The CBD Flavor Whisperer: A Conversation with Caliper’s Drew Hathaway

3 mins read

Drew draws daily on his extensive experience in food science, food technology, and ingredients innovation in his work at Caliper. And, when he’s working on developing and refining flavors, he can seem like a magician, finding balance in the subtle interactions of cannabinoids and other ingredients on the palate throughout an ingredient’s—and a finished product’s—life cycle. Here, he shares his insights on the flavor challenges he’s faced along the way.

How do cannabinoids compare with other ingredients you’ve worked with?

Fortunately, cannabinoids are fairly easy to work with for many applications. This is especially true when working with Caliper’s suite of water-soluble cannabinoid ingredients, since this technology makes them easy to add to just about any food or beverage product with minimal organoleptic impact.

Generally speaking, you can approach cannabinoid ingredients like vitamins or other nutritional ingredients. They’re somewhat heat and light sensitive, so you’ll need to selectively approach when you add them to a product. For example, when working with gummies, it’s a tricky process to cook the starch or pectin to achieve the right texture, and you need to time the addition of your cannabinoids accordingly.

There’s no reason to be intimidated by cannabinoids. We have a lot of experience testing our products in various product formats ourselves, so customers should feel free to reach out to us; we can provide insights specific to their products to help them succeed, and we’re always willing to work through a challenge together, to figure out what’s feasible.

We spend a lot of time and effort sourcing high-quality hemp and cannabis extracts that have minimal flavor, and we also leverage unique ingredients and processes to reduce the bitterness and flavor before our customers ever receive our products. Our approach also helps make batch-to-batch consistency more viable, so you can choose a flavor profile you like, and know it will be the same every time.

Since we’ve done so much upfront work on making our flavor profiles as desirable as possible, we really haven’t had flavor issues with our customers.

In your experience, what pitfalls do manufacturers most commonly fall into when formulating with CBD?

One common mistake is finalizing the product design before ever trying CBD and not being flexible in adjusting things as needed. We’ve seen multiple companies try to launch products with small serving sizes—like a vitamin shot—with a high concentration of CBD. By doing that, they’re magnifying the off-flavors of CBD, and that’s a recipe for disaster. But with a little flexibility—say increasing a 2-ounce shot to 4 ounces and diluting it a bit, you could make it much more palatable.

At the end of the day for a food product, you honestly need to taste it and make sure it tastes good. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your business plan is—if it doesn’t taste good, customers won’t buy it.

So sometimes it takes flexibility on the product design end to make sure that you’ve optimized your product’s potential, instead of having blinders on and sticking with something that could be improved with a few minor tweaks.

What is your favorite flavor?

I generally like fresh-tasting, tropical flavors, so I’m a sucker for a high-quality mango or coconut flavored item. It’s partly because mango and coconut are made up of very unstable flavor compounds, and for a flavorist, they’re really difficult to execute properly. A lot of mango flavors are very “sulphury,” for example, which is why many people don’t like mango-flavored things. A good flavorist will remove those sulfur compounds while maintaining the overall profile.

I regularly buy new products with those flavors, knowing that I probably won’t like them. But then  if I’m pleasantly surprised, I’m always a repeat consumer of those products. It’s kind of one food scientist appreciating another food scientist’s work.

 When not formulating CBD products, how do you like to spend your time?

I love the outdoors and try to get outside as much as possible; easy to do here in Colorado! Hiking, biking, kayaking and camping are my favorite summertime activities, and snowboarding is my favorite winter activity.

Be informed.

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