Reformulation rethink in cutting calories gives taste of success

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Nestle's commitment in 2013 saw the amount of saturated fat contained in its Kit Kat bar decrease to 6.4g from 7.2g.©iStock/robtek
Nestle's commitment in 2013 saw the amount of saturated fat contained in its Kit Kat bar decrease to 6.4g from 7.2g.©iStock/robtek

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acids, Food industry, Nutrition

As obesity levels continue to rocket in Europe, food industry efforts in reformulating popular foods to reduce fat, salt and sugar levels are making inroads but are unlikely to provide a complete solution. FoodNavigator talks to experts on some of the technical challenges of reformulation.

Changing the composition of food is by no means an easy task. The food industry has looked to a range of approaches that have included the use of structured lipids and/or blending of oils to reduce a food’s fat content.

The addition of low energy ingredients such as fruits and vegetables or the addition of dietary fibre wholegrain, water and even air to reduce sugar content has been experimented with to various successes.

“There are different approaches for calories reduction in food, and these highly depend on the application,”​ explained Dr Leslie Kleiner, R&D project coordinator in Confectionery Applications at Roquette.

“In confectionery, for example, sugar reduction can be achieved by means of sugar replacement with sugar alcohols for sugar-free or reduced sugar confections.  Fibre may also be used to reduce sugar and gain value added.

In other applications, it may make better sense to partially reduce sugar and fat. If reducing fat content, starches can aid with mouthfeel of the product.”

‘Taste matters to consumers’

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'Fats and oils may also be tailored to contain nutritional added value,' said Dr Leslie Kleiner. ©iStock

Kleiner touches upon one of the main barriers in reformulation that arise from reducing the very elements that give food its taste and texture.

As well as determining flavour, salt, fat and sugar greatly influence the character and strength of other flavours as well as product texture.

Taste matters to consumers. This is of course important to food manufacturers too, who have to compete for market share.

According to food and drink industry advisors Campden BRI, uneven distribution of salt and sugar in the product can in certain cases increase the perceived intensity of the flavour.

In particular the effects of fat on product texture and flavour are more complicated to overcome. Efforts to improve the situation remain elusive but promising.

“Fat provides a unique mouthfeel that in some applications can be mimicked by other ingredients of lower caloric value, such as starches,”​ explained Kleiner. “However, flavour can be maintained or improved using a variety of ingredients.

“Fats can be developed to contain lower saturated fatty acid content while providing similar functionality to traditional fats. Fats and oils may also be tailored to contain nutritional added value.

By using enzymatic technology, oils can be tailored  to contain higher contents of omega-3 fatty acids (such as EPA and DHA); these 'structured lipids' can then be used as ingredients in other food products and increase exposure to omega-3 fatty acids in the Western diet. 

“I believe that currently the fats and oils industry has much to offer in terms of healthier fats and solutions for various food applications, and there are further drastic innovations along the way.”

Shelf life

An additional challenge when reformulating products brings into focus a reduction in shelf life.  Salt and sugar are effective in inhibiting the activity of water in foods, restricting microbial growth.

Sugar and fat are known inhibitors of moisture build up in baked goods.  In addition, hard fats can restrict oxidation activity in foods. If necessary, sugar can hide unwanted flavours of oxidation products.

These ingredients also greatly influence changes that occur during food processing.  Fat and sugar for example affect aeration and consistency of cake batter and biscuit texture.

Victims of their own success

All these gains the food industry have made in reformulating popular products appear to be a double-edged sword as manufacturers now look to deal with the challenge of raised consumer expectations.

The launch of Nestlé’s reformulated Kit Kat chocolate bar in 2013 accompanied claims the product would eliminate 3,800 tonnes of saturated fat from the public’s diet.

Last year Coca-Cola UK vowed to reformulate its Coke Zero product to taste more like the original Coca-Cola, but without the sugar content.

Retail giant Tesco followed suit with efforts to remove 32 tonnes of saturated fat from products such as breadsticks. Fellow UK supermarket Morrisons also vowed to reformulate its spreads range to reduce saturated fat.

These efforts are the culmination of years of food research and development, a point Dr Kleiner thinks needs to be emphasised more to the public.

When asked whether there was a need to educate the consumer as to the realities of these products in order to manage expectations, Dr Kleiner said: “Yes, it is imperative.”​ 

“Progress in food science hinges on developments on nutritional and health sciences. On the other hand there is ample coverage of the connection between food and health, which is popularised and not always science-based.

“So, it behoves the food industry to educate the interested press on the rationale for food formulation and ingredient usage, in order to reach the consumer.”

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