Reducing and replacing fat, sugar or salt without losing enjoyment
Consumers are more aware of, and knowledgeable about, their health than ever before. This increased focus has led to people following a variety of different diets, with a wide range of dietary specifications, putting pressure on manufacturers to develop a portfolio of foods to meet individual needs. New regulations are also being introduced in parts of the world where the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt presents a challenge for food manufacturers, many of whom are facing pressure to reformulate existing products, particularly in bakery, desserts and snacks.
While consumers are eager for healthier (plus more ethical and environmentally friendly) foods they also expect the “same-as” eating enjoyment as they get from the foods they know and love. The reduction (or addition) of any ingredient presents a number of taste and texture challenges for manufacturers that then need to be tackled to bring them in-line with consumers’ sensory expectations.
It can take a lot of in-depth understanding of the interaction between ingredients, product matrices and production processes to find the right combination and strategies that are necessary to improve one sensory area, like mouthfeel, which can sometimes actually widen the gap in another, such as taste. For example, sucrose obviously adds sweetness but it is also a bulking agent, adding body to the product. Simply replacing sucrose with another sweetener can help to mimic the flavour or the original food product but will alter the texture and mouthfeel.
Shelf life and food quality are also important considerations, as ingredients such as salt and sugar can act as preservatives. Consumers may be willing to accept a slight change in texture or flavour if the health benefits and overall sensory experience are strong enough. You may want to take advantage of cross-modality between taste and texture, for instance, using vanilla’s “creamy” taste to improve mouthfeel in low-fat products or you may even want to consider processing steps such as fermentation to improve the product’s texture, robustness and shelf life.
Texture problems associated with Low-in Foods
Low-fat without low-quality
With global obesity levels at an all-time high, and an improved understanding of the impact of fat on the function of many major organs, low-fat diets are a common approach used by many consumers hoping to improve their health. This trend has had huge implications for the dairy sector, where, to meet this demand, thousands of product lines are being reformulated, and many more are being launched from scratch. From dairy drinks and yoghurts to cheeses and dairy desserts, the low-fat trend is visible everywhere.
However, fat plays a huge part in the consistency of dairy foods, especially yoghurts. As well as different expectations across the globe, perceptions and preferences are changing. Thick, creamy products – easily achieved with high fat content – evoke luxury and decadence but there is still sizeable demand for thinner, more traditional products, especially in developing markets.
Manufacturers often have motivation to remove fat from food products, but when something is removed from a recipe, it inevitably has to be replaced with another ingredient. Sometimes that replacement is another type of fat, or it might be another ingredient altogether (to reduce the overall fat content of the food). Food manufacturers have to test the altered food in comparison with its original form to ensure that all textural properties remain the same within acceptable limits.
Staying firm on sugar reduction
Already in the crosshairs of health-conscious consumers, these days sugar is frequently demonised in the media and legislation across the globe is mandating the reduction of sugar in a variety of products, as well as demanding clearer labelling in an effort to educate and discourage consumers. Where soft drinks began, the rest of the food industry is expected to follow. As a result, manufacturers’ need to reformulate with lower sugar content is higher than ever.
However, beyond adding a sweeter taste, the reduction or removal of sugar also impacts the texture of foods which must be addressed. Jam, for example, relies on sugar for firmness. Whether being spread on toast or added to cakes, the firmness of jam is crucial to consumer enjoyment and has a direct impact on its perceived quality. Jam is not the only food that can find its texture being changed by a reduction in sugar. Chewing gum is another product that is often developed with a ‘sugar-free’ option, particularly due to dental health concerns, but again, replacing sugar with substitutes has wider implications for its texture. More specifically, the hardness, flexibility and stickiness of gum can all be affected by the change in sweetening agent. For example, mannitol can be used to improve mechanical strength.
Solving strength and stickiness in low salt
While health authorities worldwide agree too much salt can be bad for health, it does have an important role in texture – particularly in cooked meats, where it ensures firmness and “bite,” and baked goods, in which it plays a multitude of textural roles.
Bread is responsible for up to a fifth of daily salt intake, making baked foods a clear opportunity for salt reduction reformulation in many western markets. However, salt is pivotal to dough strength and stickiness, which is required for the desired crumb structure of the final product and also to hold the folded layers of dough together, ensuring consistency of aeration in the baked bread. Bakers have to tread a fine line: excessive stickiness causes processing difficulties, but if cutting salt content also leads to a weakening of the dough, problems of a different nature, but equal importance, become evident. Additionally, salt tightens the gluten structure and helps loaves retain the carbon dioxide gas formed during fermentation. This has a great impact on volume after baking. As a result, lowering salt content can lead to smaller, less attractive breads. Using a Volscan Profiler, can help to provide quantifiable volume and density measurement and, again, can be used as a comparative tool during reformulation.
As well as impacting the texture of fresh bread as it hits the shelf, salt also has an effect further along the line. Traditionally used as a preservative, salt is paramount in extending shelf life as the water it attracts can help keep bread from staling too quickly in a dry environment. Measuring the firmness of reduced-salt bread over an extended period of time, in different conditions and then comparing with other formulations is key to discovering how quality of the bread may be affected over time.
How Texture Analysis can help in Low-in Food development
As consumers become more demanding and reduce further their purchases of foods containing ingredients they deem unhealthy, the need for revisiting recipes is set to grow. Understanding how these reformulations can impact finished products is crucial to minimising adverse textural effects and identifying strategies for retaining the mouthfeel people love.
There is a clearly huge amount of trial and error (or an iterative approach) involved in developing and assessing new formulations. When reformulating your products you will be looking for changes that show as little impact as possible. Understanding the impact on texture, and the potential implications of these texture changes, is crucial in ensuring new product launches aren’t a miss with consumers. So, what can manufacturers do? Consistent, objective measurement is vital for informing reformulation and new product development, in addition to maintaining high quality standards.
Texture Analysis is a mandatory stage in the Research and Development of ingredient-substituted products, when texture can be altered by the addition of different quantities of ingredients, and must be measured after each iteration of ingredient or process modifications. Stable Micro Systems manufactures instruments that measure the tensile and compressional properties of raw ingredients, individual materials and finished products. It is important to measure the textural properties of food to ensure they match the expectations of a consumer. As with any manufacturing innovation, a large amount of research takes place during development, but the end product must also go through a quality control process to assess its mechanical (and sensorial) properties. A Texture Analyser is a crucial part of this procedure, giving a reliable way to test products by applying a choice of compression, tension, extrusion, adhesion, bending or cutting tests to measure their physical or textural properties e.g. firmness, stickiness, crispiness and springiness, to name but a few.
A range of Texture Analysers are available varying in maximum force capacity and height options suited to the requirements of the application.
A Back Extrusion Rig, for example, offers an invaluable measure of product consistency and the effects of fat reduction which can be used to compare, for example, a full-fat yoghurt recipe with a reduced-fat version to determine any textural differences. When this difference is objectively measured and quantified, other ingredients to alter texture can be trialled, making it possible to perfect texture in low-fat foods, which can be frequently measured for quality control across varieties and batches and also throughout a product’s lifespan.
A Texture Analyser also provides the ability to test chewing gum at various stages of its life, from the initial bite to the first few chews and beyond. Measuring through the final chew stage ensures a better understanding of consumer experience, and comparisons to gums with added sugar can clearly show the changes the formulation can cause.
To gauge the impact of a salt reduction programme on dough quality, for example, samples can be prepared and tested prior to bulk preparation using a Warburtons Dough Stickiness System to identify the ideal formulation.
A vast range of probes and fixtures can be attached to the instruments depending upon the product/material to be tested. Whether it’s an Ottawa cell used to compare cereal crispness, a bending test used to assess biscuit fracturability or a back extrusion employed to assess the potential change of the fortified formulation in yoghurt consistency. Click to view a wide range of textural properties and measurement solutions that are most suited to fortification for bakery, meat, confectionery or dairy product testing.
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Examples of how Texture Analysers have been applied
Around the world there have been several pieces of research published in the areas of dairy, confectionery, bakery and meat products – all known for their popular high calorie offerings and all looking for solutions to offering a lower fat/sugar counterpart without a textural compromise. Here’s how they’ve applied their Texture Analyser.
Low-in research in the bakery industry
Low-in research in the meat industry
In the meat industry the use of different sources of materials (mostly from plants) as a fat replacer to ensure palatability required by consumers is not an easy task. Many different ideas have been investigated in a wide range of meat products.
Low-in research in the confectionery industry
Low-in research in the dairy industry
Using reliable and objective measuring techniques can help to ensure products meet consumer demands for healthier food, without losing the qualities that originally captivated them.