Creating foods and beverages with certain textural, thickness and mouthfeel qualities is the job of gums and hydrocolloids. In addition to thickening and gelling, they can replace some ingredients, such as fat or oils, emulsify, stabilize and even extend product shelf life.
That's the beauty of hydrocolloids and gums. They're problem-solvers − in one application, inhibiting ice crystal formation in ice cream; in another, preventing solidifying and clumping in smoothies.
The right texture can make all the difference when it comes to taste perceptions of soups, gravies, salad dressings, baked goods, sauces and toppings. But what’s desirable in one product for one consumer may be repulsive to another.
As clean ingredient statements are now the rule, gums and hydrocolloids must comply. Clean-label texturizers such as new GuarNT hydrocolloid from TIC Gums (www.ticgums.com) White Marsh, Md., is specifically designed for ready-to-drink protein dairy beverages.
"Every hydrocolloid provides different functionalities and textures to a finished product. Understanding all of their nuances and how they interact within a product is critical to a successful formulation," explains Dan Grazaitis, beverage technology manager at TIC Gums. "That's typically why we utilize blends to provide the optimum benefits of each hydrocolloid. Consumers are looking for clean-label solutions and questioning the exact need of the ingredients used in a product. The Guar NT line allows formulators to expand shelf life, protein content and increased fat levels, while maintaining a clean label."
A Flavor Free GuarNT 5000 variation is available to minimize beany or grassy off-notes in both flavor and odor.
Carrageenan-like dairy texturizer
Carrageenan, which is derived from seaweed, has been used to texturize food products for decades. But it has become controversial. Although considered safe by FDA, 10-year-old research – which suppliers claim is flawed -- showed a link between it and digestive inflammation. The National Organic Standards Board late last year voted to remove it from the list of ingredients allowed in organic products, but USDA has not yet taken action on that recommendation.
Nevertheless, some ingredient suppliers are presuming an organic ban and developing products to replace carrageenan. Cargill (www.cargill.com), Wayzata, Minn., has developed Satiagel ADG 0220 Seabrid, a thickener the company says is similar to carrageenan but was created from cultivated seaweed. The source is sustainable and the ingredient derived via technology that offers functionality for gelled dairy desserts, says Cargill's Xavier Martin, general product manager, seaweed extracts. ADG 0220 Seabrid delivers firmness, creaminess and body to formulations such as flan, custard and crème caramel.
"We saw an opportunity to revitalize this important market segment," he explains, adding that he understands carrageenan's negative perception, but says "now is a good time to provide information based on scientific facts. Carrageenan is safe and functional in various applications, and we are helping to develop an optimal ingredient with a minimal cost. In Europe, due to low dosage, Seabrid can be included in finished products [such as dairy desserts] that make an organic claim."
Another new line of hydrocolloids for food and drinks is Syndeo from acacia gum provider Alland & Robert (www.allandetrobert.com), Paris (and distributed in the U.S. by Farbest Brands). It blends vegetal hydrocolloids with stabilizing and texturizing properties that have demonstrated particular success in dairy-free beverages, salad dressings, prepared meals, fillings, dietary products, desserts and ice cream, according to the company. It was developed with the non-GMO, clean label market in mind, as well as formulators keen on leveraging ingredients that meet demands for ethical, healthy and tasty products. Syndeo has no sugar content, and can be used in sugar-free recipes. Improving mouthfeel, it can also enhance moisture retention. It has no additives, preservative or allergens and is efficient at very low dosage (less than 1 percent). Customers are currently trialing it to formulate plant-based "milks," especially those based on nuts, notes Isabelle Jaouen, head of R&D.
Qualities consumers want most
Xanthan gum may be one of the best kept secrets of industry developers and restaurant chefs, says Nichole Mercer, ADM business manager. It's used to make ice cream smooth, keep pastry crusts crisp and keep dressings in suspension to minimize shaking and separation. "As consumers demand more gluten-free, reduced sugar and protein-fortified products, we see interest in xanthan gum as an ideal texture or ingredient-suspension solution," she says. "Xanthan gum is stable at various temperatures, helps add back texture when traditional ingredients like wheat flour or sugar are reduced or removed, and plays a key role in suspending ingredients."
Some of the most celebrated chefs rely on xanthan gum as a key functional ingredient, adds John Stephanian, ADM's director of culinary development. "Ferran Adria and the Roca Brothers use xanthan gum. It's a great thickening agent for crafting delicate gravies and sauces that depend on crucial flavors that a roux could sometimes mask. The delicate flavors of a fumet sauce or lobster stock could be overshadowed by the intense fatty flavor of a roux, so xanthan gum is a preferred texture and taste solution."
Clean labels notwithstanding, consumers still want "smooth," "luscious" and "velvety" textures, says Judy Whaley, vice president-new product development at Tate & Lyle (www.tateandlyle.com), Hoffman Estates, Ill. The company's lineup of new texturizing products and starches are designed to help deliver those attributes in applications like yogurt, salad dressings and pie fillings.
"Enhancing a brand’s consumer appeal, texture is gaining the attention of food research and food producers," Whaley affirms. "The need for clean labels continues to increase, but ultimately consumers aren’t willing to give up on great taste. Through our Texture Science and Education Outreach program, we're leading efforts to develop research that addresses critical gaps and challenges in food and ingredient innovation through texture. It's tied so closely to other attributes in formulations, such as flavor and sweetness, that texture is one of the most challenging attributes to optimize for food and beverage manufacturers."
Emulsion and even the pre-emulsion stage during processing are big issues, continues Whaley. "Through a colloid process, there's often a flipping of the emulsion. Instead of trying to control the emulsifiers, it’s actually more important to understand the starch phase in that system to know how it’s thickening over time. Knowing where the product sits on that state diagram enables formulators to predict where the emulsion will flip. This has been a key part of educating our customers through our texture education program. Manufacturers have found such efforts have helped them better formulate with starches in a variety of applications."
Texture is growing as a purchase driver, says a recent consumer study from Ingredion (www.ingredion.com), Westchester, Ill. The study found people have innate ways of manipulating food in their mouths, which determines the textures they prefer. "Texture's important; otherwise, everything would taste the same, and would just be bland and blah," said one consumer on the panel.
The study found 33 percent of consumers like "crunchy" foods, while 16 percent go for soft, creamy textures and 8 percent like to savor and suck on snacks. Another 43 percent enjoy chewy products. "When developing new products, it's important to optimize texture first and then flavor, because texture will directly impact the flavor release and how it's perceived by the consumer," points out Layo Jegede, senior manager-global sensory at the Bridgewater, N.J., R&D center of Ingredion.
While U.S. yogurt consumers typically prefer a smooth creamy texture even in Greek yogurt, General Mills has unveiled Yoplait Oui (www.ouibyyoplait.com), a thicker French-style yogurt made by pouring dairy ingredients into individual glass cups that set after eight hours. This generates a very viscous consistency. While Greek-style products are strained to achieve a thicker texture, exactly how this French-style version is made hasn't been revealed.
General Mills does say the rigidity of the glass container helps firm up the yogurt, allowing it to stabilize without the use of added corn starch or gelatin. "It’s the simplest way to make yogurt, but it’s also the hardest to do at scale," points out Doug Martin, Yoplait's director. "We’re really going back and embracing the way yogurt was made in the past."