Jackson says that brands like Brianna's and Annie's dressings are made with ingredients that have a healthy halo, and that there is no reason why soybean oil couldn't meet that requirement just as canola and safflower oil do.
And there is a variety of ingredient options available that allow a processor to make a more healthful sauce that still performs well, says Amanda Higgins, a food chemist with Gum Technology Corp., Tucson, Ariz.
"There are still high demands to stabilize low-fat dressings and sauces to mimic the full-fat counterparts," Higgins says. "When the fat is removed, often times the texture becomes dense and heavy." Or it can have a thin, flat mouthfeel and lose some of the body, or separate.
"The addition of stabilizers such as gum arabic can help with emulsification to prevent separation. Xanthan gum or carrageenan can help create a fatty texture and creamy mouthfeel, and pectin can help prevent dairy protein precipitation in low-pH systems." Gum Technology has systems that will provide fatty texture comparable to a full-fat dressing, Higgins says.
Flavor and texture to savor
Convenience and nutrition are important but, as Cargill's Erickson points out, sauces are used to make other foods more enjoyable, so flavor and texture are the real keys. An element of that taste experience that food formulators often evoke is authenticity.
Dressings and sauces involving ranch, Alfredo or yogurt are expected to deliver an authentic dairy flavor, says Steve Dott director of sales and marketing at Grande Custom Ingredients Lomira, Wis. Grande provides a range of dairy based ingredients including a variety of whey and yogurt powders that are all made from grade-A milk.
"Our products enhance texture and mouthfeel and have a clean dairy taste that doesn't adversely affect the product's flavor profile," Dott says.
As an example, Grande's whey protein products can be used in dressings to build viscosity and creaminess and decrease syneresis, while replacing whole milk solids. The company notes it works closely with dairy farmers to maintain quality control over its milk supply, and that the milk is used for making world-class Italian style cheeses in addition to the "by-product" whey ingredients.
"We are seeing restaurant operators willing to take on a little more back-of-house prep," says Mark Gabrovic, Cargill's culinary director for dressings, sauces and oils. "By adding fresh ingredients that they already have on hand, they can add fresh flavor [even though] starting with a base sauce product."
Fresh flavored ingredients are great, but choosing the right texturant might also prevent flavors from getting lost in the background noise, says Gum Technology's Higgins.
"We have seen cases where starches can mask flavors," Higgins says. "In this case, it is desirable to replace the stabilizer system with a gum/starch blend, such as our GumPlete line. Gums can be used in lower concentrations than starches to create the same texture effects."
Higgins says this approach can also help with cost control, by lowering the need for additional flavor ingredients.
In another case, Gum Technology worked with a food processor client that was experiencing poor mouthfeel, freeze/thaw instability and some separation in its cheese sauce. After some testing, Gum Technology offered an ingredient that provides freeze/thaw stability through several cycles, and the processor was able to improve its cheese sauce.
As the barbecue sauce example illustrates, making a great-tasting sauce that has more of healthy halo is not out of the question. And it can be a simple matter of selecting the right kinds of ingredients, says Gabrovic.
"At times we can simplify the ingredient deck, if you will, by using ingredients that taste fresher, and by using ingredients that people recognize and making sure the functionality of the ingredient makes sense for the kind of sauce you want to make."
Gabrovic says foodservice customers are also looking for fresh flavors and clean labels. And they also like the convenience of ready-made sauces that allow them to offer mare variety on the menu without an exponential increase in the number of items they need to keep in stock.
It's not enough to offer great-tasting sauces if they wreak havoc on the nutritional label, and of course the most healthful product won't sell much if it doesn't taste good. Consumers want both, and food processors need to deliver.
The cost of ingredients and the resulting price point on a finished product are never out of mind for food processors, either. Ingredion Westchester, Ill., with a huge portfolio of sweeteners and starches, has had opportunities to help food formulators improve their products and their bottom lines.
"We were working with a foodservice sauce manufacturer that wanted to maintain the taste and texture of its culinary Alfredo sauce," says Shana Brewer, a senior marketing manager in Ingredion's texturant division. "But they also wanted to reduce cream, milk and butter to improve the nutrition panel, and they wanted to reduce formulation costs."
Ingredion used a proprietary texture technology to reformulate the processor's recipe, and the effort was a success on all counts, Brewer says. "We can trim fats, reduce dairy solids and save money in a sauce like that, plus we can build back texture that leads to a great eating experience."
Flavor enhancers can boost the flavor that is already in a formulation by and add umami, that savory deliciousness found in meats, fish and cheeses.
Kikkoman Corp., U.S. San Francisco, is well know for its soy sauces and teriyaki sauces, but the company also makes flavor enhancers, says Joe Leslie, a regional manager for industrial sales.
"A lot of customers are looking for natural ingredients and all of our products are natural," he says. Kikkoman now offers organic sauces and a new gluten-free soy sauce — made with rice in place of wheat — and many of its products are kosher and vegan. We also sell a lot more reduced sodium sauces now," he adds.
Flavor enhancers can boost the other flavors in a sauce when a lower sodium level is targeted, and Kikkoman produces a line of fermented flavor enhancers that are made without monosodium glutamate or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. On an ingredient deck it can be labeled "naturally brewed soy sauce."
Adding fuller, more complex, bolder and more authentic flavors to a sauce can make the sauce itself and/or the finished dish more flavorful and more nutritious. A creative drizzle or dip of sauce on a dish at a fine restaurant helps create a visual appeal for the entire dish while adding flavor complexity.