A new process developed by researchers in Spain helps improve the smell and the taste of alcohol-free beer by adding aromas from regular beer.

One common way of making alcohol-free beer is to heat regular beer to get rid of the alcohol. But this process is believed to remove much of the traditional flavor and aroma as well, making the taste less palatable to many. The new technique uses a special process to recover some of these aromatic compounds.

Carlos A. Blanco, one of the authors of the study, explained how it works:

"This technique consists in using a semipermeable membrane to separate two fractions from alcoholic beer: one liquid phase in which alcohol is retained, and another gaseous phase, where the aromatic compounds come in. Then, this gaseous phase can be condensed, the aromatic compounds extracted and added to non-alcoholic beer."

To conduct the study, the scientists extracted three aromatic compounds — ethyl acetate, isoamyl acetate and isobutyl alcohol — from alcoholic beers.

They then added these substances to a low-alcohol beer (less than 1% ABV) and another beer classed as alcohol-free (less than 0.1% ABV).

In taste tests, 90 percent of expert tasters preferred the enriched low-alcohol beer rather than its original version and 80 percent preferred the enriched alcohol-free beer.

While the new process does not yet capture all the aromas and tastes associated with alcoholic beer, it shows progress in making "alcohol-free" varieties more appealing, the researchers said.

The findings of the study have been published in the Journal of Food Engineering.