Dairy's Simple Complexity

Milk is a simple food, but dairy products such as yogurt and ice cream require careful ingredient selection with a knowledge of what the consumer wants in the cup.

By David Phillips, Technical Editor

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Lifeway products like Pro-bugs, a probiotic fruit-flavored beverage for children, are loaded with beneficial cultures and made with natural colors and flavors. To help achieve a thick creamy texture and to provide stability, some of those products also contain guar gum.

Texturants such as guar gum (also known as locust bean gum) play an important role in dairy products, says Donna Klockeman, senior principal food scientist at TIC Gums Inc. White Marsh, Md.

kraft sour cream

Greek yogurt as an ingredient enables a number of other products to have less fat and more protein.

"Hydrocolloids are used in products across the dairy category," Klockeman says. "In standard and protein-fortified milks they can protect protein components from heat treatments, add suspension and customize texture. Blends of hydrocolloids work together with protein ingredients through a combination of thickening and gelling in cultured products (sour cream, cream cheese and yogurt)."

In frozen desserts, the functions of hydrocolloids include thickening, emulsion stability and control of ice crystal growth, she adds.

Klockeman also mentioned the growth in popularity of Greek-style yogurt and the potential for its use as an ingredient in other foods. "Hydrocolloids are a versatile tool for product developers when facing the challenges of new ingredient combinations," she says.

Joshua Brooks, vice president of sales and marketing at Gum Technology Corp. Tucson, Ariz., says a related ingredient group, pectins, provides a similar function as a stabilizer. These fruit-derived, fibrous extracts are used in a variety of dairy products.

"We are also seeing more and more development in dairy-based beverages, especially in the nutraceutical or health and wellness industries," Brooks says. "Many of these are acidified milk products where proteins tend to precipitate. Typically with heating in low pH conditions, pectin-based stabilizers can be used to neutralize the dairy proteins on a molecular level, holding the proteins in place with ionic charges." Knowing which pectins to use is crucial, he adds.

"There are many pectins to choose from which have different pH and calcium and heating variables to consider. With low pH formulations, in cold process where you can’t use pectin’s, either soy-fiber based or cellulose gum based stabilizer systems, will work better."

Brooks says stabilizers (primarily gums) play in important role in cup yogurts too, especially those made with fruit preserves and fruit particulates.

"With the Greek yogurt market taking off as it did, it has given our company opportunities to help in stabilizing not only the white yogurt in aiding with protein stabilization, preventing precipitation and slowing and reducing syneresis, but also in helping to stabilize the fruit preps in the bottom of the cup," he says. "We create a matrix that prevents the fruit prep from syneresing and running into the white layer of the product. Hydrocolloids are all about organizing and controlling the movement of water from one substrate to another."

Because gums have multiple functions, suppliers use their knowledge of how gums interact to create more highly functional synergies to solve multiple issues in food formulation, Brooks adds.

Protein punch

One of the key characteristics that attracts consumers to Greek-style yogurt is its protein content. Because traditional Greek yogurt is strained during processing it contains 15-20g of protein per serving, which is about twice the amount in typical, non-strained yogurt.

As food makers seek to share in Greek yogurt's popularity, they need to offer foods that are protein-rich if consumers are to consider them authentic. Whether the product is a cream cheese spread or a coated pretzel, one way to boost the protein is to include whey protein products.

Whey is a by-product of cheese making (and of strained yogurt, for that matter). While it was once discarded or used in animal feed, the dairy industry has come a long way in recent years to position it as a healthful and functional ingredient.

Grande Custom Ingredients Group Lomira, Wis., offers a wide array of whey- based products to food processors. Among its offerings is an authentic yogurt powder that has numerous applications, including the coating that might be used on the aforementioned yogurt-coated pretzel.

"As Americans become more sophisticated in their appreciation for non-traditional flavors and combinations, we foresee yogurt having an even more widespread application throughout the grocery store," the company said in a recent press release.

If further evidence is needed of the scope of opportunity for dairy products, recent reports by retail market researchers indicate that frozen dairy products such as smoothies and milk shakes — which are already riding a wave of success thanks in part to the popularity of Starbucks products — could get an additional boost from the popularity of yogurt.

Smith Dairy's Mencl says there is no reason that kind of innovation in dairy should not continue.

"Tomorrow’s dairy products will be even more consumer-specific with the introduction of products like omega-3 milk and lactose-free milk," she says.

"Processors are also going outside of their comfort zone and manufacturing products that still include dairy but may not be dairy ingredient-dominant, such as the introduction of iced coffee from a few dairy processors that emerged this past year. Most manufactures are still looking at ways to incorporate the added protein, whether it be naturally through processing or through added whey or milk protein ingredients."

And natural products will be more prevalent too.

"All-natural dairy products will continue to emerge with help from natural color and flavor suppliers and from culture houses that are perfecting body building and natural microbial limiting cultures for the yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese and hard cheese industry," Mencl adds.

Whether they are making simple products reflecting milk's basic nutrition or cutting edge trend-driven functional foods, formulators have a broader choice of ingredients than ever to help those products deliver.

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