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Using Dairy Proteins

April 1, 1995

7 Min Read
Using Dairy Proteins

Using Dairy Proteins
to Cut Fat, Boost Protein
April 1995 - Applications

By: Andrea Horwich Allen
Associate Editor

  Even as some consumer groups continue to berate dairy products for their high fat content, dairy proteins are emerging as important functional ingredients in reduced- or low-fat foods. Ironically, they give food designers the added advantage of a natural profile for a clean ingredient legend.

  Dairy proteins such as caseinates, total milk proteins (TMPs), and whey protein concentrates (WPCs) have long been the ingredients of choice in stabilization and emulsification systems because of their unique functional characteristics. In particular, caseinates and hydrolyzed caseinates are integral elements in many dairy products, imitation dairy products and nutritional formulations. But the number of applications for all these stellar substrates has multiplied with each advance in filtration and isolation technology, and as blending technologies have become more sophisticated.

  The result is a family of products that can work in myriad fat-replacer systems, not to mention protein-fortification applications. But these are not interchangeable, warns Lee Huffman, Ph.D., senior food scientist with New Zealand Milk Products, Santa Rosa, CA. Different proteins work best in different systems and applications.

Eschewing the fat

  When it comes to selecting proteins for fat-replacement systems, the choice depends largely on the desired texture and mouthfeel of the finished product. Huffman offers some general guidelines:

  Puddings, viscous products: Sodium caseinates or TMPs are the best choices when a viscous mouthfeel is the goal. Their random-cell hydrophilic and hydrophobic protein structure gives them the ability to hold water that, in turn, imparts lubricity to the mixture. Either one also functions well as an emulsifier in products that have low levels of fat, such as a reduced-fat coffee creamer, as opposed to a completely fat-free product. WPCs are better suited for thinner products such as salad dressings.

  Meats, seafood products: Because of their gelling characteristics, WPCs impart viscosity in reduced fat meat products where both texture and moisture are important. Since WPCs don't gel until they're heated, though, the mixture remains flowable and easy to work with. In comminuted meats, WPCs can be useful in combination with caseinates as well as gums. Caseinates and TMPs also work well in reduced-fat comminuted meats.

  Bakery foods: The same characteristics make WPCs work well in fat-reduced or fat-free bakery foods. WPCs are also label friendly in cholesterol-reduced or cholesterol-free products, although the latter usually require a special WPC blend.

  Food designers and suppliers have developed numerous blends for both bakery foods and meat products. These are not always confined to dairy proteins, either. Erie Foods International, Erie, IL, is now combining caseinates with hydrocolloids to provide a more functional ingredient that could help reduce the use of fats and egg products in bakery foods and others, according to Jim Klein, manager of technology.

  "We're very comfortable with the fact that milk proteins don't solve everybody's problems," he explains. Accordingly, Erie has been developing blends of its own caseinates along with WPCs, soy proteins, and now hydrocolloids.

  Dairy products: Casein and caseinates have been widely used in stabilization systems for imitation dairy products-where vegetable fat replaces the butterfat-for the better part of 50 years. But when food designers got down to the serious business of actually cutting fat, products such as frozen desserts and cheeses presented special challenges because butterfat is so essential to flavor and mouthfeel.

  Enter denatured whey proteins, in which heat is used to aggregate the proteins to prevent gelling, whipping and emulsifying-the very characteristics that make WPCs so desirable in other applications. Several variations are now on the market, including Simplesse, marketed by The NutraSweet Co., Deerfield, L; Dairy-Lo from Pfizer Inc., New York; and the latest entry, Alaco PALS (Protein as Lipid Substitute) from New Zealand Milk Products.

  All these fat replacers are designed to mimic one or more of fat's functional properties, although none to date has achieved the same melting characteristics of fat, according to Ralph Knights, Ph.D., manager of new business technology at New Zealand Milk Products. Each differs, though, depending on how concentrated the WPC started out and on how much heat has been applied. The higher the level of protein and the more heat applied, the less reactive the protein, Knight says. In other words, the closer it performs to fat.

  Like other dairy proteins, denatured whey proteins are often best used in blends. For example, a blend that includes sodium caseinate would work well in a mousse-type product in which whipping ability is important.

  When the Dairyland Division of Kerry Ingredients, Beloit, WI, introduced Prolo 11 last year, the company had created technology to co-process WPCs and caseinates with powdered skim for use as a fat replacer in frozen desserts. Since then, Kerry has gone in another direction. The "new generation" Prolo 11, introduced in December 1994, is made from cultured skim without the WPCs or caseinates.

  According to Irwin Immel, director of product development, the culturing process ferments the polysaccharides in the milk, creating a mouthfeel- and bodybuilding gum that can replace the protein in the caseinate. Like the first-generation Prolo 11 and other dairy proteins used in frozen desserts, the new Prolo 11 remains stable during pasteurization. In fact, Kerry researchers are experimenting with bakery foods and other products, as are PALS developers at New Zealand Milk Products.

  Regardless of which functional characteristics a designer needs for a fat-replacement system, flavor also has to be a primary consideration, Huffman says.

  "Proteins hold flavor differently than fat," she notes. For that reason, food designers looking to cut fat must adopt an approach that involves not only their protein supplier, but their flavor houses as well.

Power proteins

  Protein-fortified beverages and "sports bars" have come a long way. Today's versions are far closer in taste and texture to mass market juice drinks and candy bars than to their early-'70s ancestors. This improvement is due at least in part to dairy proteins. Here's what food designers need to consider, according to Huffman:

  Beverages: WPCs work well in acidic beverages, such as juices and fruit drinks, because they stay in solution at a lower pH. Both heat stability and acid stability are factors in choosing a WPC for drinks; for powders, heat stability is less important to the decision.

  In beverages with a more neutral pH, such as vanilla or chocolate flavors, product designers have more options -especially in products such as sports drinks or meal replacement beverages, where high protein content and low lactose levels are important. The best choices usually involve blends that can include not only WPCs but TMPs, milk protein concentrates (MPCs), and caseinates in various combinations.

  Calcium caseinates are widely used in nutritional and meal replacement formulations not so much for their functional properties but because of their whiteness and opacity. Where the functional characteristics of sodium caseinate are desirable, potassium caseinate can sometimes stand in. As Erie Foods' Klein notes, the potassium results in a better nutritional profile than the sodium - and is therefore more label friendly.

  Various blends can be used in infant formulas, again depending on the need for heat stability. Protein fortification levels usually aren't as high as in the other types of neutral pH beverages.

  Bars: Manufacturers who are trying to design "sports" or energy bars that resemble candy bars are turning to dairy proteins because of their functional properties. Again, the choice depends on the desired texture. For chewier bars, for instance, sodium caseinates work well, but WPCs will work better in a fluffier bar because of their whipping ability.

  Nutraceutical beverages and bars represent one of the most attractive potential markets for dairy protein suppliers - and not just in the United States. Indeed, U.S. companies have been selling to Japanese food and nutraceutical designers not only the 80% to 85% WPCs that are used in the applications cited in this article, but whey protein isolates as well. At up to 95% protein, these isolates are virtually fat-free.

  With its eye toward both the domestic and foreign markets, Land O'Lakes is about to begin WPC production. Already the industry's largest supplier of whole whey, the dairy cooperative is converting its cheese plant in Perham, MN, to a whey plant that will produce a full range of concentrates, from 34% WPCs to 90% isolates. According to Chuck Hanson, marketing and operations manager for the food ingredients division, the plant will be on-line in September 1995.

  Land O'Lakes is not alone in its assessment of the market. Judging from their investment in research and development, U.S. suppliers as a group are confident that dairy proteins have a bright future in both the food and nutraceutical industries. One thing is certain: They've come a long way from their past, when they were considered wasteful byproducts of the dairy industry.

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