Calcium, pH Levels Key to Creating Reduced-Fat Foods

Formulating high-quality, reduced-fat foods creates a challenge for food product designers because the removal of fat adversely affects quality attributes, such as appearance, texture and flavor. However, research presented at the 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) found that adjusting the calcium level and acidity may be the key to developing reduced-fat foods, such as sauces, desserts and salad dressings, without compromising any quality attributes.

DALLAS—Formulating high-quality, reduced-fat foods creates a challenge for food product designers because the removal of fat adversely affects quality attributes, such as appearance, texture and flavor. However, research presented at the 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) found that adjusting the calcium level and acidity may be the key to developing reduced-fat foods, such as sauces, desserts and salad dressings, without compromising any quality attributes.

For the study, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst reduced the fat content and calories in a model white sauce from 10% to 2% without sacrificing the look and feel of the food. “By controlling pH and calcium content, we are able to regulate the interactions among fat droplets," said Bicheng Wu, a graduate student. “This makes them stick together and form flocs, or clumps. We believe the water trapped inside these flocs makes the sauce seem fattier than it really is and preserves the look, feel and flavor."

Fat plays various roles in determining the overall sensory attributes of food products. “It carries flavors, so cutting the fat content lessens the intensity of the flavor. The appearance, meaning the opacity or lightness, of a food mixture largely depends on light scattering by fat droplets, so high fat content gives a milky appearance to a sauce or dressing," Wu said, adding that high fat content is also related to the thick, smooth and creamy mouthfeel, like pudding, due to the effect of fat droplets on how the liquid flows.

Team leader D. Julian McClements, Ph.D., said another problem with cutting fat content is that it doesn’t make people feel as full. “Due to the high calorie count in fat and how the body digests it, fat also affects the feeling of satiety," he said.

The researchers plan to conduct extensive taste and smell tests in the future. “Then we will be able to adjust the composition and incorporate other seasoning ingredients into the foods," he explained. “Since this fat reduction is easy for us now, and the fact that our new products contain healthy ingredients that can be used in a wide range of products means there's a great potential to reach the market in the near future."

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The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend that Americans consume less than 10% of daily calories from saturated fats, and replace solid fats with oils when possible. Today's consumers have taken note and are selecting products based, in part, on the amount and kind of fat listed on the ingredient statement. Download the free digital issue “Reduced-Fat Formulating" from Food Product Design to find out specific strategies that lower fat, but not quality, and how market conditions and consumer opinion can impact reduced-fat formulating efforts by limiting ingredient availability and desirability.

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