Reformulating for Aseptic Processing

Shelf-stable products are a boon to foodservice but a bear for processors’ product development labs.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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An emerging foodservice market, he says, is high-end teas in aseptic packaging. Purpac’s ability to manipulate specifications of the water components helps formulators optimize and deliver consistent top-quality tea to meet the growing consumer interest in the health benefits of tea.

The stock market

Stock making — whether vegetable, beef and veal, fish or lobster — is fraught with time, labor and safety issues, making it an expensive luxury for restaurants. The preparation entails thawing frozen roasted bones in a kettle, simmering 4-6 hours or overnight with chopped vegetables and herbs and spices, straining, rapid cooling to prevent microbial growth and then refrigeration. The process is highly susceptible to contamination and waste.

Reconstituted stocks and concentrated paste alternatives tend to be high in salt and preservatives; frozen reductions tend to have caramelized taste; reconstituted powders taste like commercial instant soups.

Dale’s Kitchen developed Stock-in-a-Box because stock-making is a difficult and time-consuming process for restaurant operators.
Dale’s Kitchen developed Stock-in-a-Box because stock-making is a difficult and time-consuming process for restaurant operators.

Charles Dale, founder of Denver-based Dale’s Kitchen (www.daleskitchen.com), developed Stock-in-a-Box to address this unmet operational need of restaurateurs – cost-effective, quality stocks.
Large batches of all-natural stocks are prepared in a commissary, where they are strained, flash-sterilized, flash-cooled and vacuum-packed aseptically in high barrier polypropylene bags. A patented one-way valve retains sterility even once opened, the bags are impervious to contamination and the surrounding carton prevents damage while making it convenient for carrying, stacking and storage.

“Aseptic stock-making shifted the attention to the commissary and sterile packaging,” says Dale. “The finished products are stackable, convenient to use when needed, and need refrigeration only when opened.” Such products have become destination items at club stores for many caterers and small restaurateurs, as well as being immensely popular with larger foodservice operations. In addition to taste and quality, these stocks do not contain any additives as processing aids or preservatives.

The absence of preservatives and additives is one of the greatest side benefits of aseptic processing, yielding substantial benefits for all points in the value chain. Food manufacturers can package even the most sensitive of ingredients and lock in flavor and freshness for months. The cost and consumer disdain of flavor enhancers and preservatives is gone. Distributors realize tremendous cost savings from the lack of refrigeration and long shelf lives (up to 10 months). At the destination — restaurant, casino, hotel or cafeteria — the unopened products may be stored ambient without competing for precious refrigerator space.

Katsu-sai — maintaining natural power

Aseptic processing stresses tomato products less than traditional canning does, according to officials at Parmalat S.p.A. (www.parmalat.com). They claim to deliver more nutrients as well as natural taste, color and texture in their processed Pomi Italian foodservice tomato products. For chefs this means the taste of fresh tomatoes throughout the year without the uncertainty, labor or price.

Kagome makes a zesty pizza sauce for foodservice using only sweet vine-ripened tomatoes accented with garlic, oregano, and basil. The taste is comparable to any made-from-scratch sauce in both color and flavor, they claim. In keeping with Katsu-Sai — a Japanese guiding principle to respect the natural power of fruits and vegetables and neither improve nor take anything away — Kagome uses reverse osmosis and other proprietary processes to extract the juice of tomatoes. The processes retain the colors, flavors and phytonutrients of tomatoes that may get cooked out in higher-temperature processes.

Kagome also aseptically packs juices in plastic bottles, offering consumers true-to-nature flavor of the vegetables without any flavor addition. Plastic bottles are generating tremendous excitement as the newest form of aseptic packaging.

Aseptic processing has entered the gourmet restaurant sector with the development of hollandaise sauce, alfredo sauce and crème brulée. Chef Creations (www.chefcreations.com), Orlando, Fla., worked closely with Tetra Pak to develop aseptic, ready-to-use formats of these complicated preparations to help establishments serve gourmet products with minimum prep time.

The production of these sauces entailed reformulation and backward engineering from Chef Creation recipes. Egg — the main ingredient in hollandaise sauce and crème brulée — was selected in terms of its composition and functionality so the gel-like crèmes would maintain their consistency until poured into a serving dish for the final heating or blazing step. However, the characteristics of the yolks had to be carefully specified to ensure sustained emulsification during storage without the use of industrial emulsifiers such as mono- and diglycerides (derived from the partial hydrolysis of fats) or polysorbate 80 (the sorbitan ester of oleic acid) for additional functionality. A nitrogen flush removed all oxygen from the package to prevent oxidation of the egg and cream.

A bit of culture

A technological breakthrough enabling aseptic addition of probiotic strains during final steps of filling has opened the door for probiotic beverages in restaurants. The addition of friendly bacteria to acidic beverages was a major technical hurdle, according to Hans Christian Bejder, probiotics marketing manager at Milwaukee-based culture supplier Chr. Hansen (www.chr-hansen.com). But a new, flexible aseptic dosing system from Tetra Pak allows the addition of bacteria in an enclosed environment without contamination from the outside. Several juice and dairy companies are in advanced talks with Chr. Hansen about developing probiotic juices and cultured dairy products for the restaurant industry.

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