A wave of demand from consumers and policy makers has seen the food industry put great effort into reducing the levels of sodium (salt), fat, and sugars in processed foods.
From using sensory ‘tricks’ such as adding additional aromas to products, structuring food systems to increase perception, or altering the way the ingredient is structured to provide get a better effect with lower quantities – the industry has employed a number of techniques to reduce the use of ‘unhealthy’ ingredients without impacting taste or consumer preference.
But could the industry be missing a trick by not utilising the same technological nous to reducing the need for other ingredients such as expensive flavours or colours?
Speaking previously with FoodNavigator Dr Wayne Morley, head of food innovation at Leatherhead Food Research said using technological solutions employed for the reduction of salt and sugar ‘could, and should’ be used to reduce levels of other ingredients in foods, and could help to better formulate foods containing delicate natural or functional ingredients.
“It’s my belief that natural ingredients, and other delicate ingredients can also be subjected to the same kinds of technology to make sure the ingredient that you are using are fully active and functionally available,” said Morley.
“For example, if you used the same technology as for salt reduction, but with a flavour, then you could use a lower level of the flavour,” he said.
“I think the food industry has spent a lot of time and effort on reducing salt fat and sugar, because they are undesirable and consumers are demanding healthier foods,” Morley said.
The innovation expert explained that while some reduction strategies employ the use of ‘like for like’ replacements, many tools have simply tried to do more with less of the ingredient.
By making an ingredient more available in the food, the amount of it you do have is able to ‘do more work’, he says.
“We know that if you making a dry product and you make the salt of sugar crystals smaller then you get an enhanced perception in the mouth," said Morley. “Therefore you can use lower levels of those ingredients but still get the same sensory performance.”
These techniques can also be used to cut down the need for expensive flavours, colours and other expensive or volatile commodities
For example the use of duplex emulsion technologies could help to boost the perceived flavour in a food product while actually containing less of the ingredient.
“Double emulsions technology has been around for a long time, and there have been a lot of attempts made to use them for salt or fat reductions, but the technology could be of great benefit to other areas like natural colours or for encapsulating bioactives,” said Morley.
All hot air?
With such a strong focus on cutting costs, Morley also suggests industry might be missing a trick by throwing away one free and natural ingredient without ever considering its potential: Air.
“Air is well known for its uses in things like mousses and cream and a whole range of other products, but I think in those cases it’s obvious that the air is present because you can see the air bubbles,” Morley told us.
“But, I think that using air more as a functional ingredient at a fairly small level has potential – maybe in a situation where the consumer doesn’t know it’s there,” he said indicating that the use of air or other gasses at small levels – of around 5% by volume – “can be used to alter the texture and flavour delivery of foods.”
“Of course as an ingredient air is free – though you might need some technology to incorporate the air in an efficient manner.”