Food products, like other consumer goods, must always be put together with a certain cost point in mind. Even for those products residing at the premium end of the shelf, cost is an overriding consideration. Will your consumer be willing to pay $3.79 for your premium nutrition bar when a competitor next door beckons at $1.79?
In this atmosphere, texturizers and preservatives, even though they might represent a fraction of the overall cost, must compete with each other by shaving fractions of a cent per inclusion. So formulators must weigh carefully exactly how much consumers are willing to pay for a cleaner, friendlier-sounding label.
Consumers know what they don’t like
As pressure mounts to 'clean up' labels, formulators are scrambling to come up with solutions that meet the desires of an increasingly health conscious consumer. Tried and true artificial solutions for texturizers and preservatives, however cost effective they might be and however well they work at easing manufacturing, maintaining mouth feel and extending shelf life, are increasingly giving way to ‘natural’ alternatives.
But these natural alternatives must bring something to the table beyond just their clean label positioning. As they are usually more expensive, they must approach or even equal the performance of their artificial competitors. It’s not just the cost consideration that drove formulators decades ago to turn to artificial alternatives; many of these also offered significant technical advantages over the usual way of putting products together.
Two companies, Cargill and Kemin, are among those that have come up with solutions to this issue in the realm of texturizers and natural preservatives. Cargill is touting the value of its range of ‘native starches,’ while Kemin is getting behind the value of its natural, botanical-based oil modifier.
One of the biggest categories of artificial-sounding food ingredients are the ‘modified food starches.’ These ingredients are derived mostly from grains but have been altered either chemically or enzymatically. While consumers can’t be expected to understand these ingredients and why they’re there the way a food chemist might, they do know what they don’t like.
“Clean eating has evolved from a trend to mainstream America. Sixty-six percent of Americans seek product claims which avoid negative ingredients,” Pam Stauffer, Cargill’s manager of global marketing programs told FoodNavigator-USA.
“While many consumers don’t have an aversion to the word 'modified,' some do. Clean label means different things to different people. It’s largely driven by perception about the ingredient as well as how it’s processed,” she said.
No one-size-fits-all solution
Michelle Kozora, Cargill’s technical services manager, said that developing more natural sounding alternatives tends to be a matter of understanding each formulation. Modified starches tend to be able to function in a variety of settings. Cargill’s line of native starches, i.e. ingredients that are more lightly processed and so more closely resemble the state they were in in their plant source, more often must take a team approach, and sometimes must be used at a slightly higher rate of inclusion than their 'modified' competitors.
“Native starches were used for decades in the food industry, but because of limitations such as breaking down when reheated or in acidic environments, many food manufacturers moved to using more processed food starches,” Kozora said.
“Typically, there isn’t a one-to-one replacement for a modified food starch. A simple swap will most likely result in a failure of some kind. A singular native starch on its own won’t provide the ideal mouth feel, texture and stability. But Cargill food scientists have studied the properties of dozens of native starches. We have discovered that via custom blending and careful formulations –sometimes adding an additional label-friendly ingredient to achieve the desired outcome -- these basic starches can meet product demands,” she added.
Kozora said Cargill has come up with ways to alter the proprieties of native starches through ‘natural’ processing steps that don’t involve profound chemical reactions or enzymatic steps.
The company’s Gel-Instant native starch, for example, is a pre-cooked waxy maize starch that can provide viscosity without the need for additional cooking of the finished product. And the company’s AmyloGel native amylose starch is available in both 50% and 75% amylose content for film-forming properties and staleness-fighting activity in a variety of applications.
Blends of corn and tapioca starch have been used to replace modified food starches in yogurts. Formulators have also replaced mono and diglycerides and cellulose gums with systems based on sunflower lecithin, locust bean and guar gum. Kozora said Cargill has even teamed pea protein with native starches to replace modified food starches in dressings and sauces.
Maintaining shelf life is one of the biggest challenges in the clean label debate. Oil fractions are ubiquitous in many products like baked goods where they provide mouth feel, stability and palatability can be subject themselves to oxidation.
In the past this was dealt with by hydrogenation. While fat in and of itself is no longer the dietary bogeyman it was ten or more years ago, trans fats are. The Food and Drug Administration has set a deadline in 2018 for removing partially hydrogenated oils (which create trans fats) from food, and formulators are seeking ways around the oxidation conundrum. One of the ways this has been dealt with historically is via the use of the antioxidant tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ. This chemical provides some powerful benefits to food formulators, said Courtney Schwartz, marketing manager for Kemin’s food technology group.
“PHOs (partially hydrogenated oils) are very stable and they made the formula very stable. When you move away from those you need to move to a very stable oil, but the more stable oils, the high oleic oils, are typically more expensive. TBHQ allows a formulator to use a cheaper, commodity oil and still get that stability,” she said.
Schwartz said Kemin has tested its oil soluble green tea, called GT-FORT, against TBHQ in crackers, which are an especially challenging application. Generally removing water from a food system will increase shelf life, but a limit can be reached. When a food matrix gets as dry as a cracker, very few water molecules are left to surround oil particles, and rancidity accelerates. In the cracker test, Kemin found that GT-FORT did as well as TBHQ in preventing the breakdown of the oil in the product.
The big advantage for these ingredients is what you can call them on the label. Friendly-sounding plant names are something that consumers can understand, even if they have little appreciation for the ingredient’s technical function.
“Consumers’ perception of corn, wheat, potato, rice, cassava and tapioca –the most common native starches –is positive. These are familiar and trusted ingredients,” Cargill’s Kozora said.
“Many consumers perceive products with more recognizable ingredients as superior, so listing corn starch –a familiar ingredient that is found in many home cupboards –on the product label may be a desirable change,” Stauffer said.