The economy in general, last summer's drought and the lack of a U.S. Farm Bill all are pushing prices for such key commodity ingredients as corn, soy, meat, poultry, milk and eggs into the stratosphere. Fortunately, emerging technology has come to the aid of the formulator, allowing for optimizations that can help relieve the pressure.
Dividing ingredient optimization need into classes, technology has improved vastly when it comes to enhancing or replacing proteins, starches and fats. Over the past decade, much has been discovered about how the proteins function in eggs and whey, for instance.
Fat replacement tech has been somewhat overshadowed by shifting needs in different compositions of fats — e.g., no trans fats but more omega-3 fatty acids. But keeping calories under control is still a key concern, so fat reduction remains popular.
The trend of adding fiber to food products continues its upswing, with formulators seeking not only to add texture, but also to create products with less fat and fewer net carbs than competing items in the same category.
Thanks to continued consumer interest in whole-grain and gluten-free options, incorporating a variety of grains and pulses into food products has become increasingly popular. As drought has affected large swaths of the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest in recent years, lowering yields and increasing costs for wheat and corn, some farmers and ingredient suppliers are looking to pulses as an alternative. In general, pulses -- peas, chickpeas, beans and legumes — are more drought-tolerant than grains are, as are some "heritage" grains and grasses, such as sorghum, millet and buckwheat.
Sorghum (also called milo) can be processed into a whole-grain yet gluten-free flour, thus satisfying two key consumer demands. ADM Corp., Decatur, Ill., rolled out two varieties of white sorghum flour — standard and whole-grain — under the trade name Harvest Pearl.
Processed similarly to wheat flour, Harvest Pearl white sorghum flour has a neutral flavor profile. According to the company, whole-grain sorghum flour offers an important gluten-free solution, as it is cost-competitive with other flours and thus more economical than specialty starches. Whole-grain sorghum flour provides twice the protein and fiber of brown rice flour, which has typically been the go-to ingredient for whole-grain gluten-free products.
Reformulation is not always cost-driven. Of course, reformulations for reduced sugar and sodium content save money when you simply remove that amount of the ingredient. But the current trends of shifting to more "consumer-friendly" ingredients as replacements can reduce costs even when the new ingredients themselves run slightly higher in price than what they're filling in for.
For example, the natural sweeteners stevia and monk fruit are 200-300 times as sweet as sugar, which means you'll need far less of the sweetener than you would for a caloric sweetener. And sodium chloride-based salt reducers also require less ingredient for more intense flavor, naturally. In such cases, there's the "bounce" from being able to put a clean label designation that appeals to consumers and drives up sales.
Grains play another part in new formulation technology, beyond providing flour. As research has deepened food scientists' understanding of the protein-fat interplay in product formulations, new approaches to replacing eggs have evolved.
Penford Food Ingredients Inc., Centennial, Colo., recently introduced PenTech NG, an enzyme-treated starch product."Six grams of PenTech NG plus 44g of water can replace a large egg and 70 percent of the calories in a formula," says Bryan Scherer, Penford's director of research and development. Scherer believes egg replacement is an important tool to help cut calories and to reduce allergens in baked foods.
Ying Bian, senior applications scientist at Penford, notes that a second-generation product, PenNovo 00, can replace egg whites in specific bakery items by providing volume and moisture retention. This is particularly desirable in the gluten-free market, where product developers not only formulate-out wheat and gluten, but also eschew other allergenic ingredients such as soy, milk and eggs.
Designed as a coating material to extend the shelf-life of fresh foods as well as egg whites, PenNovo 00 is non-GMO, non-allergenic and kosher-certified. This enzyme-treated starch gives formulators a new volume-enhancing tool for their gluten-free tool box. And for clean-label considerations, it can be labeled as modified food starch.
One egg replacement solution suitable for a variety of bakery applications is wheat protein isolate. ADM touts its SmartBind wheat protein isolate's ability to replace egg and dairy proteins in bakery products by both providing structure and aeration. The choice of which protein to use would depend on the desired finished product texture and the processing parameters, according to Brook Carson, director of R&D for ADM Milling. "SmartBind offers similar functionality to Prolite 100," says Carson, but the former is "more creamy and smooth."
Both ingredients can also be used to replace or reduce fat, milk or dough conditioners to improve a product's nutritional profile or allow for a "cleaner" label. In most layer cakes, wheat protein isolate can replace up to 50 percent of the eggs; in muffins, pancakes, sweet breads and cookies, egg replacement may go as high as 100 percent.
The "fat replacers" umbrella encompasses a wide variety of products, based on fats (emulsifiers), starches, fruit purees and sugar esters. In addition to creating products with a lower total fat content, other reasons for fat replacement include eliminating trans fats, reducing saturated fat or boosting "healthier" fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids.