All of the 2018 predictions for snack flavors of the crispy, crunchy variety agreed that consumers want authentic, bold, exotic flavors. These authentic flavor experiences, garnered from global ethnic cuisines, help the snack category adhere to consistent growth rates.
But what makes those exotic flavors adhere to the snack foods? In many cases, starches.
According to Mintel’s 2018 Summer Food and Drink Trends report, 36 percent of U.S. consumers find the temptation of new flavors enough of an incentive to buy more chips. However, it's challenging to get those seasonings to stick to the surface of the snack so the flavor is delivered to the consumer’s mouth and not left at the bottom of the bag or box.
Conventionally fried snacks rely on the oil used during frying to assist with seasoning adhesion. A low-fat or baked snack might require extra help, such as a starch, to aid with seasoning adhesion. Seasonings with larger particle sizes pose larger challenges.
Seasoning can be the greatest cost contributor to a snack system, according to Michael Kramer, certified food scientist for Grain Processing Corp. (GPC, www.grainprocessing.com). “Conserving the amount of seasoning is always a goal. Another consideration is preventing the seasoning from segregating and falling off, causing flavors to become out of balance. A seasoning containing poppy seeds that loses all the seeds in the drier not only is an economic waste but can be a taste problem too.”
The ability to adhere particulates to a snack surface will be aided by the film-forming properties of the starch, according to Rachel Wicklund, technical manager for global ingredient technology with Tate & Lyle (www.tateandlyle.com). Starches can be optimized to adhere particulates of any size, increase the strength of the film and help supply texture within different processing requirements.
A tack coating works for multiple snack substrates, according to Kramer, including beef jerky, granola clusters, chicken wings, trail mix and more traditional snack foods like pretzels, chips and nuts, with slight adjustments to the amount of coating applied or application method utilized.
Maltodextrins in general are very good at building solids in tack coatings, says Kramer. In addition, any one percent of maltodextrin added to the water-based coating formula is one less percent of water that needs to be dried. This can help shorten processing times to increase manufacturing efficiencies as well as minimize the chance that water would migrate into the snack, causing sogginess or other textural issues.
A student team from Iowa State University won GPC’s annual ingredient challenge with a baked chip made of purple sweet potatoes. “This is a prime example of the type of situation in a snack presentation where the starch aids with seasoning adhesion,” says Kramer. “Because it is baked, not fried, our instant tack coating with our Purecoat food starch modified and Maltrin maltodextrin was used to allow a raspberry/pineapple seasoning to adhere to the sweet potato chip.
“Tack solutions are necessary when special challenges are presented,” says Kramer. This might include a product that isn’t fried or treated with oil or situations when the seasoning contains more than cheese powder and spice blends. He noted that in today’s market, chili flakes, parsley pieces, sesame seeds and even dried vegetables are gaining in popularity and these larger particulates would require a starch solution for proper adhesion.
According to Wicklund, “We have definitely seen an increase in particulate size and type being applied to snacks.” She observes that flavors are drawn from multiple global sources including fusions such as combining Latin American influences with Asian to create a new eating experience.
“Snack foods are a fast-evolving category. Manufacturers and consumers alike seem more willing to experiment with flavors when it comes to snacks compared to a full meal or center-of-the-plate experience.
"Innovation within the snack sector is designed to capture new customers," she continues. "One point of differentiation is the seasoning applied. Larger particulates help create new textures or combine textures for a dual-texture eating experience; one from the snack and one from the particulate itself.”
According to Jerry Du, principal technologist on Ingredion Inc.'s (www.ingredion.com) bakery & snack team-global applications, the selection of starch and starch derivatives depends on the type of snack being produced. Maltodextrin improves seasoning adhesion for sheeted snacks such as crackers and chips.
“More relevant application studies for baker glazes, icings and toppings … show coating plays a bigger role than just promoting adhesion; it also provides texture (soft or hard) and appearance (smooth vs. rough).” Ingredion offers numerous solutions for baking solutions to impact appearance and particulate adhesion.
Wicklund says the type of starch selected to help seasoning adhere depends more on the process than the snack substrate. “A slurry to apply adhesion then post-drying to set the seasoning is going to present less of a challenge than a dry application with minimal moisture.” Tate & Lyle offers a full portfolio of starch-forming ingredients manufacturers can choose from to meet the growth and variety seen in the snack market.
“Manufacturers aren’t just turning to exotic seasonings, but also novel flours, like ancient grains such as quinoa,” said Wicklund. “In those cases, the right selection of starches aids with the textures within the snack itself.”
Starches perform multiple functions within snack foods. For example Kramer indicates the GPC line of film-coating starches also aids with extending the shelf life of certain snacks, such as crackers or tortilla chips, and with improving crispiness in certain snack doughs.
Although not commonly in need of starches to aid seasoning adhesion, popcorn cannot be ignored. One source states RTE popcorn sales in the U.S amounted to 1.3 billion dollars in 2017. Popcorn is among the least dense and least water tolerant of all snacks.
“Anyone who has tried to season popcorn with a low-fat table spread can attest to this,” says Kramer. "A little water not only ruins the crunch and eating experience, it also collapses the expanded corn with a very large increase in density.”
Pure-Cote food starch modified products from GPC originally were developed to put coatings on tablets, which also cannot tolerate water. The starch polymer holds onto the water until drying can complete the "aqueous film coating" procedure to prevent tablets from pitting or losing their shape.
"What applies to tablets applies to popcorn,” says Kramer. “With a little skill and art, popcorn can be coated with our starches and maltodextrin to adhere seasonings."
In a final note, the amount of starch used to aid with seasoning adhesion makes almost no contribution to calories. If a manufacturer is trying to cut back on the oil and fat, starches could hold the key to the flavor impact of low-fat, healthier snack products.