The fine dining trends inspiring packaged food innovation

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food

Even some of the most unusual innovations from top restaurant kitchens could inspire manufacturers of packaged foods, according to Ted Russin, food scientist at specialty hydrocolloids firm CP Kelco.

Speaking at the recent Research Chefs Association conference in Phoenix, Arizona, Russin demonstrated how the techniques and ingredients used to produce foods in cutting-edge restaurants could be translated for use in packaged foods, by adapting culinary inspiration for large-scale practicality.

He said that “the pantry has been blown wide open”​ in terms of the modern techniques and ingredients available to product developers.

“That innovation is happening in the culinary world is something that we’re all currently aware of… But how do we go from a saucepot to 40,000 gallons of this?”​ he asked.

Novelty to practicality

Using examples of culinary creativity from such well-renowned restaurants as WD 50 in New York City and El Bizcocho in San Diego, Russin suggested that even deep-fried mayonnaise and solid watermelon consommé that becomes a liquid when shaken could have their counterparts in packaged foods.

In fact, taking advantage of liquids that act like solids is already common practice in the processed food industry. Fluid gels such as salad dressings that have herbs suspended throughout, and chocolate milk in which the cocoa doesn’t sink to the bottom, use a similar principle to El Bizcocho’s consommé – but applied in a way that is more practical for supermarket shelves.

The heat stability needed for WD 50’s deep-fried mayonnaise could also be put to mainstream use, Russin said, suggesting that added heat stability could extend the product range available to vegetarians far beyond tofu. For example, it could enable vegetable patties to be fried for long enough without burning or falling apart to develop a Maillard crust – the tasty, crisp surface caused by a reaction in starchy foods between sugar and the amino acid asparagine.

“It is practical innovation that will let us take food in a new direction over the next ten years,”​ he said.

Flavor focus

Innovation may often start on a smaller scale with creative restaurant chefs, but much of that innovation can be scaled up.

Russin argues that it is chefs’ passion and focus on flavor that has led to a greater variety of ingredients for viscosity, as they realized that the choice of ingredient influences how a sauce flows, its mouthfeel and, ultimately, how it tastes.

“Chefs have a myopic focus on flavor,”​ he said. “In that passion they have come to realize that gellan gum is good for viscosification. If you use 0.1 percent then you allow the flavor to come through much easier than using one to two percent gelatin or two to four percent starch, or even more for flour.”

Restaurant quality at home

And this may be a good time for innovation in packaged foods, as consumers continue to look for restaurant-style food they can enjoy at home.

Russin told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “Given the current economic climate the trend of the restaurant experience at home dovetails nicely with our culinary inspired innovation initiative, particularly as we are trying to bring together these two worlds…Ultimately, the fact that the boundaries of flavor, texture and presentation are being pushed and commercially accepted at the haute cuisine level really demonstrates that similar innovation is possible and practical at both the foodservice and retail food product levels.”

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