Fat, sugar and texture: ‘It’s always a question of compromise’

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

What compromises are manufacturers willing to make to improve texture in low sugar and low fat foods?
What compromises are manufacturers willing to make to improve texture in low sugar and low fat foods?

Related tags: Sugar, Nutrition, Food

Reducing fat and sugar brings major textural challenges – and for food and drink makers it is always a matter of compromise, according to head of food innovation at Leatherhead Food Research Dr Wayne Morley.

The most common solutions for adding texture back into a reduced fat or reduced sugar product are still hydrocolloids and starches, for gelling and thickening, and increasing viscosity in the water phase, Morley says, and fibres, such as those from citrus, are also commonly used to add texture.

“Both fat and sugar contribute quite a lot to bulk and mouthfeel and product developers are well aware of that,”​ he told FoodNavigator. “The trend to reduce fat and sugar is obviously going to continue. …With any formulation, it is always a question of compromise.”

There are relatively few novel texturizing ingredients emerging, he says, but suppliers have modified their processes in recent years to provide more robust ingredients with greater functionality, like improved stability in acid conditions or improved heat stability.

“Texture is one of the key organoleptic characteristics of all food products. For some products texture is very important and if texture is seen to be deteriorating then consumers won’t buy it.

“Whether it is just the mouthfeel in a beverage or giving the crunch in a biscuit […] the key thing is that when the product is consumed that it breaks down sufficiently in the mouth to release flavour.”

But texture in reduced fat and sugar products is not necessarily about tricking consumers into thinking that they have the same bulk and mouthfeel as full fat or full sugar foods.

“In many cases consumers don’t notice a difference – or they do notice a difference but they quite like it,” ​he said. “…There is a level of compromise that manufacturers are prepared to make.”

Areas of compromise may include shelf life, stability in processing, and even cost, he said.

Morley added that in the past, food manufacturers had increased sugar content in some products to improve texture when reducing fat, meaning that some ‘low fat’ foods were just as high in calories as the regular versions.

However, following a flurry of media attention, he said “I don’t think they are doing that anymore.”

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