The subjects of sustainability, green chemistry and naturalness call for completely new approaches. The work we do here will impact products around the world, which is why we work in close cooperation with colleagues in Brazil, the USA or China.”
Bright sunshine pours in from three sides, illuminating white pillars and the smooth, gray stone floor. Gerhard Krammer and Torsten Kulke stand in the center of this cavernous hall, peering at the screen of a tablet and discussing the use of a certain raw material. The Symrise Heads of Research meet regularly in the new Symrise research center in Holzminden. Since April 2013, it has been supplying 90 workstations as well as spacious communications and conference areas across four floors and 2,400 square meters.
The glass center, in which Symrise invested € 10 million, connects four pre-existing buildings. The center now hosts researchers from both divisions. About 20 % of Symrise’s total staff works in research and development. “The subjects of sustainability, green chemistry and naturalness call for completely new approaches for research and development. These often evolve out of a close cooperation between all of the various areas of research and development. The new research center has made this process much easier from day one,” says Flavor & Nutrition Head of Research Krammer. For him, it is also a sign that the business divisions will be collaborating more closely. “We are seeing an increasing number of joint project possibilities. Now, more than ever, we can incorporate each other’s work – in scientific lectures or customer events that are held here, for example,” says Krammer. “It is also inspiring for our customers to hear us talk about how botanical extracts, for instance, are generated sustainably and can be implemented in both cosmetics and beverages.”
When talking about synergies, Torsten Kulke can’t help but mention the work taking place in the mint segment: “Oral care and chewing gum are two application areas at Symrise where we have been developing successful innovations to market maturity together for a very long time,” says the Head of Research, who is primarily involved with fragrances, aroma molecules and oral care. Another raw material that has cross-divisional importance is ginger, which is used in sweets and as a medicinal plant for skin health. “We exchange technical data, analyze and evaluate materials all while learning from our colleagues,” explains Kulke.
In his work, Gerhard Krammer focuses on functional ingredients for healthy nutrition that are natural and sustainable. “They need to taste good as well,” the researcher adds. “The flavor experience has become even more important over the past few years.” Krammer also has to constantly keep international aspects and preferences in mind. “The work we do here will impact products around the world, which is why we work in close cooperation with colleagues in Brazil, the USA or China.”
Torsten Kulke sees additional trends influencing research: “Many raw materials have become increasingly scarce over the past ten years and therefore more expensive – while the global population is growing and therefore demand is rising.” Symrise’s challenge is to ensure the availability of its raw materials at a constant quality while improving its processes to make them more efficient.
One of the many ways Symrise accomplishes these goals is with open innovation networks, where Symrise cooperates with colleges, suppliers and customers in many regions. “We often meet in the new research center, which has a nice side effect,” explains Torsten Kulke: “By moving offices and conference rooms into the new building, we suddenly had new space to work with in our segment. We used this space to install new facilities such as the catalysis laboratory, which we use to examine and develop cutting-edge approaches like green chemistry for Symrise. This kind of research is becoming increasingly important for us.”
Sustainable Production with Green Chemistry –
Kerstin Schroeder and Bernhard Rußbüldt
Generally speaking, it’s really quite simple: When two highly accessible alcohols react with each other, it results in Symrose®– a synthetic rose fragrance that offers a viable alternative to natural substances that may irritate the skin. It was patented by Symrise in 2006 and has been in production ever since. So far, the biggest challenge has been manufacturing the product in sufficient quantities at competitive costs.
“We have been seeing increasing demand and want to use Symrose® in greater volumes in detergents and household products,” says Kerstin Schroeder, who is responsible for synthesis research in the Scent & Care division. The chemist supplied the solution as well: catalysis – a green chemistry method where fixed-bed catalysts improve reaction processes. “We added a new laboratory at the end of October 2013, where we have access to this technology and are working on enhancing our methods and techniques,” says Kerstin Schroeder. The use of heterogeneous catalysis has advantages over conventional methods, as Bernhard Rußbüldt explains, using Symrose® as an example. “Until now, we have been combining these raw materials using what’s known as a Friedel-Crafts reaction. This results in a large amount of byproducts.” With fixed-bed catalysis, on the other hand, the chemist hopes to create a more environmentally friendly process – which would allow the catalyst to be used over a long period.
It will take some time, though, until the process can be adapted to the technical standards. For now, the researchers are testing various catalysts in a smaller system, explains Bernhard Rußbüldt. He starts with a few drops of catalyst – the final process will use exponentially larger amounts. Until then, he is examining a series of factors: In the catalysis process, very different parameters can be optimized, such as pressure, temperature and raw material input.
The research effort will pay off in the end, adds Kerstin Schroeder. “Eventually, we will be able to produce substantially more at lower costs and with less energy. That creates advantages for us and our customers.” Another aspect is also very important to her: “The know-how that we are developing with our innovation partners is incredibly valuable. By developing our own technologies and production competencies, we establish greater supply security and become even more independent of the market.”
“We optimize our processes in the new catalysis laboratory. This provides advantages for us and our customers.”
“We are constantly enhancing our processes and methods or developing new ones. Our internal efforts are very important for this – but so is a clear awareness for what is happening outside of Symrise.”
Research Requires Communication –
Listening, collaborating, transferring: These are just three of the many terms used to describe the work of Johannes Panten. The chemist, who has been with Symrise for 22 years, has been managing the Technology Scouting & Sustainability department for the research areas Fragrances, Aroma Molecules and Oral Care for the past four years. “We are constantly enhancing our processes and methods or developing new ones. Our internal efforts are very important for this – but so is a clear awareness for what is happening outside of Symrise.”
“Open innovation” is the motto under which Panten combines his many contacts at universities and other research institutions. “The idea behind this network is to check whether we have a technology in our own portfolio or whether we could cooperate with our partners.” This can look very different from partner to partner: “In some cases, we have a specific research task that an institute takes on for us,” explains Panten. “Or, at other times, we finance basic research for a doctoral thesis and then use the findings.” This can lead to joint patents.
Johannes Panten is currently supervising more than 20 projects in which internal and external specialists are collaborating. He also coordinates one of the three Scientific Advisory Boards. Cooperation with the Flavor & Nutrition division has also intensified over the past few years. “Sometimes our colleagues there apply methods that we don’t have a lot of experience with in fragrance manufacturing. We are using this kind of know-how more and more.”
In white biotechnology, for example, Panten recognizes great potential for his segment. “The processes are selective, which means that they generate a very pure product.” This is done by using enzymes to react with raw materials. The classic example is the production of vanillin, which was the cornerstone that started the company nearly 140 years ago. Back then, the flavor was produced using a chemical synthesis using lignin. Today, however, natural vanillin is a key product for Symrise: “In addition to sustainably sourced bourbon vanilla from Madagascar, we also use our specialty SymVanil. The natural, biotechnological manufacturing method uses by-products that are derived from rice husks.” The result of this process, which Symrise would also like to use for fragrances, is notable: It uses less energy in production and doesn’t use as many chemicals while producing fewer waste products. “Our work in this area is by no means finished,” says Panten. “We want to make this method even more efficient and sustainable for us.”
Research Focus: Healthy Food –
Metabolic disorders can have a profound effect on people’s lives. For instance, an enzyme defect can result in certain food ingredients not being properly digested within the body. This then leads to an accumulation of certain substrates or to a lack of metabolites. Symptoms of various kinds can result from these conditions. “These kinds of situations can be avoided with special diets,” says Sabine Widder, who heads Health & Nutrition Research at Symrise. People affected by these conditions have to try to avoid consuming these incompatible ingredients whenever and wherever possible. They also often require a balanced diet in order for their body to grow and perform normally.
These dietary products contain all of the important components of a healthy diet without the respective unsuitable ingredients. “The problem is that these concoctions often taste very bitter, salty or metallic,” says the food technologist. Masking one of these undesirable flavors or aftertastes is no small feat – but Sabine Widder’s six-person team specializes in exactly that. “The development process can last up to half a year. We perform sensory tests on individual flavor substances regarding their effectiveness and finally combine them with one another,” explains Sabine Widder. “In doing so, we work closely with the Ingredient Research Team, which provides us with new, specially developed substances. The result is a complex flavor that masks unwanted taste elements and gives the product an enjoyable flavor.”
Another trend is also providing the team with plenty of work. “An increasing number of people suffer from food-related illnesses, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.” One of the reasons for this is that a lot of what consumers around the world like to eat contains large portions of sugar, fat or salt. Thankfully, a growing number of alternative products with healthier nutritious profiles are becoming available. “To ensure that the flavor of these healthier products meets consumers’ expectations, we work on the development of complex natural flavor formulas,” says Sabine Widder, who has been working at Symrise for 18 years.
Bioactive natural substances are another part of her work related to the fight against obesity: “We asked ourselves if there are flavors that make you feel full.” Sabine Widder and her colleagues started a research project together with the University of Vienna. “We are making very good progress and have already gained some promising results,” says the researcher. “The topic of healthy foods is very diverse and exciting. That makes my job very satisfying – even if the successes are relatively small ones.”
“To ensure that the flavor of healthier products meets consumers’ expectations, we work on the development of complex natural flavor formulations.”
“Only a product that meets consumers’ desires exactly can be successful in the long run.”
The right aroma and the right process for every product –
Gerald Glaubitz and Christopher Sabater
The tempting scent of white wine, cheese and onions permeates the laboratory of Gerald Glaubitz. The Symrise flavorist is developing an aroma for a French onion soup. His challenge goes well beyond getting the right combination of different aromatic compounds – temperature, pH level, air and many other factors will change an aroma when manufacturing and preparing the food. And they affect the taste experience. At Symrise, flavorists and food technologists work closely together for that reason. “Only a product that meets the consumers’ desires exactly can be successful in the long run.”
“Food is comprised of highly complex natural products,” Symrise researcher Christopher Sabater explains. “Because of this, to create a ‘winning taste’ we first analyze the data of the foods using the ‘sensory guided analysis’ method and apply what we learn from that analysis in the first flavor compositions. Every food matrix releases flavors differently, so we apply the compositions directly and analyze using the senses whether the desired effect has been achieved. In that way, we get closer and closer to the taste experience that the consumers expect.”
Some products call for a specific flavor release behavior, for example long-lasting flavor in chewing gum. For other applications, the focus might be on protecting sensitive flavor components, for example when it comes to preserving freshness over the entire duration of storage. In such cases, the researchers use encapsulation technology. A number of such processes are available to Symrise. “We are currently working on making these even more effective,” Sabater explains. “That way we will be able to protect particularly short-lived notes of freshness and flavor profiles from creation to consumption. That opens up completely new opportunities for us and our customers.”
When the French onion soup smells and tastes like its culinary role model and when consumers around the world enjoy it, then Gerald Glaubitz and Christopher Sabater are proud to have found another ‘Winning Taste.’
New Aromatic Compounds Via Efficient Screening Technologies – Jakob Ley
Green tea is healthy. It is known to have dozens of positive attributes. But: The first infusion tastes bitter. What to do? Make a second brew. But when it comes to the industrial production of instant teas, the answer looks a bit different: The bitter-tasting catechins are filtered out of the product. But there is a catch here as well. You remember those positive attributes mentioned before? Without this bitter substance, most of them disappear.
One solution could then be to add sugar to try and counteract the taste. Another would be to isolate and weaken the undesired flavor. Symrise offers its customers this masking solution using flavor systems. Jakob Ley has been searching for molecules that are up to this task for over ten years. They usually come from plants that traditionally are used in manufacturing foods or flavored extracts.
The challenge for the organic chemist is therefore significant, as there are very few indicators that a molecule could have flavor-modifying properties, in contrast to the flavors used for extracts, which are easy to smell or taste. “We have to filter through the thousands of molecules to find the few effective flavor-modifiers,” says Jakob Ley in explaining his ambitious task.
The process has so far looked like this: The company takes samples from plants or their extracts, which are collected by specialized companies or cooperation partners around the world. Next, these samples, or the molecules based on them, are analytically evaluated and, after passing a toxicological exam, their sensory properties are tested.
In order to save time and money, Symrise is increasingly turning to virtual screening. “We use computer programs to preselect possible candidates from a large number of previously researched natural substances and previously defined substance models,” says Ley. The result: “With this pre-selection, we reduce the effort involved in sample collections and have only a small number of substances to test with our extensive sensory analysis.” For masking bitter flavors, for example, the virtual screening program elects two promising candidates from the many thousands to choose from. “We will continue to refine this method.”
“For a long time, we have been reducing the use of chemical synthesis in our products – which is resulting in innovative flavor systems that are manufactured in completely natural processes.”
The molecules that Jakob Ley’s Ingredient Research Team discover are mostly of natural origin – and that will stay that way when used in products later on. Symrise therefore concentrates on isolating the flavors and aromatic substances in renewable raw materials via modern extraction and separation methods or by generating these using biotechnological processes. “Chemical synthesis is being used in progressively fewer products,” says Ley. “In this way, we create innovative flavor systems that are made from completely natural processes.”