You have an idea for a new food product – your friends think its great and you have never seen anything like it on the market. You want to manufacture it but have absolutely no idea where to begin!
You have two choices when faced with this daunting task- you can spend hours and hours figuring out everything from how to start a business, how to find a commercial kitchen or what are the local, state and federal regulations. Or you can hire food industry consultants to help you on the way. It really depends on how much time you have, and how much your time is worth.
Hiring a consultant to guide you on your path is an easy way to bring your product to market. Consultants have experience with co packers, sourcing ingredients and modifying formulas to fit manufacturing parameters. Here are a few things you should know about hiring and working wit a food science consultant:
Keep It Local: Try to find a consultant or a consulting firm that is close to where you live. Face to face meetings, visit to their laboratory/kitchen and group tastings are all great ways to have a good relationship with the consultant and expedite results.
Expect Big Costs: An independent Food science/industry consultant can cost you anywhere from $120 to $300 per hour for their expertise. A consulting firm may cost as much as $5,000 to $50,000 to even begin discussions. There will also be other costs that you need to pay separately like ingredient costs, shipping, lab testing, production runs, and third party analysis (sensory, chemistry, safety)- If you go to a consultant with only $5000 dollars, they will probably not take you on as a client. This is not enough funding to create, develop and manufacture your food product. They may be able to do certain parts of your projects (like you can hire them to JUST find you a co packer or do your nutritional analysis) but always keep in mind that bringing new products to market is expensive. Plan to have at least $25,000 available to spend on research, development and manufacturing.
Be Clear On Budget: Tell your consultant how much you have and how much you can afford to spend. They can figure out the best way to work with your budget, or they may be honest and tell you that they can’t help you without more funding. A moral food scientist will explain the overall costs and big picture expenses that you will have and will want you to have enough to make it through the entire process.
List Specific Deliverables: Be very specific with your consultant about what you want to achieve. If you have kitchen samples you have made, bring them a supply so they can evaluate with you and explain the limitations that may occur down the road. The more specific you are- the better the consultant can assist you.
Understand Capabilities: A food scientist is mostly just that- they are the technical expert- they may not be able to do your marketing, write your business plan, or confirm which flavors will sell best on the market. Make sure you understand what your technical consultant can and cannot do.
NDA’s and Ownership: Make it clear to the consultant that you want to own your own formulas and have them sign an NDA. Most food scientists have no interest in owning or stealing your formula, they create concepts for other people all day long but to be safe and legit, have them sign the NDA and confirm that you will own everything they develop for you.
Bringing a new product to market has many challenges- finding a co-packer, making sure all regulations are followed, using the right equipment and understanding manufacturing limitations are all technical know-how’s that a food scientist deals with on a regular basis. Hiring one will not only save you time but long term money as well. A food scientist will make sure that you don’t violate any regulations (resulting in fines and recalls and damaged reputation)- basically, don’t try to do this by yourself at home-leave it to the experts!
I am so excited about the upcoming Expo West Trade show in Anaheim, California– I can’t wait to walk the miles of aisles all teeming with entrepreneurs who are eager and hopeful about bringing their ideas to market. I love hearing their stories, their successes and their regrets about the path they took to get to where they are- and hearing about their challenges ahead! As a food scientist my job is to help entrepreneurs navigate the confusing food industry waters and figure out the right path and the right order of steps within that path! The more stories of confusion I hear, the more chapters I can add to my E-book The Food Business Tool-Kit for entrepreneurs-How To Research, Develop and Produce A New Food Product to alleviate that confusion!
I want to share a common practice that many entrepreneurs partake in that not only is a waste of time and money but can lead to incorrect assumptions about the food product you want to bring to market. This practice involves trying to develop a product on your own at home without any professional supervision. I am not talking about super early stage creations-sure you can make a few fun batches that represent your “concept” and show it to your family and friends—get some feedback. But it needs to stop there! I have had many entrepreneurs tell me about the months they have spent trying to get their product “just right” and they are ready to go to a manufacturer and make a go for it. When I look at their formula I sadly shake my head and tell them they have a long way to go to make it “commercial ready”. Here are some of the common mistakes that entrepreneurs make when developing products from their home (without professional food science supervision!)
Not Using Industrial Ingredients- Unless you are working with extremely commodity ingredients (sugar, vegetable oil, salt and perhaps water) anything you get from the supermarket is not going to be the same ingredient used at the manufacturing plant. Even something simple like the organic gluten free flour from whole foods- will perform differently in production. When you start using more complicated ingredients like pureed fruit, spices and protein powders – The supermarket brands are not the same, not even close! Spices in the supermarket are not nearly as fresh as what the manufacturer made, fruit purees are often concentrated to various brix levels for consistency and and most protein powders on the market are blended with flavorings and other sweeteners. The solution here is to work with industrial ingredients only. You will have to track down the ingredient suppliers that sell to manufacturers, request samples and work with those ingredients.
Not Using a Proper Scale: I have some sad news… the $25 dollar scale you bought online is not accurate. It usually measures to the nearest gram and in production, those half grams and partial grams are important. Spices and other lightweight items that you weighed out with your inexpensive scale are going to be inaccurate. You may think you weighted out 1 gram of oregano, but it could just as easily have been 1.5, but you will never know because your scale only went out to the 1-gram accuracy. My advice is to spend $300-$500 on a good scale that goes out to the 100th decimal point. So your 1.53 gram of spice weighs out to exactly that.
Relying On Nutritional Information Provided On The Supermarket Label Ingredient: I already mentioned you should not be using supermarket ingredients but for those who are or did, they also tend to rely on that nutritional information on the label. That nutritional label has already been extrapolated down and rounded to match up with the serving size on the package. The FDA regulations have lots of rounding rules that can result in a teaspoon of spice having no calories when actually Oregano has 38 calories per 100 grams and its 9% protein, 69% carbohydrates and 42% fiber. But if you look at a label on a spice jar in the store- it will probably say zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero fiber. Yes, that may be the case for the tiny 3 gram serving that is recommended.
Not Knowing The Process: You can’t really develop a product if you don’t know how it will be ultimately processed. Unless you have millions of dollars and plan to build your own manufacturing plant and bring in special equipment from Italy- chances are the unique process you created by boiling, dehydrating, freezing, crumbling and adding back into your cake is just not going to fly at the manufacturing plant. Food manufacturers are not going to adapt their process to fit your idea unless you plan to pay for those adaptations. Your process needs to reflect the manufacturers process, not the other way around. I recommend that you find your manufacturer first- understand how they make the product and try to simulate your process to match theirs. This can be done by online research, checking out co-packer websites or simply networking and finding a local food scientist or food science university and asking the professors there for some assistance. Don’t assume that your method can be done in mass production (it probably can’t!)
Spending months perfecting your formula in your own kitchen is not an efficient use of time or funding. After a few initial basic prototypes that you show your family and friends, your next steps should be to either contact a food science consultant or find a manufacturer who can guide you through their processing steps so you understand how to create the product in a commercially viable way. If you hand over your homemade recipe with your own fruit concentrates and vanilla flavored protein powder from whole foods your co packer will probably tell you to recreate the formula so it can be made commercially. What does that mean though? It means follow the points I mention in this article.
Rachel Zemser is a food scientist who helps entrepreneurs bring their food products to market. Her website is www.alacarteconnections.com
I spent three days wandering around the winter fancy food show in San Francisco this week! Saw lots of the same old same old (popcorn, chocolate, olive oil, cheese, Italian imports) but like every show, there are always a few unique items and up and coming trends that we hope will make it and hit mainstream!
Tonics are beverages or syrups that are based on traditional or ancient methods for natural self healing. Some interesting products at the show included Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks like Sonoma Syrup, Tuber Tonics and African Bronz Honey Tonic.
Why buy something ready to eat when you can sort of put it together yourself. Lots of DIY (do it yourself) kits at the show for both adults and kids! My favorite was HummisStir– a package containing three shelf stable sterilized packs of chic peas, tahini and dry seasoning- that you blend together with a cute wooden spoon. The hummus wasn’t bad– although it needed some fresh lemon juice in there. Home Cranked Ice Cream Mix eliminates one having to combine their own sugar, cream and milk–the base is right in the box so you can be like professional and dump the mixture into your ice cream machine– press go- and impress everyone with your secret non-blending skills! In the health and wellness DIY space, there are now companies that will sell you their special Kefir starter cultures to make your own Kefir at home! You can also go to Berkeley and just ask around town and someone will probably “gift” you some of theirs but its nice to know there is a reliable clean workable version on the market. And of course Bagels–the company Everything Bagel and Cream Cheese DIY instructs you on how to make both the bagel and the cream cheese.
An Apple Every Day
Apples are showing up more than ever in products from syrups to freeze dried snacks to BBQ sauce. Some examples I saw at Fancy Food show included Gia Russa Buttered Apple Barbecue Sauce and Apple Butter Syrup from Blackberry Patch. Stonewall kitchen was also demo’ing their Apple Cider Syrup.
Better For You Snacks-Naturally
Lots of snacks out there made from ingredients that are “healthy” for you. The definition of healthy of course varies, but according to those who are selling it– includes Chickpeas (Chick Bean Crisps), ProTato Crisps, which combines potato with rice protein to make a protein rich crunchy snack. Ticky Rice Chips which they make by steaming thai sticky rice, soaking it in watermelon (??!!) and then crisping it up so it tastes like the brown bottom of the pan rice that is scraped up. They have 30% less fat than regular potato chips. Also saw Chia Cassava Chips. These products combine both our desire to crunch and snack, but provide us with fiber and protein from the ingredients used.
Decadence Never Dies
The Fancy Food Show would not be what it is without the usual slew of olive oil, chocolate, cheese and other rich not necessarily good for you but tastes great selection! Chocolate products will always be there for us- and this year was no exception. Some unique items included Torn Ranch Chocolate Covered Banana Chips– that are truly “taste inspired”. The chocolate pate from Guthries— AKA “Sin In A Tin”.
The Products We Still Need To Get Used To
Crickets are hot now but we still need to get used to eating bugs as a protein source. Don Bugito has been around for a few years now– helping to increase awareness about bugs– as a protein source.
The Weirdest Product I saw at the 2017 Fancy Food Show
The strangest thing I saw was a beverage called Eggurt– made from fermented egg white. I don’t quite understand the history of this idea (it is not something that is done in other countries, nor is it something that existed in the past) but it tasted good– like a yogurt drink. I did find the masters thesis of a food scientist who developed a very similar beverage in 1978, I wonder if there is a connection!
Energy Bars, Health Bars, Nutrition Bars, Gym Bars—- Mommy Bars, Kid Bars and More! The bar industry is exploding and it seems like anyone who is on the go, wants a bar that fits their specific nutritional needs- and anyone with specific nutritional needs has a bar that they have created and want to bring to market.
Carbs Were Still Ok: Years ago there used to be granola bars—lots of oats, sugar, grains and fruit. They tasted pretty good and it was essentially granola cereal all baked together with sugar. A bar that emerged from the granola era—An era where we used to eat carbohydrates without guilt. Fat was the enemy and granola bars were fat free! Nature Valley comes to mind.
Protein: Then the athletics came in- and they wanted a bar that would fit their workout needs. Thus was born the high protein “Power Bars” with lots of whey protein in there. But we were still anti fat and ok with sugar so the power bars were high in sugar. These no-bake bars were held together by their sugar-glue and were very hard and chewy. Lots of soy and whey pushed into a very small concentrated place. These bars didn’t need to be baked, with all that sugar the low water activity held them all together.
Sugar Alcohol: It then became unpopular to consume carbohydrates and the bar landscape changed. Companies like Quest emerged and replaced the sugar syrups with sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols used to be something that was consumed in small quantities by diabetics- so they could enjoy a small piece of chocolate but now sugar alcohols were being consumed in larger amounts and used to replace most or all of the sugar syrups found in bars.
Soluble Fibers: Sugar alcohols started getting a bad rep because of the gastro-distress they caused. Bar companies turned to soluble fibers like chicory root, inulin, 0ligiosaccharides, prebiotic fiber, soluble corn fiber. There were lots of names and varieties but ultimately it translated to carbs that are not digested.
Fat is Ok: Guess what, we get to eat fats again- and not just olive oil but the stuff that used to be bad for us like saturated fats from coconut oil and palm oil. Remember when the CSPI said coconut oil and saturated fats were bad—well, now we are told its good! The bar market continued to emerge with bars very high in fat like coconut oil, palm oil and MCT (medium chain triglycerides). This was all propelled forward by Dave Asprey and his Bullet Proof Coffee. Now we see bars emerging that are just dripping with oil and fat. This is ok—this is acceptable because there are no carbs, there are healthy fats and all the protein comes from nuts. Of course a bit of sugar is needed to keep it from getting moldy so the soluble fibers and sugar alcohols are used for water activity control.
Soluble Fiber Rules Change: In 2016 the FDA put out their updates including noting that not all soluble fibers would count as dietary fiber on the label. Fibers that count include natural fibers from fruits and vegetables but processed inulin fiber may not count. The FDA says, and I quote:
“The F.D.A. plans to publish a separate notice that will seek comment on the available scientific data on non-digestible carbohydrates. Publicly available clinical trial data will be identified and summarized for non-digestible carbohydrates, including inulin, bamboo fiber, soy fiber, pea fiber, wheat fiber, cotton seed fiber, sugar cane fiber, sugar beet fiber and oat fiber”
Glycemic Index: But what about glycemic index?! That’s the new buzz word in the health bar space. Glycemic index and blood sugar are important and the emerging thought now is, its ok if the carbs are actually GASP* digested- but wouldn’t it be nice if it didn’t’ affect our blood sugar levels! The bars are now high in fat (from nuts and coconut- it’s so great not to have to worry about saturated fat anymore!)
Sugar Is Back– FODMAP friendly bars: We have come full circle with a new bar trend- the latest bar trend uses actual glucose syrup (and in the spirit of keeping it real—let’s all agree that corn syrup, tapioca syrup, brown rice syrup and glucose syrup are all the same thing-just because its not high fructose corn syrup doesn’t mean its healthier) The goal of these bars is to get the FODMAPs, an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, AKA poorly absorbed carbohydrates- that cause severe abdominal pain, bloating, gas and constipation. I shake my head and wonder—how is this different from the very same high protein low fiber, high sugar Powerbars we used to eat so long ago. Its not– its the same concept, with a brand new marketing twist! Powerbar should have marketed their 90’s bar to the FODMAP sensitive people!
Allulose Bars: A new emerging trend on the horizon. Allulose is a natural rare sugar that is created in bulk by enzymatically extracting it from Non-GMO corn. Allulose is not a sugar alcohol and it is not a soluble fiber. It is actually a sugar, you just pee it out. It tastes great, it lowers water activity, it doesn’t cause FODMAP issues. Could allulose be the answer to our prayers? It probably will once consumers can be educated to understand that the sugar from allulose listed on a label doesn’t count – not much anyway. It’s about 0.29 calories per gram. The FDA has some recommended levels on it that may or may not be followed- we don’t really know yet because no one has actually put out any products with allulose—YET! That will change in 2017!
It started with Core Foods (they were doing it back in 2009!) and now we have Perfect Bar– both bars don’t rely on high sugar (or sugar alcohols or soluble fibers) to lower water activity to inhibit mold—because they have the cold refrigerated air to keep the bacteria at bay. What a novel, new and exciting idea—refrigeration! Fresh Food! This emerging bar category is one to keep an eye on! A move away from bars that need some form of sugar (digestible or not) to keep it safe won’t be necessary if we keep it cold. A short shelf life will be involved though!
The energy bar world has evolved and changed over the past 10 years and we are now at a point where the trend is basically to eat and excrete. The less food from that bar that you eat and the more you push out of your body—the more popular the bar becomes. Bar entrepreneurs consider anything that is a fiber or sugar alcohol as not counting towards the net carbs- or they think it’s not going to be digested. (this is not totally true as parts of some fibers are digested –as the FDA is beginning to regulate-but no one really talks about that!)
2017 and Beyond
What kind of bar will be next—I have an idea! How about a RETORT bar— yes, this would be a bar that would be pushed into flexible pouch packaging, heated to 250’F to ensure no botulism and to make the product completely sterile. Water activity won’t be a concern, it won’t need refrigeration and pH won’t matter. It will be like the cans of tuna fish that are now in a pouch- on the shelf. Shelf stable retorted energy bars- you heard it from me first!
“It’s his evident cult of personality that’s most chilling. Tetrick used anti-Big Food, pro-animal rights rhetoric to whip his employees and brand ambassadors into a fervor, and the technique was so successful his shady schemes often went unquestioned.” The New Food Economy 9.23.2016
There has been lots of talk about Hampton Creek, buyback programs and other shenanigans! But as a food scientist I have a few obvious thoughts to point out:
Why was everyone so impressed with the following:
• Vegan spread made from oil and modified food starch and flavorings
• Cookies made from sugar, flour and oil
• Salad dressing made from oil, vinegar, xanthan gum and other commonly used hydrocolloids
These are all common stock food items that have been made by food scientists and mommy bloggers alike across the universe. There is nothing unique, special or new-scientific about these products. The famous pea protein that Josh and his team said was such a game changer- has nothing to do with their functionality- it all comes from the sugar, processed white flour, xanthan gum and modified food starch—ingredients that are seen as “unclean” in this day and age.
Investors: Stop being fooled by start-up entrepreneurs who don’t know a thing about food science or how to develop food products. Just because a 30 something year old hoodie wearing kid tells you that he is going to save all the chickens, doesn’t mean that they know how to actually do it!
Do your homework- crosscheck with real food scientists and stop believing the hype!
Rachel Zemser, Food Scientist (BS, MS, CCS, CFS)
Another IFT has come and gone – as I get older my show navigation skills have improved! I noticed this year that all the long timer booths (like David Michael, Kerry and Tate & Lyle) were located in the same spots on the McCormick floor as last year. I also am really good at finding the best freebie giveaways like the illuminated egg from Okaloosa, the beautiful green t-shirt from the honey board and flashing bracelets from Qualisoy. I should also mention that Qualisoy had a talented artist mold a head out of shortening. Not everyone may have caught this because it was way in the 4000’s aisle!
The real ongoing theme of IFT this year however was every food scientist’s favorite (and least favorite) topic—Clean Label! As a consultant who develops food products for both entrepreneurs and large companies I get frustrated when I am forbidden from using top notch functional ingredients because my client does not understand what it means, and replace it with something that kinda works, but maybe not as well- but comes with a word that is known to mere mortals (aka non-food scientists). Luckily I have ingredient trade shows like IFT and Supply Side West that give me the opportunity to explore and interact with the latest and greatest clean label functional ingredients that I can then introduce to my mortal clients who understand what the word means, and in turn put it on the “ok to use” list.
Ingredient trade shows like IFT and Supply Side link me up with the best clean label alternatives out there! For example—every time I make a dry powder mix (protein shakes, fruit powder sport drinks, pancake mix, cake mix) I need anti caking agents. The most popular anti caking agent is Silicone Dioxide. The scientists of the world know that Silicone comes from quartz and oxygen comes from – the earth. It’s as natural as can be, but to the uninformed mortals they are just eating “chemicals”. Well in come Ribose, a leading organic natural clean label rice based alternative. Their Nu-Flow anti caking agent can be used to replace SiO2 or the even dirtier “Tri-calcium Phosphate” (oh no, not CALCIUM!) with simple “rice concentrate”! Boom! Done! Everyone is happy! I feel safe in knowing my dry blend won’t clump and my clients can breath a sign of relief that no nasty chemicals that will offend their clients will be on their ingredient statement. It’s a win win situation.
Phosphates are very common in the cured meat in industry, used to retain moisture, maintain flavor. They increase the water holding capacity of meat by forcing proteins apart, allowing water to move in between the protein molecules. Most people don’t really know what this word means or how it functions—they don’t want to see it on the label. Luckily I found Prosur’s “PRS PHR”, an innovative clean label solution made out of yeast extracts (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, Pichia Jadinii) and citrus extracts. They have a synergistic effect on the solubilisation capacity of actomyosine, which boosts the water retention of meat in a more natural way. In layman’s terms—this works like a phosphate and translates to an ingredient statement that says: Yeast Extract, Citrus Extract. Yeast and citrus are clean, phosphates to the consumer are not.
TIC Gums is a true leader when it comes to clean label ingredients. Why? First of all, gums were never really un clean to begin with and many have been used for hundreds of years and everyone knows that if our grandmother used it then it must be clean since most people don’t have food science grandmothers. TIC has a great “clean label hydrocolloid” chart that they passed out, reminding food scientists like me that High Methoxyl Pectin can simply be called “Pectin” and Locust Bean Gum can be called “Carob Gum” and the hippies in the 60’s ate Carob instead of chocolate so it must be clean. High Acyl Gellen Gum can be called just “Gellen” gum. Some gums are organic, which translates scary sounding “inulin” to “organic agave or chicory”. Lots of confusion out there in gum world-TIC is there to help us legally relay the truth to the consumer. Unfortunately for ingredients like sodium alginate (AKA Seaweed!) there is no clean label- it is up to the manufacturer to educate their consumer that it is seaweed, organic compliant, non-GMO compliant and on the published whole foods compliance list.
All these companies and more will be exhibiting their functional and clean label alternative solutions to the food scientists that will be attending Supply Side West. I started checking out Supply side several years ago and wasn’t quite sure if it was just herbs, supplements or an up and coming IFT type show. Every year more and more ingredient companies are exhibiting at Supply Side and the show is almost beginning to outgrow the smaller expo exhibit hall in Vegas at Mandalay Bay. In the past I didn’t go to Supply Side very often as I felt it was very supplement and vitamin oriented, but now it’s one of my regular trade shows that I attend. I love that it is in Vegas too—lots of affordable hotels, great restaurants and nighttime entertainment.
This year at IFT there was an eye opening consumer panel called “A Clean Label Revolution”. Random consumers not from the food industry were actually on the stage and sharing their thoughts and feelings about ingredient statements and what they would and would not use. The message was clear—if consumers don’t know what it means or if there is unexplained fear monger attention surrounding it (like carrageenan or GMO’s) then they don’t want to buy it!
Clean label is no longer just a thing for the Whole Foods and artisan crowd- it’s becoming an everyone thing and the food industry needs to start doing a better job of educating the masses on what sodium chloride is and the differences between high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup, or come up with some brand new functional alternatives that have names our grandmother could have lived with. This is what happens when the food industry pretends like our food was made by Friendly Green Giants and Keebler Elves for the last 100 years- and consumers find out that it was actually made in stainless steel tanks in a factory by scientists and engineers. Yes, consumers now know the truth, that food is made in a scientific and methodical way in clean sanitary plants by people that wear hairnets and practice GMP’s. Time to educate, inform and fix it so we can continue to take advantage of past and future food science contributions to the functional ingredient world.
Oh, unrelated to the clean label trend –a few other cool things I saw at IFT this year was a new competitor to Genesis, a less expensive spreadsheet software program for nutritional analysis called Formulator. An edible vitamin cup from DSM and Loliware. Edible food wrap film from Monosol – a transparent, odorless and tasteless film that is biodegradable, dissolves in water reduces environmental waste. There was freeze dried high antioxidant purple corn from Suntava which was used to make energy bars that I ate for breakfast during the show. In the equipment world it’s all about recording results with the blue tooth pH meter from Hanna instruments. This is on my food science consultant wish list along with a not yet on the market but they showed it at Expo anyway—a unit that measures salt, acid, pH and brix all on the same unit from Atago. Can’t wait for this to come out, a must have for any laboratory!
Who said freeze dried fruit powders, foams and sodium alginate balls in fine dining is dead—?! Oops I may have said it a few years ago but clearly I was just thrown off by too much local bay area farm to table natural, untouched and unprocessed farmers market locally grown meals. This years World of Flavors conference reminded me of how much fun food can be and how chefs, especially chefs from Spain, should really have PhD’s in food science with all the research they have done to perfect their freeze dried tomato powder discs with olive caviar sodium alginate balls—AKA “Tomato Polvoron and Arbequina Caviaroli”
I had the amazing opportunity to eat at El Bulli back in 2011, right before it closed. At the time I had mixed feelings about the powders foams and gels on my plate- on the one hand I felt resentful that chefs were getting all the praise just because they were using food science ingredients that had been invented and discovered by the great food scientists of 100 years ago but on the other hand I was in awe of all the artistic food creations that could be made that the food scientist never explored because we were too busy trying to make sure that our salad dressing with xanthan looked as normal as possible in the supermarket. The chefs are artists when it comes to using industrial ingredients to create meals and food scientists are just very dry and practical about the whole thing.
The last few years the farm to table, free range, knowing the origin of the food theme has permeated the bay area like our thick fog! Most dinners are delicious but as Sara Deseran noted in her talk during the “San Francisco A City In Discovery” general session, that elite San Franciscans don’t like their food “messed with”- They like it as natural and recognizable as possible and ideally with no wasted stems, leaves or snouts left behind (that’s gets tossed into the special salad of the day!) I have to say, eating out over the past few years has not been anywhere near as exciting as it was back in the early 2000’s when I would eat tomato salads with ice cream vinaigrette dressing at Coi and edible paper at Moto (Chicago). If I want to eat a plate of beautiful sliced heirloom tomatoes, I may as well pick them up myself at the local farmers market! The Natural food movement is tasty but…well.. it’s kinda boring. How long can we talk about the life that our chicken had, before it ended up on the plate.
But my experience at World of Flavors reminded me just how fun the early 00’s were, and I was amazed at the creativity of chefs Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casanas and the demonstrations we saw based on the dishes from the restaurant “Disfrutar” (to enjoy) in Barcelona. These chefs used to work in the El Bulli kitchen and have the right skill, creativity and imagination to create dishes that are a beautiful blend of natural and non-existent in nature- at the same time. For example, how about that dish where they melted down gelatin and then reformed it into penne pasta—and then covered it in sauce and served the clear glassy penne with a creamy sauce. (for a more visual experience watch the video on the CIA livestream here)
How come I didn’t think of that—! Because molecular gastronomy, as it is incorrectly called, should really be called the artistic, creative fun and completely not productive uses of functional industrial food ingredients. Exactly the opposite of what food scientists do with those very same ingredients.
I was also very excited to see that exotic freeze dried ingredients on display—being sold in packages to chefs—but not the unexciting freeze dried peas and corn that we find in our instant cup of soup. Companies are now selling half slices of passion fruit and cherry tomatoes. Freeze drying is experiencing a brand new wave of existence in the U.S. with the recent introduction of the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer- chefs and soccer moms can make their own freeze dried foods at home.
If you didn’t make the conference this year, you should check out all the video footage that is available, for free from the CIA website. Starting with this 3-minute highlight of the show—you can almost experience the entire show from beginning to end thanks to Rich’s Food and Unilever Food Solutions—the very generous sponsors!
I get calls from lots of start up companies asking me how they can keep their label “clean” and ensure that their product has no preservatives, is all natural and uses fresh local ingredients—oh and they also want it to be affordable and shelf stable too!
Everyone wants their product to hit all the current trend buttons (natural, clean label, locally sourced, GMO Free, Organic) – but sometimes you have to compromise in order to ensure that you are creating something that is both safe and affordable- and it also helps to understand that just because something sounds like it is not natural, doesn’t mean that it isn’t!
Lets start with mold inhibitors- anyone who wants their somewhat moist baked good to last on the shelf is going to have to keep the fuzzy stuff at bay –and there are a wide variety of natural and synthetic versions. Potassium sorbate for example is a great yeast and mold inhibitor that is inexpensive and works in a wide variety of pH’s and food bases- it’s not natural but it does the job! Sodium benzoate is also cheap, synthetic and keeps the bad bacteria at bay! There are more natural options that you can use- and they are called cultured dextrose- (sold locally by Mezonni Foods http://www.mezzonifoods.com/) – It’s a cleaner label bacteria inhibitor that is created via fermentation of milk and sugar with probiotic organisms and works in a wide variety of applications like salad dressings and cured meats, soups and dairy products. They cost more but allow you to maintain a “natural” statement on your label (assuming all other ingredients are natural as well). Of course you can always cook your product (IE canned foods and jarred shelf stable sauces often just rely on heat as a the preservation method-however any thermal process must be approved by your local health inspector and the FDA!) or you can add tons of salt or sugar- those too can inhibit bacteria by lowering the water activity of the product.
What about flavorings? No one in the specialty food industry wants to put artificial flavor in their products and that is understandable but keep in mind that natural flavors are more expensive and less concentrated than artificial so you need to use more of them to get a flavor impact. If you want to flavor up a lemon cake- you may only need 0.02% artificial flavor but would have to use 2 to 3% of a natural flavor to get the same effect—AND that natural flavor is going to cost you more money. So what can you do? You can use a flavor called WONF (with other natural flavors) which is a blend of similar flavors used to make up the flavor you like but at a slightly reduced cost- you can tell your flavor supplier that you want an “off the shelf” flavor that they may already sell to several companies (a stock flavor) that they probably produce in bulk at a cheaper price. Talk to your flavor supplier about options!
Even starches can fall in the natural or not natural category—If a starch is referred to as a “modified food starch” it is not a natural thickener—you need to ask your supplier to provide you with a natural “unmodified” food starch. There are also other ways to thicken a product like via dehydration or evaporation of water—using tomato paste (if your product is tomato based), or experimenting with gums and hydrocolloids. Most hydrocolloids are natural like xanthan, gum Arabic, and gum acacia. Gum supplier websites like TIC (www.ticgums.com) have a wealth of information about gums and to use them to improve everything from particulate suspension to moisture retention in your food products.
There are always natural alternatives in the world of ingredients and it’s just a matter of balancing out what you need with the right price point.
Lets face it, we all love sugar! Not only does it taste great, but it’s incredibly functional providing bulk and structure to baked goods, confections and a multitude of other food products. Sugar is amazing—except that we all need to limit our intake. Sugar leads to diabetes and obesity and cavities and lots of other health problems. Unfortunately this wonderful delicious functional ingredient can only be consumed in small amounts.
There are lots of sugar substitutes out there that can help the nutritional profile of your product but most have drawbacks. High intensity sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit may not have any calories, but they also don’t have any bulk or functional capabilities. Have you ever tried to make a cake out of stevia—not possible! There are also sugar alcohols out there like Sorbitol, Xylitol and Erythritol, which are commonly found in gum and sugar free candy. Consumers need to be careful when eating products that contain sugar alcohol. If you have ever eaten a whole chocolate bar made with sorbitol, you know why—it can cause grumbly stomachs and gas in sensitive consumers.
There are two new exciting sweet ingredients on the market that can help you, the formulator, control sugar in your products but still provide the bulk you need to create those products! You may have seen the word Chicory Root Fiber, Inulin or the scarier sounding “Oligiosaccharide” on labels of food products that have a nice dose of fiber. All of these ingredients are in the same family of “prebiotics”. Prebiotics are a category of functional fiber ingredients that stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial “good” bacteria in the colon. Most prebiotics come in both syrup and powder form and have less than 3% glucose. The powder form is typically around 95% fiber and the syrup, which is a blend of the powder and water- is around 70%. They both have a light sweet taste (about 50-60% of sucrose). Prebiotics essentially can be used to replace all or part of the sugar in your formula with fiber. Your carbohydrate content can stay the same, but your grams of sugar are now grams of fiber and your product will have a lower glycemic index. You can call it “dietary fiber” on your label and educate your consumer on the benefits of prebiotics in their food. The company Vita Fiber (bioneutra.ca) sells prebiotic fiber in retail sized containers or in 25 KG containers. It can be used in candy, granola, beverages, trail mix and anything that could have or would have contained sugar. Manufacturers take note- like with all fiber products, some consumers may be sensitive to large quantities consumed in one sitting. Make sure your portion sizes have no more than 5 or 6 grams of “dietary fiber” per serving.
The second ingredient worth exploring is a bit more complex and difficult to procure and it has some development restrictions. Allulose is a brand new sugar replacement on the market that virtually no one is using… yet! Allulose is a very low calorie (0.39 calories per gram) sugar that tastes exactly like sugar, because it is! It official sugar name is D-Psicose, and it is one of the many different sugars that exists in nature in very small quantities. It was first identified in wheat and has since been found in corn, figs and raisins. It is a monosaccharide (simple sugar) that is recognized as a carbohydrate and absorbed by the body but is not metabolized, so it is essentially calorie free and has no impact on blood glucose levels. Allulose is not yet available in supermarkets but manufacturers can order it directly and use it in moderate amounts in their food product creations. Allulose has received Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status from the FDA. There are two companies that sell allulose- Tate &Lyle and a non-GMO version from The Anderson Global Group.
Prebiotic fibers and D-Psicose are both great ways to reduce sugar, increase fiber and help consumers manage their glucose response. Unlike high intensity sweeteners like monk fruit and stevia, which must be used in combination with maltodextrins, these two ingredients already have bulking capacity and can provide the function you need without the calories or sugar.