Bakery goods brand Urban Legend has developed a new ‘healthier’ type of doughnut: one lower in sugar, saturated fat, and calories, than others on the market.
For founder Anthony Fletcher – former CEO of snacks brand Graze (acquired by Unilever in 2019) – the doughnut allows for more ‘responsible indulgence’ amid the UK’s obesity crisis.
Taking the ‘junk’ out of junk food
Globally, overweight and obesity are on the rise. Obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, and according to 2016 figures, over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese.
According to Fletcher, consumers are finding it too hard to change their eating habits. “With the obesity debate so far, too much emphasis has been placed on the consumer changing how and what they eat rather than the food industry finding solution to improve their products,” he told FoodNavigator.
Therefore, the Urban Legend founder argued, ‘novel solutions’ are required to ‘take the junk out of junk food’. “That’s what led me to launch Urban Legend,” he explained, “taking one of the most indulgent bakery products you can buy and reinventing the way it’s made so that’s healthier.”
Fletcher’s solution is a doughnut free from artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colours, and flavourings. Rather, the start-up uses colours extracted from flowers, plants, and vegetables.
The yellow colouring, for example, comes from safflower, and red colouring is extracted from beetroot.
What is particularly interesting about the company’s new doughnuts, however, is its ‘setting technique’, which is used to replace prolonged deep fat frying.
Reinventing the doughnut
To begin with, Fletcher teamed up with ‘leading UK scientists’ including Dr Chris Holland, senior lecturer in natural materials at Sheffield University.
Together, they developed a patented manufacturing process using novel starch and protein technologies that allows dough to be ‘set’ by a beam of steam, rather than the conventional frying method.
While Fletcher was hesitant to reveal too much about this new process, he did say that typically, steaming dough results in a ‘soggy mess’. “However, by changing the nature of the starch and proteins used, you can achieve that doughy texture,” we were told.
The team also mapped out the ‘mechanical’ properties of a conventional doughnut along 14 dimensions. “This includes toughness, elasticity cleavage, gel strength, and sheer relaxation of icing,” Fletcher explained.
By using ‘techniques normally used in the study of advanced materials’, they were able to replicate the taste, texture, and smell of a doughnut. “For instance, we deposit a micro layer of fat on the outside of the doughnut, retaining the taste and texture of a deep fat product with barely any saturated fat being added to the product.”
Sugar alternatives discovered in melons, pears, roots and leaves have also been included in the formulation.
The result is a doughnut with -57% less sugar, -52% less saturated fat, -44% less fat, and -36% fewer calories compared to ‘a premium market leader’. Specifically, each doughnut contains less than 160 calories.
Urban Legend’s range has no ‘red traffic lights’ under the UK Government’s labelling scheme and is considered high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) compliant.
The doughnuts are launching into Urban legend’s own store in Brighton, UK, and the start-up has plans to partner with online delivery businesses to reach larger audiences.
Urban Legend has also set up a test kitchen in London where it will work on new iterations of the product. “The vision is to expand the techniques to also encompass other baked goods.”