The world of new products is perpetually abuzz with the new and the natural, but today, the real action is happening in texture. Whereas we constantly hear about the sense of smell — aroma — constituting 80 percent of the sensation we call “taste,” texture’s contribution is undeniable.
Think of it: How well would you enjoy even the best-tasting chicken cordon bleu, Denver omelet or BLT sandwich as a liquid?
Texture is about more than snap, crackle or pop, though. The wrong texture can completely change the perception of flavor and turn a winning formulation into a chalky or gummy mess. Texture also can take foods beyond the senses. Healthfulness and shelf-life are influenced by many of the current trendy ingredients used for texture enhancement.
“Product texture is very important to us when we develop new items,” states Kent Spalding, vice president of marketing and development for processor Weetabix North America/Barbara’s Bakery (www.weetabix.com), Petaluma, Calif. “I’m a firm believer texture must be a part of the equation. Something that has no body to it, when you first eat it — even if it has flavor — is not likely to work well in the marketplace.”
Barbara’s takes an analytical approach to texture. “We try to focus on that first sensation and how it progresses through the eating experience,” he continues. “Mouthfeel is a critical consideration. Depending on who we’re targeting, we examine factors such as, ‘product bite,’ ‘tongue-feel,’ etc.”
Asking the right questions
Spalding describes some of the questions considered when determining texture parameters: “Are we looking for a hard-crunchy mouth appeal or a light compression? A smooth surface or a textured surface? It all depends on the goals for the particular product we’re developing. If we're targeting children, we most likely would consider a softer bite with a lighter compression.”
Processors today face the need for a more targeted approach to texture that considers finer nuances. “For example,” says Spalding “if you contrast our new children's cereal, Barbara's Organic Wild Puffs, [which have] a light-crispy bite with a softer compression, to our Puffins line, which targets the entire family, you will notice a textural difference. Both have broad appeal, yet focus on different segments.”
Some of the biggest texture challenges involve creating more uniqueness in a product by having multiple similar, but not identical, textures — as in the Wild Puffs cereal by Barbara's Bakery.
Other key texture questions Spalding considers are: Do you get a nice crunch with the start? Does the texture stay with you as you eat it? How fast does that sensation stay through the experience?
“Let's say you get a compressed component,” he explains. “You bite down, and does it last? Or do you lose it fast? You might get the first ‘crunch’ and maybe it’s multilayered, so then you get a second ‘hit’ out of that texture. That's important.”
When it comes to the texture component of R&D, Weetabix/Barbara's Bakery typically works with internal staff and flavor experts. Yet texture is an attribute the company measures in scaled detail as it reviews products. However, according to Spalding, the team might consider calling in an outside consultant or texture specialist for a specific challenge.
Texture on the rise
Nowhere is texture more crucial than snack crackers. “Texture is what defines us,” declares George Eckrich, baker-turned-founder of Kracker Enterprises LLC (www.drkracker.com). The Dallas-based company is responsible for the extensive line of Dr. Kracker snack crackers and flatbreads.
Eckrich’s first encounter with the flatbreads and crackers he enjoyed in Europe was an epiphany. “They weren’t at all like the ones here [which] turn almost to powder in the mouth.” Eckrich discovered the European products have the benefit of long yeast rising, as opposed to the more common chemically risen technique here.
“When you use yeast, you get a long fermentation time, which builds protein bonds. In artisan breads, it creates desired wide-open pores. But in an extrusion or rolling process, it makes a compressed porousness — almost like a fine honeycomb structure that has firm structure. And we know a honeycomb is one of the strongest, most stable structures there is.”
According to Eckrich, the fine-pore structure keeps a Dr. Kracker cracker from succumbing to shatter and protects its integrity while the product is being enjoyed. He also points out the long yeast-rising stage also increases flavor.
Adding other components to a cracker formulation presents other issues. “One challenge we faced was adding sundried tomatoes or fruits,” says Eckrich. “These are hydroscopic – they absorb water and are hard to dry out to the right activity of water. As we play with new flavors, we need to get the ingredients into such a form that we can use them in Dr. Kracker without ruining the structure and texture.”
Sweeteners also can cause problems for a product designed for firm, crisp textures. Sugar picks up any humidity in the air, softening the product. The sugar also increases the “shortness” making a more crumbly texture. In some products, Dr. Kracker solved the sweetener problem by using agave nectar, adding it to the dough instead of the topping.