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Cargill rides publicity wave with Trehalose functional ingredient

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By Hank Schultz

14-Jul-2014
Last updated on 14-Jul-2014 at 17:15 GMT

Cargill has weathered a potential media storm concerning its functional ingredient Trehalose.  The ingredient, a glucose dissaccharide, was one of the potentially ‘scary’ food ingredients seized upon for its use by a well known fast food chain.

Cargill has been working with the ingredient, first developed in Japan, for about 10 years.  Bringing any new ingredient to market is a matter of getting the word out about what it is and what it does before potential customers are willing to take the plunge and use it, and those efforts follow a predictable curve.  It’s a curve that was steepened by the Taco Bell affair, Deborah Schultz, Cargill’s project manager for Trehalose, told NutraIngredients-USA in a video shot at the recent Institutes of Food Technology show in New Orleans.

“We have to educate the technical community about what Trehalose is and what it does and what the benefits would be in any sort of a food a food scientist might be formulating. We are putting together a white paper and we have a webinar coming up,” Schultz said.

Taco Bell has been dealing with questions about the content of its taco meat filling for several years, with the latest mainstream media blip being a segment on ABC’s Good Morning America that revisited the affair. The chain was first sued in 2011 in a class action that claimed the company was defrauding customers by offering a product that didn't include much meat. The suit claimed there was only 35% actual beef in the filling, and the product should be renamed to reflect this. The food chain successfully defended itself (the suit was dropped), claiming that the filling actually had 88% beef and the other 12% was made up of ingredients necessary to improve taste and texture.

The chain responded with a dedicated page on its website that lists all of the ingredients used in the meat filling, with comprehensive explanations of what the functions of each ingredient is.

“One of the things that consumers want is transparency.  It was somewhat bold, what Taco Bell did, to say this is what we’re using and this is why we are using it. When I first saw that, I thought, uh oh, what is the effect of that going ot be for us? But rather than inspiring fear, it inspired curiosity,which has been a benefit for us,” she said.

Trehalose, which is made from starch via a proprietary process, has some powerful benefits for applications like Taco Bell’s meat, said Alan Skradis, technical services manager for corn milling for Cargill.  Rather than just being a coating or binding agent, the complex sugar works on a molecular level to improve the finished product.

“Trehalose is a naturally occurring dissaccharide. It is commercially manufactured from starch through a proprietary process. In meats it can be used to suppress protein denaturization. The molecule has a strong hydrophilic property, and it leads to less moisture loss.  It improves the texture of the finished product because with more moisture, you have less hardness in the cooked meat,” Skradis said.

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