According to the International Taste Institute, taste drives 88% of F&B consumer purchase intent, making it the most important attribute for food and beverage products’ success and overshadowing other considerations like price, health and convenience. Yet taste, as the palate perceives it, is not merely a combination of aroma and flavor.
A significant part of the perception of flavor is found in trigeminal sensations, including texture. In many cases of product development, while a general flavor is desired, only when the texture—the base—of a product is finalized can developers fine-tune flavor. Essentially, as with aroma, flavor and texture are in many products inextricably intertwined. An expected buttery, flaky croissant would be perceived as terrible if it had the texture of a fudgy brownie, no matter how identical the flavor.
Texture’s influence on flavor has become especially critical in recent years with the abundance of plant-based analogs of products such as meat, milk, cheese, and eggs. In these products, manipulations of texture (and aroma) are critical to mimicking the overall experience of their animal-derived counterparts.
Video courtesy of: Getty Images / Farknot_Architect
By JOSEPH LIGHT, Contributing Ingredient Technology Editor
Fibers and starches, fats, and protein all contribute their unique properties to create complex textures within formulations and even outside them as coatings. Photo courtesy of: Functional Products Trading SA/Benexia
Ingredients imparting texture come from nearly every category: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as whole foods such as nuts, dried fruits, baked and extruded items, and confectionery. Adding a crunchy-sweet counterpoint of toasted coarse sugar to soft and flaky pie crust or the soft and springy surprise of a marshmallow in a crispy cookie changes the entire dynamic of a dessert.
On a more fundamental level, emulsifiers and stabilizers, including hydrocolloids and lipids, are used throughout the food and beverage industry to add texture and structure. Ingredient technologists are constantly mining new sources for novel ingredients to accomplish such tasks and even add subtly unique qualities and benefits.
Lipids are key texturants for adding succulent mouthfeel and smoothness in sauces and spreads. Lipids also are important textural components in plant-based foods such as dairy analogs. While oils from grains, nuts, and seeds have provided a variety of lipid options, legumes have a long tradition of serving in this capacity–think: soy lecithin.
Toffee is an excellent example of the complexities of texture, involving the hard-crack caramelization of sugar, meltingly soft chocolate, and a crunchy-chewy toasted nut coating. Photo courtesy of: Amelia Toffee Company, LLC
Among legume sources, beans from the genus Pongamia pinnata (also called Millettia pinnata), are drawing attention for their flavor and texture attributes and high sustainability. Pongamia is a regenerative legume tree with a history as a reforestation species that is expanding into mainstream agriculture.
The large clusters of bean pods that hang from the branches of the trees are nutritious and are made into a golden-colored, buttery rich cooking oil. It’s a mid-oleic oil, which places at the healthier end of the dietary lipids spectrum compared to animal fats; yet it also has some saturated fat levels for added functionality and a high smoke point.
Pongamia has a unique blend of saturated fats, which gives it an indulgent mouthfeel. Chefs describe pongamia culinary oil as tasting like ghee with a “finish” of extra virgin olive oil. The oil’s smoke point of 437°F makes it excellent for frying and sautéing.
Photo courtesy of: iSense Flavor Hub, AG
A standout feature of pongamia oil is that it is solid at refrigerated temperatures and has a slow melt curve to liquid at room temperature. This means that it can be used to improve the texture and mouthfeel of buttery spreads, mayonnaise, sauces, plant-based milks and creamers, or dressings, among various applications. It also could add richness to confections.
Pongamia trees are resilient, require low inputs, and yield up to five times the amount of beans per acre as soy. Such abundant yields broaden access to healthier and eco-friendlier foods for the world’s growing population. The oil is far more sustainable than conventional palm oil or soy, the cultivation of which generates a net release of greenhouse gases. A pongamia orchard can capture 115 metric tons of carbon per acre over a 30-year productive lifetime, which makes it the most sustainable commercial source of vegetable oil on earth.
Fibers, gums, and starches have been mainstays of texture. Their ubiquity in all plants means there are unlimited sources, with new ones regularly coming to market. A noteworthy recent entry is sourced from maple and is an unusual, yet highly functional version of cellulose. It is differentiated from traditional cellulose powder for food because it has a distinct particle size and shape, and thus specific benefits.
The combination of preparation technique, inclusions, and toppings can create a multitextured product that gives a complete organoleptic experience. Photo courtesy of: Yips Snacks, LLC
The new maple fiber is crafted through a patented process that takes plant materials that would otherwise be thrown away and treats the biomass with water under specific supercritical conditions–the perfect combination of temperature, pressure, and time. The cellulose is delignified without the use of any chemicals (which also allows for a clean-label designation) and is converted into a hydrogel that can appear on an ingredient declaration as “water and maple fiber.”
The water-cellulose matrix has powerful multifunctionality. It acts as an emulsifier, texturant, and humectant, applying these benefits to many different applications. While the fiber does not deliver much viscosity to finished products on its own, synergies with xanthan gum, guar gum, and methylcellulose give sufficient viscosity and reduce the amount of the matrix necessary to achieve texture goals.
Lipids synergize taste and texture, carrying and distributing flavor and conforming texture to control the release of flavor on the palate. Photo courtesy of: TerViva Bioenergy, Inc.
The delignified maple fiber offers significant potential in baked goods because it can often provide the aforementioned three benefits—emulsification, texture, and humectancy—in one product. Texture analysis evaluating freshness of bakery products revealed that maple fiber could extend product freshness by at least 20%. It can also replace eggs in certain recipes to reduce cost or enable a vegan claim. When replacing eggs in a baked product, the recommendation is to use the fiber at around 25-30% of the amount of egg being removed. The balance can be made up with water.
Gums remain at the top of the texturizer list, especially gum acacia. It is natural and completely soluble in formulations. Acacia also is odorless, flavorless, and highly versatile, able to be used in nearly any type of food and beverage applications to add support and texture. As a typically organic, vegan, non-GMO ingredient, acacia has been generating renewed attention for its health benefits due to its function as a highly soluble dietary fiber.
Consumers favor foods that have an ultra-rich and creamy texture. Such textures can replicate the mouthfeel of fats, without the guilt of high fat content. But creating premium mouthfeel in low-fat and low-calorie products without impacting expected organoleptic characteristics comes with formulation and processing challenges. These typically express as thin and watery textures and a lack of mouthfeel and body.
Potato starch has a long tradition of use for its excellent texturizing abilities and clean, neutral taste. Ingredient technology has taken this humble starch and advanced it into new instant, modified potato starches. Such new starches have increased functional benefits that allow product developers to design the indulgent experience consumers want while delivering cost savings.
Twenty percent of the potato is a native starch with high water-binding capacity, thus providing increased viscosity. This new potato starch can improve yield and juiciness in meat products, control melt and stretch in cheese products, enhance crispiness in batters and breadings, and improve overall product appearance and mouthfeel.
The new instant starch helps eliminate cooking and shortens processing times. In addition to helping control texture, this also allows food manufacturers to save energy, time, and equipment costs while realizing higher production rates. From a marketing and labeling standpoint, potatoes are consumer-friendly, being familiar and readily accepted. They also are gluten-free.
The large size of the potato starch granules produces high viscosity compared to other starch bases, benefitting formulators. It enables a reduction of ingredients, such as fats/oils, by 25-30%, depending on the application, and without significant impact on texture. With the opportunity to reduce ingredient use, waxy potato starch can help improve the nutritional label by lowering calories. The new modified starch is also ideal for keto and zero/reduced-fat applications.
Creating texture is not always a single-track effort. Many developers will bring multiple texture components into a single application, such as with a combination of starches or fibers within the matrix and an outer breading or coating. Or they might combine inclusions and processing technique to attain complementary textures.
Photo courtesy of: ReGrained, Inc.
An example of the latter strategy is the recently released snack Yips Yogurt Chips, by Yips Snacks, LLC. “When you bite into a Yip, first you get the dry crunchiness, then it starts to melt in your mouth and the creamy Greek yogurt with sweet honey and tangy fruit take over,” explains Erin Vranas, founder and “head Yipster” of the company. “Because all moisture has been removed through our special freeze-drying process, Yips flavors develop slowly on the palate as the chip is reconstituted by moisture in the mouth. The experience finishes with the flavor of smooth, rich chocolate from studs of chocolate chips throughout. It’s the perfect balance of textures that bring out the flavor and make taste buds smile.”
Eggs, an original provide lecithin, fat, and protein to give structure and texture to a range of foods and beverages. Photo courtesy of: American Egg Board
While most non-liquid yogurt products end up destroying the live cultures in exchange for texture, Yips manages to preserve the probiotic value in the chips. “We dry our chips using a specific method of lyophilization, that is, freeze drying,” says Vranas “The probiotics in our yogurt are preserved by rapid blast-chilling, then sublimation where moisture in the product transitions directly from an icy solid to a gaseous state in a controlled low-pressure environment. The probiotic bacteriae are then reactivated in the mouth.”
Chia is an essential ingredient in Yips Yogurt Chips. “The seeds absorb roughly 10 times their weight in water, creating a gel membrane around the seed,” continues Vranas. “This helps provide the structure and crunch in our chips. Working with the seeds is a delicate, time-sensitive game. With too much chia our mixture solidifies before we can pour and spread it flat to dry. If we take too long in our process, the mixture also solidifies. Chia’s texture and flavor will change tremendously depending on how it is processed. If the seed is broken in blending, or if too little chia is used, the chip’s final texture will be chalky, crumbly, and structurally weak. The process is both a science and a dance.”
Packaging is an often unsung ingredient in texture. Since freeze drying removes about 98% of moisture content, the yogurt chips will immediately begin reabsorbing moisture from the air upon leaving the vacuum chamber. Vranas turned to resealable mylar packaging to ensure the chips remains moisture-free. “We also recommend consumers eat their Yips right away or reseal the package immediately after opening and store in a cool, dry place,” she adds.
Novel fermentation-based protein foods will soon be available. These are created based on brewing a microbe (from the microbiome of a typical herbivore) in a broth of plant-based sugars to feed their growth. The protein manufacturing process does not require a time intensive and costly extraction step from a whole-food source like animal or plant-based concentrates or isolates.
With this process, a single-cell protein can be produced in hours, thus making production more affordable and sustainable. The feedstock is a low-cost industrial byproduct, which makes for a very affordable protein. The result is a creamy, white, neutral-flavored protein with a complete essential amino acid profile. Quantities-per-serving typically match whey and casein isolates.
Technologists working with this process have been developing a variety of applications, including protein powders, RTD beverages, dairy analog spreads and cheeses, and meat analogs, with more applications in the pipeline. The brewed protein can be appealing to flexitarians, vegans, and environmentally conscious consumers who want to reduce their dairy and meat consumption.
A single tablespoon serving of fermented protein powder is high in vitamins B12 and riboflavin, as well as iron. This nutrition density helps consumers, particularly vegans, achieve daily nutrition with cleaner-label, naturally sourced products. Functionality studies have demonstrated the protein’s versatility in replacing certain gums and stabilizers, and thus offering an alternative clean label substitute. FDA GRAS status is expected later this year. PF
Joe Light is the retired Vice President of Global Development & Ingredient Technology for Ingredion, Inc., and a career veteran at finding and developing innovative food ingredients and solving complex formulation problems. As founder of the Food Loving Ventures, LLC consultancy, Light is advising multiple start-ups in the commercialization of their technologies. Reach him through this address: www.linkedin.com/in/joelightfoodlovingventures.