The need for Free-from Foods
Free-from food sales continue to remain influenced by a range of factors, including rising consumer awareness on food allergies and intolerances, and upward trend of health, wellness and (in the case of palm oil) environmental concerns. Absence of effective treatment for food allergies and intolerance has been complementing the adoption of free-from food among consumers worldwide. A key challenge faced by the free-from food manufacturers is sustainable sourcing of naturally-derived ingredients and preservatives, which are devoid of allergens, while retaining the taste and texture of food using effective processing technologies.
Texture problems associated with Free-from Foods
An increased awareness of coeliac disease, in part, has driven interest in the gluten-free market. The growth in this market has also been fuelled by other consumer health trends including weight management and those that favour simpler, less processed foods. The potential market for gluten-free products in particular has never been so interesting. These products do, however, need to be fully assessed to make sure that their sensory range of properties meet consumer expectation – does the product taste good and have a good texture?
Not surprisingly, when gluten is removed from baked goods and other formulations, sensory properties such as taste and mouthfeel have traditionally been compromised. Since gluten is present in a wide range of foods, it has been difficult for consumers to find gluten-free alternatives that taste good and have desirable texture properties.
Gluten-free products have traditionally had unappealing textures such as dry, crumbly and gritty qualities all of which are perceived as unattractive textures. Other common issues in gluten-free bakery products include reduced volume, lack of an even cell structure, and reduced shelf life. This intimidating challenge to the cereal technologist and baker alike has led to the search for alternatives to gluten in the manufacture of gluten-free products that are able to mimic its unique properties mainly involving the incorporation of starches, different sources of protein and hydrocolloids.
Since the days when rice flour and tapioca were the go-to gluten-free substitutes for wheat flour and other gluten-containing grains, gluten-free formulations have come a long way. We are now seeing an increase in ingredients that claim to give dough the much needed elasticity, the right amount of chewiness, a consistent crumb and allow for volume to give bread height along with textures that aren’t too gummy or dry, crumb grain for muffins similar to that of wheat-based products, a resilient body for pastries to prevent crumbling and cakes that are light and fluffy.
Through the production of gluten-free products, stakeholders of the food industry are striving to serve the needs of coeliac patients as widely as possible with a continuously increasing product range ensuring the right nutrient intake without compromise on textural quality. Technology, novel ingredients, and active consumer interaction are the keys to success.
The rise in demand for a plant based diet brings with it a wide range of challenges. However, there is one ingredient in particular that can cause big problems in its absence: the humble egg. Eggs play an important part in a lot of cooking because they have so many interesting functions.
When a whole egg is used in a recipe it can emulsify, bind ingredients and solidify when heated to provide mechanical support. When sugar is added, eggs are excellent at trapping air, adding lightness to a recipe. When an egg white is whipped, it forms a stable foam. This is useful in macarons, marshmallows and meringues. A yolk, when used alone, exploits its high fat content and emulsification properties.
Vegans have long been replacing eggs in their cooking with weird and wonderful ingredients. Now most supermarkets have a ‘plant based’ aisle, manufacturers have caught up with the home cooks and are selling products made with replacement ingredients, or else adjusted recipes. Crisp egg free meringues are made possible now by chickpea water (aquafaba) whilst the addition of buttermilk can help to give brioche its fluffy texture but impact on softness and product volume must not go unchecked. Similarly, sponge cake relies on eggs for its richness and structure. As its name suggests, springiness is of high importance in a sponge cake – when squeezed, it should push back and return to its original size.
Although a crisp English biscuit rarely contains any eggs, its chewy American counterpart relies on them. This chewiness is difficult to replicate, but careful research and recipe control can give success. This usually calls for a recipe adjustment (in the form of increased water and fat contents) rather than an additional ingredient.
Moving into the realm of semi-solids, both eggless pastry cream and eggless mayonnaise can be bought in specialist shops. Pastry cream replaces eggs with custard powder or potato starch; mayonnaise can use thickened soya milk. In both cases, their consistency should be soft and smooth.
As with any new food product, it is crucial that its texture is tested thoroughly before it is released onto the market, or else it will be passed over in favour of a brand who have carried out the necessary research and set the golden standard.
The innovation in flavour and sources of dairy alternative beverages and increasing demand for soy milk, rice milk and almond milk proteins provide wider opportunity for the dairy-free market to grow.
For years, people buying plant-based alternatives to animal products were used to flavours and textures that weren't quite the same as the product they were trying to copy. However, just as veggie burger makers like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are inching ever closer to mimicking the real thing, with lab-concocted beef-like marbling and juices, the creators of a new vegan ice cream are using technological wizardry to create a product that could fool even the most die-hard dairy aficionados.
Ice cream has been particularly tricky to veganise: Nut "milks" often freeze up hard or chalky or leave an aftertaste. However, high-tech vegan ice creams are threatening to upend the dairy industry and new offerings by Eclipse Foods recently also include plant-based cheese, sour cream and yoghurt. They claim they've re-created the texture, taste and functionality of dairy by using plant products to form micelles, "the magic spheres" that are the molecular structures of milk proteins. However, their ice cream's base ingredients – which include oat fibre, cane sugar, glucose, canola oil, cassava starch and potato protein – are less important than the process used to create it, they say. Tinkering with the steps - how to incorporate the ingredients, and the precise heating, pressurising and blending – was the key.
As with all alternative ingredients, the proof is in the testing. The product will be rejected if the texture (and flavour) is not true to consumer expectation. That’s where texture analysis comes in. Once the dairy alternative product is formulated it will need to be compared with the ‘gold standard’ product, who’s texture analysis fingerprint will have been created as the ideal textural quality. If the new formulation is in any way different to the traditional product’s texture it may well be back to the drawing board. Can you risk launching a new product that doesn’t measure up in every sense?
Palm oil free
Palm oil is an example of an ingredient that is frequently being replaced in food this decade. It is the oil extracted from the fleshy interior layer of the fruit of oil palms and is the most produced vegetable oil in the world. In food manufacture, it is used as a flavour and moisture additive, an emulsifier and a lubricant. However, concerns over child labour, deforestation (and the associated decline in animal populations) and climate change have driven many manufacturers to entirely remove or at least reduce its inclusion in their products, as well as looking to reduce the high saturated fat content it gives to food.
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. Texture Analysis is central to the research and development of products subject to palm oil removal.
How Texture Analysis can help in Free-from Food development
As the hunt for new protein sources, replacers for certain gums, and new texturisers continues, one can expect that these innovations will create additional opportunities for the development of free-from products that do not have compromised sensory qualities. Whilst food developers continue to search for effective solutions that will help create better quality free-from products that will meet the needs of the affected individuals, such innovations and ingredient substitutions require a benchmark in order to compare the effect of any formulation changes.
The value to food manufacturers of accurate and consistent objective measurement of the texture of different foodstuffs has been established for a long time. Now, more than ever, manufacturers are searching for up to date techniques to quantify their products’ attributes accurately and very quickly. Texture analysis possibilities include the measurement of the crispiness of crusty rolls, pizza bases and pastry, the springiness and softness of cakes and muffins and the stickiness of pasta. To be competitive manufacturers will have to respond by developing technically superior, more innovative products, and at a faster rate than their competitors in what is currently considered anyone’s market.
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 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, snacks, or dairy product testing.
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Examples of how Texture Analysers have been applied
There are countless research publications in both academic and industrial settings that use the Texture Analyser as a tool to assess the effects on texture of free-from products. Some examples of the most recent research are listed below.
Free-from research in the bakery industry
Free-from research in the pasta industry
Free-from research in the dairy industry
To read more, request our article Quality control of bakery product texture – traditional, novelty and gluten-free or read our blog post Making up for Texture in Egg Free Food.
Winning the Free-from food development game
Through the production of free-from products, stakeholders of the food industry are striving to serve the needs of consumer as widely as possible with a continuously increasing product range ensuring the right nutrient intake without compromise on textural quality.
For the players in free-from food manufacture 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.
Discover a range of testing options also available for texture analysis assessment of foods reformulated to remove fat, salt and sugar. Visit our Low-in Foods page