like grass/dirt as you would expect, but some manufacturers do a better job of innovating than others. We always compare new to old to see if we can find something cleaner tasting before we even get to the flavoring step…I always enjoy working with VADE because Joe and your team truly care about making something customers will love. That isn’t always the case and, unfortunately, the downside of being a co-manufacturer is that we can’t force our customers to use the best ingredients or the best flavors, sometimes the bottom line is more important and they sacrifice on taste to meet their budget.”
- The effects of processing parameters on the flavor of whey protein ingredients
- Lipid Composition of Whey Protein Concentrates Manufactured Commercially and in the Laboratory
- Making milk taste good: Analyzing the factors that impact milk quality and taste
- CONTRIBUTION TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE, TASTE OF MILK*
- Effect of Feed on Flavor in Dairy Foods
- Removal of off-flavour-causing precursors in soy protein by concurrent treatment with phospholipase A2 and cyclodextrins
- Evaluation of Bitterness in Enzymatic Hydrolysates of Soy Protein Isolate by Taste Dilution Analysis
- Off-Flavor Precursors in Soy Protein Isolate and Novel Strategies for their Removal
- Soy flavor and its improvement
What is whey isolate?
Protein molecules are generally extracted, for the purpose of use in protein fortified foods, from a few main food sources: Dairy or cow milk (e.g. Whey and Casein), and Plants (e.g. Pea, Soy, Hemp). The isolated molecules are not identical in their structure- therefore, protein isolates derived from different food products come with varying benefits (4, 6) Whey protein molecules are found in cow milk. The protein molecules are extracted from the dairy through a series of filtration methods. These filtration methods separate the protein molecules from most of the other dairy compounds like lactose (7). Following the initial filtration, what is left is called “whey concentrate”. Whey concentrate is then continually filtered until the contents of the filtered material are almost solely whey protein molecules- creating “whey isolate”.
What is Pre-Workout?
Pre-workout Dietary Supplement products are typically produced as dissolvable powders which contain caffeine, B-vitamins and isolated amino acids (or amino acid-containing compounds). These ingredients are associated with promoting positive energy levels, mental focus, muscle recovery and performance. Pre-workout powders are usually dissolved in water and are best used 15-30 minutes before a workout or training session in order to increase energy levels, improve endurance, and promote protein synthesis. The amount of pre-workout powder used, per serving, is normally around 8-16 grams. These products, which are commonly referred to as just “pre-workout”, are also used alongside post-workout protein supplementation (See whey isolate) in order to put the body's muscle-building functions into hyperdrive.