When National Starch Food Innovation (www.foodinnovation.com) announced at last year’s IFT Food Expo its intent to build a “state-of-the-art Texture Center of Excellence” as a lab for developing and enhancing the company’s growing production in the field of starch-derived ingredients and texturants, it was hard to imagine the center would be one of the few such places to live up to its hype.
The company’s goal is to create opportunities to collaborate with processors in the exploration and optimization of textures for enhancing and improving food formulations. What the company terms a “clearly under-exploited dimension in food,” texture is more than mouthfeel, has greater impact than “crunch” and “snap.” As demonstrated by a solid two hours of lectures and cooking demos by James Beard Award-winner chef Wylie Dufresne, owner of wd-50 restaurant, New York, and his equally formidable pastry chef, Alex Stupak (hosted by National Starch’s own top talent and culinology team leader, Janet Carver), texture is an undeniable underpinning of taste and satisfaction.
Touring the just-opened, multimillion-dollar Texture Center of Excellence at National Starch’s Bridgewater, N.J., headquarters June 5 was an eye-opener as to just what a sincere desire to pioneer — and some intense funding — can do.
Within its mazelike compound of labs and meeting rooms, the center features a gleaming, ultra-modern/ultra-roomy preparation kitchen; sensory, consumer and focus-group testing stations; plus a computerized texture analysis lab still a few months shy of opening, as it waits for millions of dollars-worth of custom-designed, custom-built computerized analytic equipment to arrive from the U.K.
According to National Starch, the center “also aims to…address the growing demand for a range of clean-label products, which primarily consist of natural and organic ingredients.”
Specialty starches, one of the most flexible groups of functional ingredients used in foods today, can provide texture properties in nearly all food systems, ranging from low- to high-moisture foods. Researchers in National’s Texture Center will delve into the understanding of nearly every starch raw material currently available.
“The Texture Center will also support National’s leadership positions in clean label/organic texturizers (Novation functional and organic starches and Homecraft flours) and functional fibers and whole grain flours (Hi-maize 5-in-1 Fiber, Nutriose soluble fiber and Hi-maize whole grain),” said Joseph Light, senior director, Customer Solutions and Product Innovation. “Clean label, fiber enrichment and whole grain are three of the fastest-growing trends in the food industry. We anticipate using our prototyping, consumer testing and pilot plant capabilities to help our customers create, scale up and introduce successful new products at a much faster pace to capitalize on these growing markets.”