Dips Get Hip
By Scott Hegenbart
Senior Technical Editor
For many consumers, hand-held foods or snacks just aren’t complete unless accompanied by some sort of dip or dipping sauce. In fact, according to a survey from the Atlanta-based Association for Dressing & Sauces (ADS), U.S. consumers are eating more dips than ever and engage in dipping on a weekly basis. To meet this increasing demand, product designers have to balance flavor innovation with product stability when creating new dipping sauces.
Going for a dip
Many foods are enhanced when accompanied by a sauce. The habit of dunking food into a flavorful sauce is a centuries-old habit that crosses cultural boundaries. Why the recent upsurge? The ADS survey says consumers like to dip both for fun and flavor. In addition, the survey points out that dipping is more popular among younger people and that families make up a large part of the dipping public. Of the parents polled, 22% said they use dips as a way to get their children to eat their vegetables. But a dip is an enticement to more than just kids.
“People are cutting back on burgers and fries, so they’ll bring carrots or celery along with something in which to dip these vegetables to work,” says Bob Kendall, director of cold-water-swelling products, National Starch and Chemical Co., Bridgewater, NJ.
Kendall adds that significant developmental activity is taking place with dips designed for away-from-home eating. Both fast-food and full-service casual restaurants, for example, enhance the appeal of appetizers by centering them around a unique dip of some sort. Even sports stadiums offer much more than the expected ketchup/mustard/ relish condiments.
“Go to any stadium, and, depending on the region, you’ll find cheese sauces, honey mustard or salsa being offered for items such as french fries,” says Kendall.
Moving beyond the actual foodservice setting, dips now also allow consumers to incorporate flavors from their favorite restaurants into the foods they prepare at home. Lynn Dornblaser, North American editorial director for Chicago-based Mintel, points out how the Fuddrucker’s burger chain has lent its name to a line of sauces sold at both the chain’s restaurants and in supermarkets. The line includes Peppered Peanut Sauce, Horseradish Red Sauce, Green Amazon Hot Sauce, Habanero Hot Sauce, and Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce. In addition to adding flavor variety, the sauces also are designed to be multipurpose and can be used for grilling, dipping, or even as salad dressings.
Turning up the flavor
Consumers’ continuing interest in ethnic variety of the foods they eat is another driving force behind dipping sauce expansion. For instance, an existing product concept easily acquires ethnic appeal with the addition of a flavored dip instead of reformulating the entire product.
“With regard to flavor, the trends we see are for more highly seasoned and ethnic flavors, particularly Latino,” says Cozy Helm, vice president, research and development, Wixon Fontarome, St. Francis, WI. Helm adds that in addition to the traditional various mustards, sweet and sour and barbecue sauces, popular flavors to include are: peanut; Cajun seasonings (especially for shrimp); salsas, including fruit salsas such as mango and cranberry; orange; lemon; and chipotle by itself and in combination with garlic, cilantro, lime and ranch.
“Our tastes are changing in the U.S.,” says Kendall. “We’re more willing to have more potent types of products.”
Besides using more potent flavors, more products are mixing sweet and savory together. “Another thing we’re seeing is that manufacturers are focusing their products more specifically to children or adults, rather than one for all,” says Kendall. “For children, we’re seeing sweeter products or more novelty items. For example, you might see something that’s dairy-based with colored cookie crumbs. Whereas for the adults, you’ll see something hotter — such as incorporating wasabi.”
Examples of how exotic some dips have become can be found at G & G Foods, San Francisco, CA. According to Mintel’s Global New Product Database (GNPD), the company now offers a line of dips under its Meza brand with unique combinations such as Curry Crab, Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta and Grilled Onion Gruyere. These are definitely a far cry from the standard onion-flavored dips.
Speaking of traditional dips, the ADS survey still ranks onion as the No. 1 dip flavor, despite the expanding diversity of available products. Also keep in mind that the survey found that smooth dips are more popular than chunky ones — particularly with younger consumers. Older and more upscale consumers, however, tended to choose chunky textures as more appealing. It may be the case that product designers will more often be creating dips for a specific age group.
Some of today’s common dip types include: barbecue; bean dips; cheese dips (including chili con queso); fruit dips (such as caramel or chocolate); honey mustard; hot sauce; salad dressing-like; salsa; sour cream-based; sweet and sour; tomato-based and marinara; and yogurt dips. Though they may come in any of the typical types above, Kendall claims the increased activity in the area of organic dips justifies their inclusion as a subcategory all their own.
Building the base
Although the number of potential dipping-sauce flavor ingredients is very broad, the basic structure of these products actually is very similar. In many cases, dips are simply sauces that happen to be more viscous. As such, they often are based on emulsions with added stabilizing ingredients. The emulsion that forms the dip foundation might be one created specifically for the product in question, or be ready-to-incorporate — such as a prepared sour cream or mayonnaise.
Another thing most dipping sauces have in common with each other is a high moisture content. Controlling this water is a requirement for long-term product quality.
No matter what the foundation, texture and stability will be the key factors in creating successful dipping sauces. These qualities must be successfully maintained through processing and over the product’s shelf life. Achieving all of this requires careful attention to the gums and starches selected for the stabilizer system.
Start by looking at the target product characteristics. In general, a successful dip should have a thick and creamy consistency that sticks to, but does not drip from, the product that consumers dip into it. A dip also must not be so thick that the foods designed to be dipped into it break easily. Product designers must make sure the dip is just cohesive enough to cling to the product without being so cohesive that it leaves stringy tails that make for messy eating.
Remember that a dipping sauce’s texture still may vary greatly within these general characteristics. If a similar product exists on the market, obtain samples and analyze the viscosity, cohesiveness, etc. Even if nothing like the concept currently exists, try to find other products to help determine the texture properties. These might include non-food products that have the body and flow you’re looking for. (Obviously, we won’t be tasting these, just getting textural inspiration.)
A salsa-like product, for example, should have the expected thick, chunky texture. A teriyaki marinade, on the other hand, requires a thinner texture with a clear appearance. Cheese-based sauces must be very thick with a high level of opacity and cling.
“With a salsa, the starch or starch/ gum blend may be required to build significant viscosity,” says Janet Carver, food scientist, National Starch and Chemical. “With the teriyaki, you’ll want to go with something that’s more of a texturizer and not a thickener. This will help maintain the clarity, but doesn’t provide viscosity.”
For the high-viscosity products, a common starch selection might be those from dent corn, which provides a firm gel. This is useful when visible evidence of dipping is desired. For something more flowable, use waxy maize because it is less gelling.
Some products may demand features of both. Carver notes the example of an aseptically packaged cheese dip. Here, a modified waxy maize that is moderately cross-linked and highly stabilized will give stability, a creamy mouthfeel and a short texture. At the same time, however, if dipping marks are desirable, Carver suggests a lightly to moderately cross-linked dent corn that is moderately stabilized.
For products such as teriyaki sauce or marinades, the stabilizer must provide only minimal body and greater product flow. Here, reducing stabilizer levels may not be enough to provide the desired solution.
“If you were to take a teriyaki sauce and add just a little bit of starch — 0.25% to 0.50%, there’s not enough starch to keep it in suspension,” says Kendall. “The starch will actually settle out of the solution.”
A specialized texturizer may over- come this. For example, enzyme-modified starches are available that only contribute a small amount of body and can be used at high enough levels to ensure they don’t settle out.
Another important dipping-sauce characteristic is cling. With a dipping sauce, make sure that the stabilizer will provide sufficient cling at typical consumption conditions — which often means ambient temperatures. Unlike many other foods, though, dipping sauces only must cling for a few seconds, not 30 minutes or more as for sauces designed to be served on food.
After determining the physical form the dip will take, next evaluate the product’s intended use for how it might affect stabilizer selection. Some dipping sauces, for example, will be marketed as dry mixes in envelopes. Here, gums that require high-shear will not be appropriate.
If a sauce mix is to simply be stirred into other cold ingredients, any starches used will have to be instant. If the mix will be marketed to foodservice operators, determine if it will be prepared and used at once, or if the operators will make up the sauce and refrigerate it for a time. The latter situation will require far more demands on the stabilizer system. Another application that taxes stabilizers is if the dip will be prepared and kept for a long period on a steam table.
If the product is to be fully manufactured and put into a jar, shear-activated gums and cook-up starches might be the thickeners of choice — particularly if a long shelf life is required.
Making the interaction connection
The next challenge in stabilizer selection will be to determine any potential interactions with other ingredients. Dipping sauces will contain many different flavors, sweeteners, seasonings, etc., and those may affect stabilizer performance.
First, consider the pH of the system. Many sauces — most notably those that contain vinegar, or have a tomato base — will have a low pH. High acidity is beneficial in many products because it inhibits microbial growth. On the other hand, acids also may hydrolyze stabilizer ingredients and reduce their effectiveness — especially if the product will be heated for any length of time, such as during retorting.
Selecting a cross-linked starch is one potential solution. Cross-linking increases a starch’s acid stability with greater stability occurring the more the starch is cross-linked. The drawback to this is that highly cross-linked starches also are resistant to swelling — a requirement to activate the starch’s functional properties. In fact, a highly cross-linked starch might require higher temperatures and acid levels just to fully hydrate. Here, the excess heat and acid may begin to have deleterious effects on other ingredients, such as flavors.
Using a gum — either alone or with the starch — is another potential solution. Xanthan gum, for example, offers acid stability, which is why it finds so much use in salad dressings that typically contain vinegar. Other acid-stable gums include methylcellulose, locust bean gum and guar gum. These can tolerate pH levels as low as 3.0. If you select the wrong gum, you’ll know it right away because they tend to precipitate out of solution at low pH.
Besides acidulants, other ingredients also affect stabilizer performance. Soluble solids, such as sugar or salt, can inhibit the hydration of starches and hydrocolloids. Fats also may inhibit hydration by coating starch granules and preventing water from reaching them.
Amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starch, may be a problem if the sauce contains flour, herbs or vegetable pieces that aren’t fully blanched to inactivate the enzyme.
When using dairy ingredients, such as cheese or casein, be aware that their proteins may denature during processing. This may cause additional viscosity that may make the product too thick. In low-pH products, make sure that any dairy proteins don’t adversely interact with any negatively charged hydrocolloids.
Not all ingredient interactions are harmful. Many gums and gum/starch combinations exhibit synergies. Xanthan and locust bean gum, for instance, increase a system’s viscosity to a higher level than either single gum would generate. On the other hand, balance multiple hydrocolloids carefully to ensure that each has enough available water needed for complete hydration.
Patching process problems
After completing initial stabilizer selection based on the formula, it’s time to consider the process because a sauce will encounter many process stresses during production which may be detrimental to the stabilizers. The most critical of these stresses will be heat and shear. Sometimes, heat and/or shear will only alter the dip’s rheology during processing itself. Other times, the stabilizer may be totally destroyed and rendered useless.
Many sauces require a cooking step for microbial control and stabilizer activation. Different processes will contribute varying levels of heat stress. One manufacturer might simply use a batch kettle and heat the sauce to 180°F. Another must retort the sauce to temperatures around 230° to 250°F for 30 minutes or longer. In aseptic processing, the cooking temperature may be as high as the 280° to 290°F range — but only for a relatively short period of time.
Heat is particularly destructive to starch, especially unmodified starches. As the temperature and exposure time both increase, the starch granule swells until it fragments. The fragmented granules will lose viscosity, which manifests itself as a long, stringy texture. Any water-holding properties also will be lost and the product may exhibit syneresis over its shelf life.
On the other hand, many gums tend to only thin with higher temperature and thicken as the product cools. Guar is a notable exception and may actually be destroyed under retort conditions. While not destroyed by heat, methylcellulose’s viscosity increases with higher temperatures.
Heat damage is not limited to the exposure a dipping sauce receives during processing. Industrial products may be packaged in pails and drums. If these are still hot when palletized, the resulting slow cool-down will continue heat exposure long after the cooking process is complete. Compensate for this by optimizing the process to account for this continued cooking, or incorporate a cooling system into the manufacturing line.
In some cases, heat exposure is eliminated simply by manufacturing the dip cold. “We’re seeing a greater number of cold prep procedures where the manufacturer simply blends the ingredients together to get the dip,” says Kendall. “The products for providing the necessary texture typically are instant starches.”
Kendall also believes that most of these products are being manufactured cold for reasons other than preserving the stabilizer. “Many of these dips have particulates in them,” explains Kendall. “It’s simpler for a manufacturer to do a cold prep to avoid breakdown of these particulates.”
Some manufacturers still may use a cook-up starch instead of an instant when assembling a cold-prep dip. Here, a starch and water paste first is preblended and cooked to gelatinize the starch. The paste then is blended into the rest of the formula.
Dipping sauce on the move
After heat, the second most important process issue to consider with dipping sauces is shear. Although most commonly thought of at a product’s mixing stage, shear can be encountered in many other places. One example is in a heat exchanger, especially with methods such as pasteurization or steam injection. Pumping and filling also expose the sauce to shear, although some pumps will create less abusive conditions than others.
Even the product handling system can introduce shear. If a manufacturing line has several sharp bends and narrow tubing, the product will receive more shear exposure than one that is more linear and/or has larger diameter tubing. In addition to damaging stabilizers, shear also will affect any particulates designed to add value to the product.
“If a product is going to have particulates, you can put the other ingredients together first, then add the particulates just prior to pumping,” suggests Kendall.
Although shear may be detrimental, don’t make the mistake of undermixing the product. Both starches and gums must be properly incorporated to become fully hydrated. Otherwise, the dipping sauce will suffer variations in stability and viscosity.
If the formula contains a cook-up starch, make sure there’s enough mixing and cooking time for it to reach full hydration. For a gum, proper mixing means individualizing the particles before solubilization. When gum particles are added all at once, they tend to form lumps when groups of them hydrate on the exterior, preventing water from reaching particles on the interior. Avoiding this may be as simple as preblending the gum with other dry ingredients, such as spices or sweeteners. Gums also may be premixed with oils prior to incorporation.
In a reduced-fat product, extra care is required to assure proper hydrocolloid incorporation. One option is to use an agglomerated hydrocolloid. Even in a full-fat product, these also can improve process efficiency because they are designed to slowly hydrate during mixing and don’t require preblending.
Sometimes shear is unavoidable at the mixing stage. If the sauce is based on an emulsion, shear is required to build the emulsion. To avoid damaging the starch, shift the process steps so homogenization occurs before heating the product to gelatinize the starch.
Besides surviving manufacturing, the product must maintain its textural characteristics over a sometimes-lengthy shelf life. Even if, for example, an acidic dipping sauce survives the heat of processing, the low pH still may affect the stabilizer during extended storage. Compounding this is the fact that distribution and storage after the product has left the production facility often exposes many food products to many temperature abuses.
A modified starch or a gum usually will function throughout such abuses. However, these conditions will tend to cause oil droplets to coalesce and rise to the top of an emulsion-based product. Adding an emulsifier will help combat this tendency. Certain stabilizers such as propylene glycol alginate offer some surface activity that helps hold emulsions together. In many cases, however, something more powerful, such as mono- and diglycerides, will be required.
Although heat treatment of shelf-stable dips is designed to assure microbial stability, what happens when the consumer opens the dip and stores it in the refrigerator? For these situations, it may be necessary to add a direct antimicrobial additive, such as potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate, as an extra safety net.
Careful stabilizer selection is a requirement for dipping sauces that not only have the desired texture, but maintain their integrity during shelf life. Between the task of choosing the right stabilizer and wading through the infinite combinations of flavor ingredients, creating a dipping sauce can be much more complex than it may seem at first. The best way to keep things on track is to have a clear concept of what the finished product should embody. With that as a guide, you will be better equipped to dive in for a dip without getting in over your head.
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