Beverages No Longer Equal Empty Calories

Shoring up the perceived beverage weak spot in the modern diet has been the objective of many processors and ingredient providers. As a result, much of what we see on the shelves has taken on a new look, feel and taste.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

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The green tea trend shows no signs of crashing. Tea is one of the oldest beverages known, and its association with health, energy and comfort will keep it a top beverage choice. And so, too, the functional components connected to tea.

L-TeaActive from Blue California, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., is one example. The L-theanine ingredient recently was certified as GRAS by the FDA and is produced as a functional ingredient for the beverage and food industries. "L-theanine has been used for many years as a dietary ingredient," explains Cecilia McCollum, Blue California's executive vice president. It's been shown to reduce anxiety and stress without causing drowsiness.

Blue California derives the amino acid from green tea through a proprietary manufacturing process. "The affordability of our ingredient helps ensure finished products can include enough of the active ingredient to be effective," says McCollum.

And pumping up beverages with protein isn't new, but the sources of protein have become more designer-friendly. "One of the very hot trends in the nutrition industry is micronized products that result in higher ingestion and solubility," says Kris Hanson, Premium Ingredients' sales product development manager. "When amino acids and proteins are micronized, it creates a homogeneous product that is easier to flavor and blend with other ingredients, especially in functional beverages."

Probably the biggest source of protein for beverage formulation has been from whey. Whey proteins are found in the liquid component of milk following cheese making. They are complete proteins, providing the essential amino acids in an optimum blend for human consumption.

Hilmar Ingredients, Hilmar, Calif. provides a variety of whey protein hydrolysates to match specific beverage needs, says Gwen Bargetzi, director of marketing. For example, Hilmar 8350 has a bland taste with reduced bitterness and contains pre-digested proteins, short peptides and free amino acids. Hilmar 8200 is 80 percent whey protein hydrolysates and is designed specifically to remain heat stable during standard methods of pasteurization, ultra-high temperature processing and in beverages with pH levels as low as 2.5. Hilmar 9420 is designed to reduce astringency in low pH applications while delivering optimized flavor in juices and other acid beverages.

Debate over colorants
Color additives have been under scrutiny in all products of late, but February brought a huge challenge for beverages in particular. The Center for Science in the Public Interest asked the FDA to ban caramel coloring because most colorants contain two suspected cancer-causing substances. The chemicals 2-methylimidazole (2-MEI) and 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) were said to cause cancer in some mice and rats, according to 2003 and 2005 studies by the National Institutes of Health, according to CSPI. Caramel coloring is used in soft drinks, especially colas, and sometimes in beer, soy sauce and other foods.

"Caramel color has undergone complete food safety testing more than 20 times in the past 35 years and meets rigorous food safety standards around the world," according to a response from colorant supplier D.D. Williamson, Louisville, Ky. "There has never been a study that showed any health risk from caramel color."

The company also notes 4-MEI is formed naturally in most cooking, broiling, roasting and grilling. Nevertheless, the point remains: Consumers seek natural ingredients in all products, the less the chemical imprint the better.

To eliminate synthetic colors in formulations, food & beverage manufacturers can choose from a wide array of natural alternatives, says a D.D. Williamson promotional piece. "Natural colors alone do not have the same color intensity as synthetics, and some (not all) are less economical on a dosage basis; however, technological advances have reduced this performance gap." D.D. Williamson has a wide array of natural and organic color additives.

Lycored Corp., Orange, N.J., continually develops new ranges of natural colors in liquid and powder solutions. Targeting the orange, red and yellow portion of the spectrum, Lycored's natural colorants are formulated to be stable across a wide range of temperatures, pH and light conditions, allowing for an extended shelf life for beverages. Designed with vegetarians and vegans in mind, these formulations can replace carmine and synthetic beta-carotene in many current applications. They work well in a variety of beverages including, those rich in the acid vitamin C.

"As a general rule, natural colors should be added as late in the process as possible to avoid exposing the pigments to stress that could later impact on the stability of the color in the final product," says Andrew Kendrick, Lycored's international technical development manager. "However, it is equally important to work with an experienced specialist in natural colors to ensure optimum expression and preservation of the color."

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