Today, many shoppers carry with them a “hit list” of ingredients they target on food labels. Hit list ingredients are deal breakers. If they’re present in any significant quantity, the consumer is likely to leave that product on the shelf.
Of course, health-minded consumers are by no means a monolithic block, and so the hit list varies from person to person. And it’s complicated by individual concerns over substances in foods that are likely to stimulate an allergic response and whatever general media report that consumer most recently read or heard. But the hit list is there, nonetheless, a consumer first line of defense against the unknowns in processed foods, and manufacturers should consider healthy alternatives when formulating new products.
But the list of alternatives also is there. Ingredient suppliers have come up with alternatives for every objectionable ingredient we could think up.
The No. 1 item on most hit lists is trans fat. Consumers may not know exactly what the term means, but many are aware of trans fat’s association with hydrogenated oils and, ultimately, heart disease. So they look for “clean” fats on the label.
Food processors have gone to great lengths to replace trans fat-rich oils with healthier substitutes and to announce that effort on the package to assure consumers that one of the most risky ingredients is no longer part of the formulation. But there are more items on the hit lists.
Jones Soda in April 2007 converted its entire full-sugar soda line, both bottles and cans, from high-fructose corn syrup to cane sugar, calling the latter more natural.
ICL Performance Products says keep the sodium from salt in your formulations and eliminate it elsewhere – like replacing leavening agent sodium acid pyrophosphate with potassium and calcium phosphates.
Dairy Management Inc. and other dairy promotion groups suggest removing the fat from dairy products and replacing the texture and mouthfeel with whey protein concentrate or milk protein concentrate -- which also boost the nutrition in products such as smoothies.
Botanicals as simple and natural as rosemary are being substituted as powerful preservatives in processed foods.
Hit list ingredients often appear to consumers as mysterious formulations that sound like they belong on a chemistry quiz; ingredients used to preserve flavor, taste and appearance of foods. Processors are looking for simple alternative ways to maintain the integrity of products.
One example of a solution may come from the humble herb rosemary, known for its powerful antioxidant properties. Recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) proclaimed rosemary extract safe for use as an antioxidant in food. Oxidation is something meat and poultry processors struggle to avoid, as it affects product color and can impart changes in aroma or taste.
“Because of increasing consumer demand for safe products and due to concerns over chemically derived synthetic preservatives, Naturex has developed a patented line of rosemary extracts called StabilEnhance and Oxy’Less, formulated for the food industry and soluble in oil and water with very little taste,” says Antoine Dauby, group marketing manager for Naturex, South Hackensack, N.J.
“We have started this year a partnership with a fully equipped meat pilot plant, test kitchen and food application laboratory, allowing the formulation of custom-made ingredients,” he continues. Naturex has developed more than 100 different extracts from rosemary that work well for a broad range of food applications.
Consumers also are looking for natural color alternatives, although the designation of “natural” color is not always clear. Beet or red cabbage juice may be natural, but not in pink lemonade. Here again, rosemary may be of help. “The main concern for manufacturers with natural colorants is color loss due to product exposure to heat, light, or alkaline conditions,” continues Dauby. ColorEnhance, a water-soluble rosemary extract, allows increased stability and enhanced color in products containing anthocyanins. ColorEnhance deepens the hue of natural color through copigmentation, a loose molecular association of colored anthocyanin pigments with nearly colorless molecules that produces an intensified and enhanced color. This reaction happens in nature for fruits, vegetables and flowers containing anthocyanin pigments.
Other rosemary applications include, StabilEnhance OSR, a rosemary extract offering a natural and effective way to preserve the quality and flavor of food products that contain fats and oils; and StabilEnhance WSR, which contains the hydrophilic antioxidant rosmarinic acid, a natural phenol, all of which can control flavor-deteriorating oxidation in beverage products.
Ever since a Missouri food factory worker won a $20 million lawsuit in 2004, diacetyl has been disappearing from food products. Initially, it was just an issue for workers within food plants: several plaintiffs alleged that diacetyl, one of several flavor substances used in the butter flavoring especially for microwave popcorn, caused serious lung injuries. But a year ago there was suspicion that diacetyl also could be liberated in the microwave popping of the popcorn, which caused concern among consumers.
Edlong Dairy Flavors, Elk Grove Village, Ill., was among the first ingredient companies to develop a replacement for diacetyl. Its Ed-Vantage line of dairy flavors was developed with technology that eliminates the need for added diacetyl, but still provides the mouthfeel, aroma and buttery flavor that are characteristic of diacetyl-containing products.
Shortly thereafter, Wild Flavors, introduced natural and artificial butter flavors also free from added diacetyl. DSM Food Specialties, Delft, Netherlands, developed PreventASe as a processing aid for acrylamide mitigation. Then Indianapolis-based Weaver Popcorn Co. rolled out the first microwave popcorn to eliminate diacetyl: Pop Weaver.
Note to Marketing
Fretting fat, shunning salt
For many consumers, lowering fat, especially saturated fats, is a major concern. With recent evidence linking dairy to successful weight control, low-fat dairy products are increasing in popularity.
“Dairy proteins can replace some of the stabilizers used in cultured dairy beverages to produce a smoothie with a cleaner label,” says Sharon Gerdes, senior account manager at Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, Ill. Both whey protein concentrate (WPC) and milk protein concentrate (MPC) boost nutrition in smoothies by adding protein and calcium.
MPC adds smooth texture and mouthfeel to products, while building body and texture. “The domestic supply of MPC is growing,” notes Gerdes. “Product formulators can choose from ingredients with varying protein levels from 42 to 80 percent, enabling them to tailor a product with higher protein levels and fewer stabilizers.
“Dairy proteins have emulsification properties and can also be used to reduce the fat in products like ice cream. Many of the newer churn-style, reduced-fat ice creams use WPC. DMI staff can assist food formulators who want to incorporate dairy proteins into their formulas,” says Gerdes.
Other hit list ingredients may not be so clear-cut. For example, sodium reduction is on the minds of many consumers, but achieving it at the expense of taste is not so popular. Since sodium appears in many food ingredients besides salt, and its presence serves functions other than taste, consumers may not be aware of its source. But these other sources of sodium may be easy means of reducing sodium without compromising taste.
The issue of sodium in processed foods gained renewed interest during FDA hearings last fall when the Center for Science in the Public Interest initiated a petition to remove sodium from the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list, to regulate sodium as a food additive and to set new limits on sodium content in processed foods. This initiative and its goals are supported and endorsed by the American Medical Assn., American Nurses Assn., American Public Health Assn., American College of Preventive Medicine and the International Society on Hypertension in Blacks.
Sodium is an essential nutrient when consumed in moderation, but the American Heart Assn. recommends limiting intake of sodium to 2,300mg per day, the amount in a single teaspoon of salt. But salt intake in the developed world has reached far beyond recommended levels, much of it due to processed foods. Today it is estimated that about 10 percent of our sodium is found naturally in food, 10 percent comes from direct addition by the consumer and 75 percent of sodium intake derives from the consumption of processed foods where the levels are not readily apparent to the consumer.
“The primary barrier to a successful sodium reduction solution is that no single ingredient can be used to replace the functionality of salt in food,” says Peter Kempe, president of DSM Food Specialties USA Inc., Parsippany, N.J. “Ingredient suppliers must develop new technologies that help food manufacturers find innovative solutions to the challenge of reducing the sodium content of processed foods. We know the food industry takes this issue very seriously and we partner regularly with major food manufacturers to help them achieve their internal sodium reduction targets,” adds Kempe.
One of DSM’s solutions is yeast extracts, which allow reductions in sodium levels with no adverse effect on taste and minimal alteration of the food manufacturing processes. Maxarome yeast extracts give products balance and umami taste sensation, while accelerating flavor intensity and release. Adding Maxarome to a food product allows reduction of sodium content 25-50 percent without compromising palatability, mouthfeel, organoleptic structure or taste authenticity.
Maxarite, DSM’s newest yeast extract, is specifically designed for bakery and dairy applications. It delivers an improved taste perception by masking off flavors that often may result from lower sodium content. Maxarite can reduce sodium content in processed cheese, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, bread and cereals by up to 50 percent.
Leavening ingredients that rely on sodium acid pyrophosphate are another “hidden” source of sodium. ICL Performance Products LP, St. Louis, replaced sodium acid pyrophosphate with potassium and calcium phosphates. One result is new Levona Brio, part of the Levona family of zero-sodium and calcium-enriched leavening agents, which enable food manufacturers to formulate baked products that may be able to incorporate both “low-sodium” and “a good source of calcium” messages for baking powders, cakes, biscuits, muffins and tortillas.
Much ado about sweeteners
Nothing on the consumer hit list has been more controversial than sweeteners. Still reeling from the low-carb craze, and with the highly promoted but logically challenged case for blaming the obesity epidemic on high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) fresh on their minds, consumers are hard pressed to figure out how best to sweeten foods.
What’s on the sweet hit list today? Sucrose, former member of the “deadly whites,” according to some authors, has seen resurgence in popularity at the expense of HFCS. What seems to be emerging as most acceptable in beverages are drinks that are either purely fruit juice sweetened of those that are simply less sweet, about 30-70 calories per serving.
Zero carb beverages are still selling strongly, though it is hard to argue that the public has a love affair with artificial sweeteners. And now, the picture is about to get more complicated. One sweetener on no consumer hit list seems to be the sweet-tasting leaf stevia that has been until recently only available as a supplement. That is about to change.
Wisdom Natural Brands, Gilbert, Ariz. was the first to bring the herbal sweetener to the market. Under the product name SweetLeaf Sweetener, it was an all-natural and calorie-free sweetener derived from the naturally sweet plant, native to Paraguay. Its sweet leaves are 30 times sweeter than sugar, and the pure glycosides that are extracted from the stevia leaves are 250 to 400 times sweeter than sugar.
Jim May, CEO and founder of Wisdom Natural Brands, introduced stevia into the U.S. market in 1982. Since then, stevia has gained an underground following. For May, achieving self-determination GRAS status was vindication after decades of defending the safety of stevia. “No pun intended, but for me, this day is sweet victory,” May said.
With GRAS status, Wisdom’s new formulation of SweetLeaf Sweetener can be sold as a sweetener alongside sugar and other sweetening alternatives in grocery stores.
Stevia can be used in cooking, baking and anywhere sugar might be used.
A more refined form of stevia is called rebiana, and a more refined form of that is hitting the market right now as Truvia. Cargill Inc., Wayzata, Minn., developed the sweetener in partnership with Coca-Cola Co. They developed rebaudioside A, which they consider the best-tasting extract, a high-purity, fully characterized extract that is consistently produced to a food-grade specification.
Blue California, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., announced it is has successfully completed the isolation of rebaudioside A and expects to go into industrial scale production later this year using an economical and proprietary process, which will translate into better prices for manufacturers and consumers.
Developing healthy alternatives to hit list ingredients is a far-sighted investment for progressive companies. Consumer hit lists may not always be consistent and at time may not seem logical, but their intent reflects a real and lasting concern — assuring that the convenience of processed foods does not come at a cost in health.