Frozen Food Aisle in a Grocery Store

Addressing Texture Challenges in Clean Label Prepared Foods

A ready-made dish that requires simple heating takes the pressure off a busy weeknight, but for an increasing number of consumers, it also must have a homemade character, desirable texture and a clean label.

In North America, several key food trends have significantly grown over the last five years. “According to Innova Market Insights, this category—comprised of products like meal kits, frozen pizzas and skillet meals—has experienced steady growth in product launch activity from 2013 to 2017, with a 2.3 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). Several claims have seen much higher growth during the time frame, with store shelves now showcasing a wide variety of products touting their merits,” said Phil a’Becket, market research analyst, TIC Gums. “Clean label claims are also far outpacing the growth rate of the ready-meal category as a whole.”

The food designer is challenged with understanding what need the product will fulfill for the customer. The product should be defined in terms of what convenience, taste and nutrition it will deliver, and consideration given to how the product will be consumed. “Once we have this framework in place, we can begin to finalize the product’s specific attributes and determine how to deliver them,” said Shiva Elayedath, senior technical service manager, Starch, Cargill.

Maintaining a product’s texture through distribution and shelf life is paramount to the success of any food. A single solution doesn’t exist because each category of prepared foods presents its own challenges.

In the refrigerated sector, moisture tends to separate, causing syneresis (moisture loss) in dairy and meat products. Some products experience a loss of texture.

“In frozen foods, ice crystal growth can ruin the texture of the product,” Elayedath said. “In addition, frozen products often go through freeze-thaw cycles as they move through distribution channels, which can change the texture of the product.” 

Shelf-stable prepared foods typically go through a high heat treatment such as retorting. “As you design these products, it’s important to ensure the product can withstand the process and maintain its texture and flavor throughout its shelf life,” he added.

Historically, these challenges were addressed using modified starches, which have been known as the workhorses of the starch world because they are affordable, reliable and highly functional. While they are designed to stand up to the realities of modern food processing, modified starches don’t align with consumers’ perception of clean label. To label-conscious consumers, the term “modified” suggests processed. On product labels, the word has become tainted, causing developers to seek alternate solutions.

Download INSIDER’s Texture Solutions for Prepared Foods Digital Magazine to continue reading about ingredient and processing solutions for prepared foods.

Cindy Hazen has more than 25 years of experience developing seasonings, dry blends, beverages and more. Today, when not writing or consulting, she expands her knowledge of food safety as a food safety officer for a Memphis-based produce distributor. She can be reached at cindyhazen.com

 

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