Innovations in food ingredients are sometimes based on pure research — as was the case with the advanced whey protein ingredients that came onto the market some 20 years ago. But more often than not, new ingredient solutions are found when a food processor asks a supplier-partner to help meet a need or solve a puzzle. High-intensity sweeteners, for instance, allowed soft drink marketers to develop diet sodas that taste sweet without the calories.
In 2014, food manufacturers may be more needy than ever. They need ingredients that will allow them to reduce sodium and sweeteners without a corresponding drop in consumer appeal, and many need to retool familiar formulas for popular foods in order to please consumers who are on a gluten-free diet or avoiding GMOs. And nearly all food makers need to create or reformulate products with an eye toward a clean label. So processors expect a lot from their ingredient vendors.
“Ingredient suppliers have to be one step ahead of the next innovation,” says Carole Inman, vice president of sales and marketing at Specialty Commodities Inc., Fargo, N.D. “The development teams are busy pushing the boundaries.”
Inman is a specialist in ancient grains for a company that sells specialty grains and seeds for the food and pet food industries. Her company is busy finding new sources of flax or chia or developing easier-to-use forms of ancient grains like quinoa and millet.
Other firms are rolling out yeast extracts that can enhance flavors in dairy products, or starch replacements and natural colors that can save money and offer clean-label benefits. New sweetener and texture solutions are showing up on trade show floors. The pipelines are filling, and as new ingredients emerge, food processors will need to put them to work if they want to meet consumer expectations.
Ancient grains, gluten free
It's estimated that as many as one in three U.S. consumers is either on a gluten-free diet or actively avoiding gluten. For the food manufacturer, that means wheat is out. In the many gluten-free products introduced in the last few years, ancient grains like quinoa have filled the void along with rice, seeds and nuts. But quinoa is not the only option, and ingredient suppliers like Specialty Commodities are working to strengthen the supply chain for other alternatives, says Inman.
“What's old is new again,” she says of the interest in things like buckwheat. “I wake up and my inbox is filled with inquiries for buckwheat. We have handled it for years, but until recently when was it used for anything other than pancakes?
Chia is hot right now, but for a while it was almost too hot.
“Everything was chia at [Natural Products] Expo West two years ago,” Inman says. “But the supply wasn't there yet and it nearly flamed out.”
Now prices have moderated and the supply has begun to catch up, so chia will be more broadly available for new products or reformulations. Swapping flours and grains requires some serious trial and error, Inman says, but pearlized and flaked forms that are just now being introduced allow for easier integration and changeover.
These ingredients are finding their way into a wide variety of product types, but they are most likely to end up in the kinds of products that already appeal to early adopters and consumers who are the most ardent label readers.
“As an example, sorghum crisps are being used in energy bars,” she says. “Energy bars were barely in existence a decade ago. Now they are huge. Lunch replacement bars are big.”
Quinoa supplies have opened up, and quinoa — actually a seed — is being used in a variety of foods including pasta and cereals.
“You can now find quinoa derivatives in absolutely every aisle of a grocery store like Kroger, even though less than a year ago it was being mocked in a TV commercial during the Superbowl,” says Inman.
Food formulators now have more options when it comes to quinoa, with more varieties and colors and added features including kill-steps, plus organic and non-GMO certified versions and forms developed specially for ease of use.
Ancient grains provide fiber and carbohydrates, adding nutrition and satiety to foods in which they are used. As a seed, quinoa is also high in protein. If used in combination with vegetable-based proteins, quinoa, soy, lentils and other legumes and grains can be important parts of a vegan formulation.
A good example of this can be found in the Qrunch Burger line of frozen, meatless patties, offered by Qrunch Foods, Denver. These next-generation burger substitutes come in a variety of flavors whose ingredients include quinoa, millet, amaranth and vegetable extracts. Some flavors include lentils and others pinto beans, and all are organic and GMO-free.
Reconstructing flavor … without salt
Revamping the foundation of a formula often means that some adjustments will need to be made all the way through to the fixtures and finish. Taste is always paramount, and flavor ingredients play a key role in a product's success. But with today's label-watching consumers, not just any flavor additive will do.
Making foods sweeter or saltier or finding ways to enhance and maintain inherent flavors has long been a part of the food technologist's challenge. New umami ingredients, salt substitutes and flavor modulators allow that work to continue without impeding clean-label objectives.
Early this year, Sensient Technologies Corp., Hoffman Estates, Ill., rolled out a line of yeast-based ingredients using umami to improve overall flavor in products like cheese and dairy sauces, while maintaining low sodium levels. The Big Cheese line includes six different “concepts” that marry yeast extracts and dairy flavors. They help formulators to achieve a variety of dairy flavors in their products and to produce a better-tasting, low-sodium cheese component.
“Yeast extracts can add a nice aged-cheese note,” says Craig Nyquist, senior food technologist, with Sensient. Yeast extracts are often used on crackers, (or other savory snacks), or in cheese spreads or sauces, he says.
"With the same raw materials, it gives you the option of a more creamy flavor or a matured and aged cheddar, or a milky dairy note without having to buy different cheeses," he says. "You can take your standard dairy profile and have many more flavor notes, or you can use it to enhance a low sodium cheese product.”
Kent Crosby, lab manager at Sensient says both brewers and bakers yeast is used to create the extracts. While brewers yeast contains gluten, the company has devised methods for removal. “The nice thing about brewers yeast is that there is a little bit of bitterness, and that's great for flavor enhancement,” Crosby says.
While many processors pursue flavor enhancement, they don't do it with added salt. Sodium replacement remains a key goal for many. Sensient's SensaSalt, part of the Big Cheese line, is one of many sodium replacers.
Another is PuraQ Arome from Corbion Purac, Lincolnshire, Ill. The result of sugar fermentation, it mimics the flavor, texture enhancement and preservation properties of sodium chloride. It can replace 25-30 percent of the salt in processed meats and 30-40 percent of the salt in bakery products.
SodiumSense from Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc. is an "enhanced potassium chloride" salt replacer. The modified crystal structure improves the taste impact in products such as sauces, cheese, processed meats, prepared meals, salted snacks, soups and baked goods. Application-specific blends of the system allow formulators to reduce sodium by up to 50 percent. SodiumSense brings to 20 the sodium-reduction products in the Cargill portfolio.
Potassium chloride remains the most prominent sodium replacement ingredient, but it often has a bitter or metallic taste. Nu-Tek Salt LLC, Minnetonka, Minn., has a patented process it claims provides a better tasting potassium chloride. Nu-Tek Potassium Chloride tastes and functions like salt, allows for one-to-one replacement for sodium chloride and facilitates up to 50 percent reduction of sodium content in the finished product. In addition to its potassium chloride solution, Nu-Tek offers blends with sea salt and blends with regular salt.
Dr. Paul Lohmann Inc., Islandia, N.Y., takes a different approach, mixing various mineral salts to come up with lower-sodium salt products. Under its LomaSalt brand, the systems contain less sodium than regular table salt — starting from a reduction of 50 percent, up to a system that allows for a 100 percent sodium-free product. LomaSalt RS 50 Classic contains 20 percent sodium, yet maintains a typical salty taste plus the easy handling of table salt. LomaSalt RS 50 Extra is 50 percent sodium-reduced and particularly suitable for bread, pastries or ready-to-use baking mixtures.
If flavor is king, appearance might be its queen. It's usually imperative that a food product taste good and look good doing it. Color is a big part of that.
In the culinary arts, color is achieved by selecting colorful ingredients. But in food processing, those colors can fade, so color has often meant added color. However, synthetic colors and flavors are among the first things today's consumers steer clear of.
With this in mind, the entire food coloring business has shifted toward natural colors, and that shift will continue with products that perform better and offer more stability.
Chr. Hansen’s natural colors division recently commissioned a survey to learn what consumers look for in food labels and to gauge their perceptions of natural ingredients. While moms rely on personal insight gained from Google searches, news segments and social media discussions, most of their purchasing choices are made by reading food labels.
“One significant outcome from the survey found 83 percent of respondents wish there were more naturally derived food offerings from U.S. food companies,” said Mary Bentley, an executive with the natural colors division. “It’s also interesting to note 80 percent of moms are more likely to purchase a product if it contains naturally derived ingredients, which demonstrates strong purchase intent that will position those products as market leaders.”
Bentley says this kind of information directs the company's product development decisions. In addition, just last month, Chr. Hansen noted a current spike in the cost of Red No. 40.
In sharing that news, Chr. Hansen is also working to persuade food processing customers to try its Ultra Stable Red, a line of vegetable-based, anthocyanin-sourced colors. The products are available in liquid and powder forms and cover a broad red spectrum. The range was originally developed for beverage applications, but Chr. Hansen’s R&D and applications teams have worked to optimize the formulations in the range, allowing for use in most low pH products and applications, including confectionery, dairy and fruit preparations.
Natural food colors of today offer more ease of use and stability than in years past, and sometimes they offer additional functional benefits.
Colors in GNT’s Exberry line are made from fruits, vegetables and edible plants. The company points out that during processing the product remains a food and can be consumed at any stage of the production process. GNT Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y., describes them as coloring foods.
The company's Nutrifood line consists of fruit and vegetable concentrates are made from a vast range of phytonutrient rich fruits, vegetables and plants and contain significantly higher levels of phytonutrients than standard juice concentrates.