A Sauce for Every Lifestyle

Sept. 10, 2004
For every consumer niche--low-fat, low-carb, organic, even kids--processors can create a sauce, if they have the right ingredients and technological know-how
The sauce market, like the food market in general, is fragmented according to consumers' rather specific wants and needs. With the concern about fats, the creamy sauce market has taken hits; but lower-fat products have emerged successfully. The more recent carbohydrate consciousness similarly has brought forth low- and no-carb products in some affected categories, as well as shifts in consumer interest into sauce categories that are naturally low in carbs.The excitement over lycopene has sparked interest in tomato-based sauces. The establishment of organic standards has legitimized the organic sauce market. Add in an increased interest in developing products for both the elderly segment and the kids' market, and there's a sauce for everybody, which means a lot of sauces and a lot of jockeying around that part of the supermarket and foodservice offerings.Lots of products can be sauces, depending on how they are used. Campbell Soup has built an amazing business by recommending their cream soups as sauce bases. "The introduction of cream of mushroom soup in 1934 began the use of soup as a sauce, converting leftovers and small amounts of meat into main dishes," according to spokesperson Beth Jolly. "Now, we get lots of recipes from customers using the cream soups as sauces." The most popular cream soups used in cooking are cream of chicken, cream of celery, cream of mushroom and Golden Mushroom, "but there are 34 varieties that can be used as sauce or base," she points out.Pesto and salsa are sauces, gravies are basically sauces, and fruit sauces (essentially purees with additional ingredients) have avoided the curse of fats and carbs to become acceptable garnishes for meats. Basic types of sauces include vinaigrette, pesto, pasta sauces, mayonnaise or bearnaise types and roux (the butter and flour types), including blond roux, brown roux, bechamel and sauce Supreme.Sauce bases and soup bases are quite similar, and often are used interchangeably. Usually, sauces include emulsions, which are either retained during cooking and serving or formulated into mixes for rehydration. Commercial sauces have several priorities, including long shelf life, acceptable levels of fat, cost control and organoleptic superiority (when compared to Aunt Grace's lumpy gravy). Add the ubiquitous requirement of food safety, and sauces and bases have become highly engineered products.Ingredient selectionThere's a lot of food chemistry that goes into sauces and bases. These products essentially are emulsions, and if they're retorted, frozen or refrigerated, they must be stabilized with starches modified to meet the processing and holding conditions. They also may contain hydrocolloids and other ingredients, cream substitutes and milk derivatives for stability, and fats recommended for resistance to oxidation. Flavors, including cheeses, fruit ingredients and savory types, are important, of course, constantly changing and always being improved.National Starch and Chemical Co. (www.foodstarch.com), Bridgewater, N.J., has developed a thermally inhibited starch/flour combination, which first is pH adjusted to an appropriate range, then dehydrated to an anhydrous state (less than one percent moisture), then heated to a temperature that will inhibit the swelling of the starch. The starch is unmodified, but reacts like a modified starch, providing smoothness and creaminess plus extra stability for steam stable use.This product, called Signature Secrets, behaves much like flour in a sauce, but doesn't form a skin or separate into phases. It's being offered to foodservice operators, especially chefs, at the moment, through foodservice companies.Another product, an expansion of the Novation line (some of which are suitable for organic foods) is Novation Prima, a freeze-thaw stable line. "Novations are considered functional native starches," says Dave Manion of National Starch's marketing department. With consumers interested in less-modified starches, the door is open for innovative science. For sauce processors that need to replace the bodying or thickening characteristics of corn sweeteners, either for low-carb products or for natural designations, Tic Gums (www.ticgums.com), Baltimore, introduced TICaloid LC corn syrup replacer, an instantized, agglomerated gum arabic that provides texture, viscosity, and lots of soluble fiber. The product was developed for use in bars, where extra carbs are not needed but texture and water-activity reduction are. "The technology is special, and was unexpected," notes Greg Andon, Tic business development manager. "It replaces the mouthfeel of syrups without sweetness or carbs, and maintains water activity levels. At use levels of 50-60 percent by weight of moisture, the functionality is remarkably similar to corn sweeteners. And it supplies lots of fiber with virtually no carbs." Simplesse is a microparticulated whey derivative from CP Kelco, San Diego, originally used as a partial fat replacer in ice creams. It now functions as an ingredient to provide smooth, creamy texture a number of sauces.Technical aspectsAccording to English food researchers Leatherhead Inc., understanding viscosity is only a small part of understanding what mouthfeel and texture are all about. Beginning in the 1980s, rheological characterization techniques have been used by Leatherhead to evaluate structural ingredients and food products, including flow and oscillatory rheology.Flow rheology provides information on viscosity profiles at different shear rates, temperatures and times for thickening and gelling agents and products such as sauces, dressings and chocolates. Oscillatory rheology allows the probing of gel structures and viscoelastic properties using frequency, stress, creep, and temperature sweeps.Shear is the rate of deformation of a fluid when subjected to a mechanical shearing stress. In simple fluid shear, successive layers of fluid move relative to each other such that the displacement of any one layer is proportional to its distance from a reference layer. The relative displacement of any two layers divided by their distance of separation from each other is termed the "shear" or the "shear strain."The rate of change with time is termed the "shear rate." Food processing uses a lot of shear (pumping, agitating and other activities that mix and move a product), so measurement of the effect of shear is extremely helpful in determining whether a product has changed, if a specific ingredient is helpful, and whether a product has been mistreated.Rheology is measured by a number of instruments, which determine whether a solution or emulsion is slick or creamy, chalky or velvety. These characteristics are no longer solely the role of the sensory panel. Rheometers are beginning to replace or augment the use of the simple viscometer, the Bostwick consistometer, and other instruments that measured one aspect of a food's texture or thickness.Nestle has been working with rheology for some years, looking for an objective measure of what a consumer will perceive. "Simpler tests don't always fill the gap. We're making progress, both in the lab and in production situations, so the product will be what the consumer is interested in," says Kenneth Moffitt, a scientist in Nestle's New Milford, Conn., laboratories. He says industry already does a good job with viscosity, and he believes quantifying texture and mouthfeel, while much more complex, will follow.Lifestyle saucesMarketers talk about the "low-carb" lifestyle and the "heart-healthy" lifestyle. When the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture established National Organic Standards in 2002, the action triggered yet another lifestyle for Americans.A year later, by late 2003, the Whole Foods Market Organic Foods Trend Tracker (sponsored by Whole Foods markets and performed by Synovate Inc.) found 47 percent of Americans polled reported they ate more organic products that they had before the label initiative. Of those who buy organic foods, 24 percent buy packaged goods such as soup or pasta, 17 percent buy frozen foods, and 12 percent buy prepared foods. Organic food buyers reported in late 2003 that 76 percent of those who purchased organic would buy more products if they could find them in the supermarket.While it's not on the traditional retail radar screen, Moosewood Restaurant, which began in Maine, serves up sauces for vegetarian and organic tastes including broccoli parmesan sauce, spinach pesto, Puttanesca sauce and three-cheese sauce. These are processed into retail products for the restaurant chain by Fairfield Farm Kitchen, Brockton, Mass., and sold in 4-lb. Cryovac bags or combined with pasta in consumer-size packaging.Fairfield Farm Kitchen was formed in 2001 specifically for processing organic foods, and initially found a niche in restaurant-branded soups. It began with 35 Boston Chowda Co. products, along with the Moosewood products and its own Organic Classic labels. It's getting easier to source organic ingredients, says John Weaver, the purchasing manager for Fairfield Farm Kitchen. "There are more products available, and prices are acceptable. Products we make are growing more mainstream: we're shipping them to national grocery stores as well as specialty markets like Wild Oats and Whole Foods."We do a survey of possible ingredients when the team [which often includes Moosewood Restaurant chefs] starts to develop a new product," he continues. "There's rarely anything we can't find."Children's food products also rely heavily on sauces, but the category confounds some product developers because children are at a point in life when tastes are developing and often changing. McCormick and Co. (www.mccormick.com), Hunt Valley, Md., created a development process for working with kids a few years ago, and it applies well to the firm's development of sauces."Kids' favorite condiment is ketchup. If we can get a condiment to score as high as, or better than, ketchup, we know we have a winner," remarks Connie Jones, senior culinary technologist. "That was the goal for one of our Consumer Preferred projects, meet or beat ketchup in a kids' dipping sauce preference test," she continues. "The key was to listen to the kids. It is easy to be swayed by our adult biases and to trust our own interpretations over what kids are saying. We asked what they wanted, and once we focused on giving them what they were asking for, we hit our goal.""A lot of the answers to what makes them tick are based on their age," adds Terry Work, sensory manager. "Those under 10 years of age relate strongly to family preferences. This age group is more apt to eat what's put in front of them. We see this when observing kids in school. The younger set will eat whatever is packed for them." However, this behavior also challenges researchers working with younger kids. "They tend to relate the question to what their parents may say. In fact, they will often answer questions with 'my mom likes it this way,' or 'my dad would like this,' Work says. "The older set either trades or dumps selections not up to their standards," she continues. "Individuality and peers also become factors. For this reason, it is tough to research older kids. You must discern whether what they are telling you is what they really feel, or what they think their peers will say is the 'cool' answer. "Kids are smart," sums Work. "They bring big value to your development. When your target consumers are children, their input is critical to product success." Which isn't a bad idea with any group of consumers. Note to Plant Ops At the dawn of low-fat foods, processing these new products was not always easy. But nowadays, low-fat sauces process as well as the full-fat products of former years, according to Ingolf Nitsch, plant manager of the Nestle plant in Cleveland that makes Minor's sauces, gravy, soup and a variety of food bases, as well as a cream substitute.The change from high-fat formulations to products with less fat, as well as current tinkering with carbohydrates, can introduce heat sensitivity during processing or change the water-activity and enzymatic browning potential of sauce bases. Textures may be different, as well as viscosity when dealing with lower-fat products. Larger amounts of starch may be difficult to blend into the sauce without addition of lipids to help disperse them, unless the starches and flours are agglomerated or otherwise treated for easy dispersibility. Newer ingredients are available and must be introduced into a formula without changing the texture, flavor and mouthfeel from a standard product that customers depend on.Tom Arthur, plant engineer, says changes in formulations are worked out in one of Nestle's central research groups. Researchers work with the plant as a team until the change is complete.

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