The new ingredient, dubbed PenTech 8500, is a modified potato-based starch that the company says can reduce the use of rennet casein by about half in standard imitation cheese formulations, from about 23% to 10%, while retaining good stretchability, water-oil stability, and shredability.
Penford’s research and development director Bryan Scherer told FoodNavigator-USA: “The cost for imitation cheese is largely driven by casein. It’s gone over the past few years from $2 a pound to $6 a pound.”
He said that whenever the price exceeds about $4 a pound, manufacturers tend to come looking for alternatives. Penford already offers a range of starches for casein replacement, but the company has recently developed a new, proprietary process for making starches that it claims allows for greater casein reductions.
“It’s a way of reducing casein when prices go through the ceiling,” Scherer said.
“…Casein is used at about 23-25% of current formulations, and with our starches we were able to get the casein down to about 15%...Our new proprietary process of making starches means we can reduce that even further.”
He said that the new ingredient has been designed primarily for pizza cheese, which represents about 90% of the imitation cheese market, but there are other applications, such as sliced cheese, grated parmesan-type cheese or cubes of cheese for salad bars, in which it could allow manufacturers to entirely eliminate casein.
It would be labeled on ingredient lists as “modified food starch” or “modified potato starch”.
In the future, Scherer said the company was exploring whether it might be technically possible to use the ingredient as a vegetarian alternative to animal rennet casein, replacing 100% of the casein in imitation cheese, but any such move is still in the initial stages.
President of Penford Food Ingredients John Randall said in a statement: “Our PenTech 8500 is the latest example of a cost-effective and improved product that can help reduce the effects of rennet casein’s price unpredictability.”