Building a Healthier Savory Snack

Crispy, salty, crunchy … savory snacks are healthier than ever. But what’s next? Manufacturers and ingredient companies are working together to help build the next generation of savory snacks.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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As to how to make that happen, Kingery points to a series of steps for processors to focus on. “When processors evaluate ingredients, they need to consider the overall solution. First, what are the nutritional and marketing requirements? Low fat, increased protein, increased fiber, made with honey or vegetable inclusions? Second, consider how the ingredients will work within the current process. Finally, evaluate the quality of the ingredient supplier and if that supplier can offer technical and production support as this processor incorporates new ingredients.”

Making healthier savory snacks is leading to paradigm shifts in some categories. The merging of the cracker, chip and pretzel segments is an example pointed to by Suzanne Mutz-Darwell, marketing manager for National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J.

“Cracker companies are getting into chips — for example, Kraft/Nabisco Garden Harvest Toasted Chips — and chip makers getting into crackers, such as Frito-Lay’s True North nut crisps. [The result is] healthier chips and crackers, not fried but baked, and low in fat but with good texture. Also, clean label products are important.”

She points out differences in textures are achievable – or reversible – when new nutrients, such as whole grain and fibers, are added to recipes. “This is where our starch texturizers and process knowledge can help snack manufacturers,” she says. “It’s possible to achieve similar textures through a different process, so if one cracker is fermented [yeast risen] and another is chemically leavened, we have the ability to balance the formulation, snack texturizing starch, process and moisture to target similar textures.”

Whole grains have become a big part of the trend toward healthier snacks. The Whole Grains Council, a part of Boston-based Oldways Preservation Trust, has seen double-digit growth in companies using the Whole Grain stamp on their products.

Not without challenges

Late July’s Dawes admits there are technical challenges in building healthier savory snacks. “Finding ingredients in the form we need them is one,” she says. “We require all our vendors to meet a series of requirements. Not just kosher and organic but sometimes vegan and lactovegetarian, plus sustainability, Fair Trade, and [submission to] third-party audits.

“But we still find a lot of really wonderful suppliers to work with,” she continues. “At the end of the day, you have to be really close to your suppliers. I’m feeding these products to my children and other people’s children. I feel very strongly about having that connection.”

Sometimes, though, ingredient challenges are not met. “We wanted to include enrichment in some of our new products, yet it was impossible to find a multivitamin powder that met all our criteria,” she explains. “I eventually found a calcium carbonate we were comfortable with but I had to scale back. Since I couldn’t find a multivitamin powder to match our criteria, I just had to formulate around it. Sometimes there just aren’t the ingredients out there that will accomplish what we want to do.”

A new generation of ingredient manufacturers understands such obstacles. “We find most of our customers fortifying their products with vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, essential amino acids, proteins and natural and organic ingredients that give their product a more natural quality,” acknowledges Emilio Gutierrez, vice president of technical services for BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, Calif. “Incorporating supplements into food can often be much more challenging — you have to deal with unpleasant odors, bad tastes and unpleasant mouth feel that could turn consumer off your product.”

Gutierrez says other ingredients that pose problems for flavor and texture include herbs such as ginseng, green tea, guarana, kola nut and yerba maté; proteins, such as whey; branched-chain amino acids, such as L-valine, L-leucine, L-isoleucine; and bulk fiber, such as psyllium and oats.

Acrylamide is still an issue in many fried snacks, but it’s being overcome. “Acrylamide is formed upon heating of foods by reaction of the inherently present amino acid asparagine and carbohydrates,” explains Hugo Streekstra, senior scientist for enzyme application at DSM Food Specialties Inc., Parsippany, N.J. Acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen, and most food manufacturers are trying to reduce acrylamide levels in their products.

According to Streekstra, formation of acrylamide is prevented by conversion of asparagine into another amino acid that is commonly present in food, aspartic acid. As a result, asparagine is no longer available for the chemical reaction that forms acrylamide. DSM’s PreventASe mitigates the formation of acrylamide in foods, including savory snacks, by up to 90 percent and is approved for use in the U.S. and other countries.

After several years of research, flavor scientists at Edlong Dairy Flavors, Elk Grove Village, Ill., in 2008 developed flavor technology that eliminated the need for added diacetyl in dairy flavors and end-products.The Ed-Vantage line maintains the mouthfeel, aroma and buttery flavor that are characteristic of diacetyl-containing products without added diacetyl.

For those with food or allergy sensitivities, healthy snacks are those without glutens and other allergens.

“The [challenge] from the gluten-free market is to produce products that can replace gluten functionality,” says Gum Technology's Prenzno. Gums like xanthan and guar are suitable ingredients for this function. Coyote Brand Stabilizer ST-101 — a “synergistic blend” of xanthan gum and guar gum — is one example. It binds moisture (reducing staling), improves cell structure, increases dough pliability and improves freeze/thaw stability in savory, gluten-free products.

The gluten-free trend is showing strong and steady growth, but early products suffered from the “healthy can’t be flavorful” presumption. That’s being overcome by folks like Mary Waldner, founder and leader of product development and brand strategy for Mary’s Gone Crackers, Gridley, Calif.

Waldner started the company following her personal struggle with Celiac Disease “after finding a shortage of nutritious, gluten-free options that tasted good.” Yet her crunchy, paper-thin crackers became a hit beyond Celiac sufferers — so much so, Mary’s Gone Crackers Original was awarded a gold medal for “the most outstanding cracker” last year at the National Assn. for the Specialty Food Trade product awards.
“Gluten-free is still a growing market,” Waldner says, “and our technical challenge at Mary's Gone Crackers involved creating a new category of food, using unusual equipment, [even] creating one machine for ourselves, and so becoming more and more efficient at figuring out how to make our products.”

Today, companies such as Mary’s Gone Crackers, Late July Organic, Dr. Kracker and others have proven it’s possible to build a successful company on a healthy savory snack line by keeping flavor first yet staying innovative in execution.

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