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.
Cargill's TexDesign series of fat replacers is designed specifically for fat replacement in bakery applications requiring a more exacting textural template.
“The ingredients in any food formulation determine the structural and sensory characteristics of the product,” says Susan Gurkin, applications and technical services manager for Cargill Inc. (www.cargill.com), Wayzata, Minn. As Gurkin notes, many popular bakery products such as cakes, luxury breads and cookies are traditionally high in fat. But in response to the trend toward healthier eating and fat reduction, manufacturers are seeking ways to reduce the fat content of baked goods without compromising texture, taste or existing production processes.
“Whenever you change a product formulation — e.g., reduce or remove specific ingredients such as eggs, fat, sugar or dairy proteins — you will most likely need more than one of the following items: starches, gums, resistant starch, maltodextrin, polyols, polydextrose or whey proteins to ‘match’ the original product’s texture,” says Gurkin.
Cargill recently introduced its TexDesign series of fat replacers for bakery applications. TexDesign products are carbohydrate-based fat-replacement systems designed to achieve the full functional and sensory characteristics of traditional full-fat baked goods, while significantly reducing fat content.
TexDesign products are easy to incorporate as a dry mix or cream to replace margarine or oil without the need to modify existing production methods. These blends lend themselves to a wide variety of traditional and contemporary indulgent bakery applications.
At the opening of National Starch’s Texture Center of Excellence, Wylie Dufresne (center), chef and owner of New York restaurant wd-50, works with the restaurant’s pastry chef Alex Stupak and Agnes Jones, principal culinologist at National Starch.
Other companies are thinking of texture in gradients. In June, National Starch Food Innovation (www.foodinnovation.com), Bridgewater, N.J., opened its multimillion-dollar Texture Center of Excellence. There, National’s innovation and manufacturing teams optimize and scale up new products as well as refine manufacturing processes for the company’s 10 production facilities around the globe.
“We created the Texture Center as a resource for the whole food industry, to develop a clearer understanding of how consumers perceive texture and establish a scientific basis for creating textures that they prefer,” Vice President Tony Delio said at the center’s opening. “It represents our commitment to advancing the art and science of texture and to working closely with our customers to develop innovative, consumer-winning foods that have greater commercial success.”
In addition to a full-time culinology team, the Texture Center houses two groups of experts dedicated to “developing scientific profiles of and practical applications for food textures.” The Sensory Team, working with trained descriptive panelists, is charged with “translating consumers’ basic descriptions of food textures (e.g., smooth, crunchy, creamy, rich) into a comprehensive lexicon of technical terms that can be applied to guide food formulators in developing new and improved foods.”
Modified gum acacia is a replacement for propylene glycol alginate in TIC Gums’ new Saladizer Max. The emulsifier imparts a creamy texture and creates the expected mouthfeel and appearance of salad dressings and similar products.
And in the Texture Characterization Lab, a team of materials scientists and rheologists can “rapidly measure the texture of various materials and design new functional systems, using specially engineered robotic equipment, that work at more than 10 times the speed of current development efforts.”
To exemplify the center’s potential, National Starch showcased at July’s IFT Food Expo snack-texture capabilities that can be used to create desired textures in a baked cracker or fabricated snack chip. In between “delicate and crispy” to “bold and crunchy” is what the company calls a new and differentiated “in-between” texture region, for which National trademarked the term “crinchy.”
Also opening a multimillion-dollar texture research facility is TIC Gums (www.ticgums.com), Belcamp, Md. The Texture Innovation Center (acronym TIC) will assist the company’s efforts to advance texture knowledge while serving clients with unique texture challenges.
Gums are other widely performing ingredients used in texture control and manipulation. At the IFT Expo, President Gregory Andon pointed out gums are used to stabilize dairy products and beverage emulsions, replace fat in bakery and other food products, improve freeze/thaw stability of frozen foods, adhere seasonings to snack foods, encapsulate flavors, stabilize and emulsify salad dressings, improve texture in frozen desserts and prevent sugar crystallization in confections. All are critical components of texture.
“We do a lot of unique and customized solutions for the food industry, but last year was particularly busy,” Andon said of the need for the new, 56,000-sq.-ft. TIC center.
“Inulin has a remarkable capacity to replace fat and has remarkable bulking properties when replacing sugar,” says Joseph O’Neill, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Beneo-Orafti (www.orafti.com), Morris Plains, N.J. “The use of inulin or oligofructose as prebiotic fiber ingredients often results in improvements in taste and texture. When used in bakery products and breakfast cereals, this represents a major advantage in comparison to other, traditional dietary fibers.”
With new consumer interest in functional ingredients and rejection of nonfunction in added ingredients, inulin scores a big advantage healthwise. This dual nature of inulin makes its texture-enhancing properties all the more attractive.
“Inulin and oligofructose give more crispiness and expansion to extruded snacks and cereals, and they can also increase shelf life,” O’Neill explains further. “They also keep breads and cakes moist and fresh for longer. Their incorporation into baked goods allows for the replacement of sugar, fiber enrichment, and better moisture-retention properties.”
Risen baked goods make multiple demands on texturants beyond simple mouthfeel — for example, storage, moisture retention and shelf life abilities.
The company’s newer, highly soluble polydispersable inulin products, such as OraftiHSI, function as efficient binding agents in nutrition bar applications while helping maintain a softer texture throughout shelf life. Since inulin and oligofructose ingredients are polydispersable, they may be used to prevent the re-crystallization of sugars and prevent graininess in certain formulations.
Inulin’s gelling characteristic also helps the development of low-fat foods, such as table spreads, creamed cheeses and processed cheeses, without compromising taste or texture. It allows the replacement of significant amounts of fat and the stabilization of the emulsion, while providing a short, spreadable texture.
In low-fat dairy products such as milk drinks, creams, dips and dairy desserts, the addition of small amounts of inulin imparts a better-balanced, rounder flavor and a creamier mouthfeel. In dairy mousses and whipped or aerated desserts, inulin helps maintain the texture of the finished product, helping retain structure for longer periods. In frozen desserts, it allows for ease of processing, improved creamy mouthfeel and excellent melting properties as well as freeze-thaw stability.
Cargill Texturizing Solutions (www.cargilltexturizing.com), Wayzata, Minn., also focuses on different texturizing solutions for both nutritional and sensory profiles. The group’s broad product portfolio of hydrocolloids, including alginates, carrageenan, pectin, guar gum, locust bean gum and xanthan gum, as well as cultures and enzymes, starches and spray-dried products and lecithins.
“Cargill is able to develop customized texturizing solutions for all application areas and production processes,” says Cindy Palermo, marketing communications lead for the company. “Our ingredients are based on nature (from) renewable resources, such as corn, soy, seaweeds, apple pomace, citrus peel and seeds.”
Palermo explains that such a broad resource base provides Cargill an opportunity to “take the consumer view fully into account when developing new texturizing solutions.
Whey better texture
Whey proteins are versatile ingredients when it comes to texture modification. They can help to bind water and form non-reversible gels with a variety of characteristics.
According to Sharon Gerdes, senior account manager for Dairy Management Inc. (www.dairyinfo.com), Rosemont, Ill., the gelling properties of whey protein “help food manufacturers maintain moistness in both baked goods and meats, and improve mouthfeel in reduced-fat products.”
They will also help reduce syneresis in yogurts. Whey and other milk proteins can be used to increase viscosity in puddings and smoothies. They are particularly useful for food formulators developing foods higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates.
“Food formulators can either modify process parameters in their own plant or purchase whey ingredients that have been specially modified by the supplier to be more heat-stable or high-gelling,” Gerdes adds. "Because whey proteins have both hydrophilic (water-attracting) and hydrophobic (water-repelling) groups, they can partially unfold to form interfacial membranes around oil or water globules, thus preventing coalescence and oiling-off.
“Whey proteins even can be used in place of eggs in certain applications, such as mayonnaise-type dressings. Specialty whey phospholipids with even greater emulsification properties find wide application in bakery items, ice cream mixes, sauces and salad dressings,” Gerdes continues. To further enhance the stability of whey protein emulsions, formulators can add gums to the formula, or heat the product to create a protein gel.
Undenatured whey protein ingredients can function to stabilize the interface between air cells. Applications where whey proteins can be used to produce light airy foods include whipped toppings, marshmallow, nougat, icings and frozen desserts. Whey proteins can also be used to partially replace eggs in bakery products.
It’s clear both ingredient providers and processors recognize the new sophistication of texture requirements. Subtleties are in, as is ensuring healthful components are included into the texture modification mix. For the future of texture, a simple snap, crackle or pop will no longer do.