The invisible advantage

Dec. 15, 2003
They don't often appear on labels, but enzymes can produce highly visible results as substitutes for process chemicals, chemical ingredients and more

Innovation in today's ingredient sector relies upon deliberation and dependability , a big shift for an industry that cut its teeth on serendipitous discoveries and trial and error. Enzymes are no different, and often are dogged by the same issues -- notably high development costs -- that stymie the commercialization of other ingredient types. To justify their use in foods, R&D teams must not only provide proof of the enzyme's functionality, but also demonstrate that its use in a given application is economically viable.

Thankfully, advances in genetic engineering are facilitating faster enzyme screening, as well as reduced development costs and cycle times. Additionally, public awareness of food's contributions to health and wellness is prompting companies to place increasing emphasis on functional ingredients such as enzymes, which play a pivotal role in quality and preservation.

Recent research also points to the feasibility of substituting enzymes for process chemicals or chemical ingredients, the presumed result being more healthful and flavorsome foods. And since many such enzymes denature during processing, they don't have to be declared on food labels.

Small surprise then that enzymes are gaining momentum in the U.S. food industry, which purchased more than $800 million of the product last year, primarily for the manufacture of starch-derived syrups, alcoholic beverages, dairy products and animal feed. To a lesser extent, enzymes were also used to process bakery products, fruits, vegetables, proteins and vegetable oils.

Trans fatty acids

Enzymes are also gaining prominence as a result of an FDA rule mandating that all foods containing trans fatty acids be labeled as such by January 2006. As most food scientists know, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils provide several foods with desirable functional and organoleptic characteristics. But the recent discovery that trans fatty acids, which are byproducts of hydrogenation, are detrimental to human health not only prompted the labeling regulation, but the search for viable alternatives to hydrogenated fats.

Enzymes to the rescue! The Danish company Novozymes, for instance, has introduced an enzyme-based process for inter-esterifying oils and fats to build solids in bakery shortening and margarine products without creating trans fats. Its technology for enzymatic inter-esterification was commercialized in North America in partnership with supplier Archer Daniels Midland's fats and oils operations.

Another process uses lipases to create free fatty acids from triglycerides, and subsequently esterify the fatty acids with mono- and di-glycerides to develop the appropriate mix of functional triglycerides. The price-point of enzymatic inter-esterification continues to be high, though rising consumer demand and ensuing economies of scale may contribute to more cost-effective applications in the future.

For baking

For the baking industry, whose margins historically have been slim, enzymes can provide money-saving solutions in the form of shelf-life extension and texture modification. Extended shelf life, which relies almost solely on enzymes, has resulted in a huge paradigm shift and better profit margins, according to Novozyme industry sales manager John Slade, who explains it has allowed bakers to consolidate production schedules, eliminate outdated or redundant facilities, expand distribution routes, and reduce stale returns.

Baked products grow stale when gelatinized starch, particularly amylopectin, re-crystallizes. Novozymes launched a patented maltogenic amylase that reduces the rate of staling by modifying the size of starch molecules. The enzyme is active during baking, when starch is most vulnerable to modification, but becomes inactive as soon as the bread exits the oven, thus eliminating any risk of overdosing. The enzyme selectively modifies starch without over-modification. As a result, the bread remains soft without becoming gummy -- a common complaint about enzymes that extend shelf life.

Enzymes such as cellulases, pentosanases and/or xylanases promote the production of soft loaves, whole grains, and flours milled from whole grains without adversely affecting nutritional attributes. Whole grains and whole meal flours provide desirable health benefits but present huge processing challenges when substituted for white flour in yeast-raised baked goods. Their non-starch polysaccharide components, for example, compete with gluten-forming proteins and starch for available water, thereby hindering efficient development and optimal swelling. Resulting baked goods are dense and undesirably firm in texture. Enzymes help resolve these issues by modifying the water-holding capacity of non-starch polysaccharides and making more water available for starch swelling and gluten development.

Whole grains also dilute the amount of gluten-forming protein in the flour and adversely affect the volume and texture of the product. However, enzymes such as xylanases, oxidases, lipases and trans-glutaminases help develop a stronger gluten network to produce healthier baked goods with lighter texture and more acceptable eating qualities. Enzyme blends also are finding greater use as alternatives to bromate and emulsifiers in baking applications, with dramatic cost-saving implications. Novozymes recently introduced a lipase with specificity towards polar lipids to help dough better withstand processing stress and produce bread with a fine-crumb structure and large volume.

It's worth noting that pure enzymes can be used to create specialty enzymes for multi-faceted functionality, thereby obviating the need for naturally occurring enzyme mixtures, some of which may not be beneficial.

Consumers seem to accept enzymes because of their label-friendliness and the fact that they are naturally occurring. "I would speculate that the use of enzymes as alternatives to less label-friendly ingredients will continue to grow as baking companies market product lines targeted towards health-conscious consumers," says Dana Boll of Danisco Ingredients, Industrial Airport, Kan. "More and more health conscious, label-reading consumers perceive the omission of chemical-sounding ingredients as better for them. This market will most likely continue to grow and allow for increased economies of scale for integration with the mainstream market."

The shift from volume to value markets is obvious in virtually every food sector, and the race is on for innovative enzymes that provide an invisible competitive advantage. It's clear that enzymes are poised to promote the use of more novel ingredients and processing technologies, and take part in the emerging health movement within the food industry.



Ever-expanding applications

Enzymes have driven a remarkable array of innovations in the food and beverage industry including:

- the production of light and reduced-calorie beers.

- increased brew house efficiency.

- enzymatic peeling of citrus fruits to reduce bitterness and increase juice yield.

- firming and preserving the integrity of fruit pieces for pie fillings and yogurt inclusions.

- elimination of lactose in dairy products to aid lactose intolerant consumers.

- improved digestibility and consistency of milk proteins for "infant formulas."

- production of fats and oils that reduce cholesterol in the human body

- digestive aids as dietary supplements and as ingredients in "digestive nutrition bars."

- rapid assessment of starch and proteins in cereals and cereal products.

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