Pizzas are amongst the most poplar convenience foods around the world, and may be regarded as a quick and cheap meal option. Consumers in Europe and the Middle East chop their way through some 900,000 tons of pizza per year, and the market grew by 23 per cent between 2002 and 2007.
But the cheese topping on a pizza can make up around 15 per cent of the overall recipe cost, so a sudden change in the price of cheese can leave manufacturers with higher input costs.
“In order to protect their margins, manufacturers have traditionally had to choose between raising pizza prices, limiting portion sizes, or using a blend of different cheeses depending on their current market value,” said Fabien Bouron, a senior dairy applications specialist at Cargill.
To get around this problem, Cargill has developed a new functional system called Lygomme ACH Optimum. Made from three starches, a galactomannan and a gelling carrageenan, it is said to allow for imitation or processed cheeses (analogues) that contain no dairy proteins at all – and are therefore immune to price rises.
Although there has been a movement towards replacing real cheese with analogue cheese in the past, the level of protection against rising prices is limited, since they still typically include around 15 per cent dairy proteins (alongside other elements like water, starch, flavours, citric acid and salt).
Vegetable proteins like soy can only be used as part replacers for caseins because of functional and sensorial differences; starches and hydrocolloids, meanwhile, have an impact on the cheese structure.
Cargill claims its new system gives the same taste, texture and appearance as processed cheese based on dairy proteins – and these attributes are said to be similar to real hard cheeses like gouda, cheddar or gruyere, too.
Importantly, it is “not liable to price volatility”. Even when dairy prices are low, it is said to bring a 60 per cent reduction in costs compared to a standard analogue cheese.
In addition to pizzas, the analogues can also be used for hamburgers and other sandwiches.
The complete removal of all dairy elements allows pizza manufacturers to make some claims that tap into some of the pressing trends in foods, too.
For instance, the absence of dairy ingredients means a product can be declared lactose-free or suitable for vegans.
It can have no or reduced saturated fat, which real cheese is rich in (as well as other nutrients); and it can be allergen-free and Kosher or Halal certified.
Cargill’s newest ingredient has been shortlisted for an award in the Dairy Innovation category at the FIE trade show, taking place in November in Frankfurt.