Pasta Sauce: Searching for Clean-Label Solutions

Kimberly Decker, Contributing Editor

December 2, 2009

5 Min Read
Pasta Sauce: Searching for Clean-Label Solutions

Think of homemade pasta sauce bubbling on the stove, full of natural goodness from the gardens harvest of sun-ripened tomatoes and freshly picked spices, and perhaps a home-grown vegetable or two. Marketers of pasta sauces would like to evoke that idyllic recipe, but industrial processing is a far cry from Nonnas kitchen.

Its hard not to notice the rise of more-natural foods in the last several years. The number of new products carrying a claim of natural has been rising, not just in the United States, but across the world, according to market research company Mintels Global New Product Database. New products making claims such as no additives/preservatives, organic, all natural and whole grain have jumped from about 20,000 in 2005 to over 35,000 in 2008, says the 2009 Mintel report.

While using the term natural on a label is fuzzy at best from a regulatory standpoint, one thing is for certain: If consumers recognize the name of an ingredient, theyre more apt to buy into the natural pedigree of a product.

Clean up in the sauce aisle

The race to clean up labels is as brisk in the pasta sauce aisle as in any other lane of the store. Weve done a lot of sauces with low-calorie, low-fat and low-salt formulations, says Chris Kelly, director, technical services, Advanced Food Systems, Somerset, NJ. Weve had a lot of people asking for clean-label formulations, getting rid of what people wont understand as they look at the label. It has to be understandable to the average, everyday parent or kid walking through the supermarket.

Shana Brewer, senior marketing analyst, savory products North America, National Starch Food Innovations, Bridgewater, NJ, would agree. Manufacturers use texture, flavor and ingredient quality, as well as front-label claims, to set themselves apart from their competitors, she says. Two such claims are all-naturalor no preservatives addedand good/high source of fiber, which play into the underlying better-for-you theme prevalent within many market segments. Also wearing the better-for-you banner are dairy-based sauces claiming reduced fat, while other sauces boast a full serving of vegetables. While clean-label formulation may be easier to achieve in a marinara sauce than in, say, a shelf-stable, creme-filled brownie, Each of the nos or lows has a trickle-down effect on formulation, processing and stabilization, Brewer says. For example, with no additives or preservatives, a formulators starch choices are limited.

One of the thorniest problems occurs when clean-label directives rule out chemically modified starches.  Typically, unmodified starches are not recommended for processed foods as they are not process friendly, warns Eric Shinsato, technical sales support manager, Corn Products U.S., Westchester, IL. Unmodified starches cannot withstand the high temperature, shear and pH conditions of most sauces, which are often hot filled into jars or retorted in cans, and will rapidly break down.He notes that an unmodified starch would be more suitable for a sauce product with a more-neutral pHwhich knocks out most tomato saucesbut that would be in terms of pH only, and not taking into consideration processing conditions.

Pasta-sauce applications that consist of a dry mix that consumers or foodservice establishments mix up, heat and serve can look at unmodified corn (dent) starch, which might give a better result than waxy corn starch or tapioca starch, and possibly even potato starch, says Shinsato. Regular corn starch will provide a smooth consistency when prepared, while waxy corn and tapioca will tend to be more cohesive and stringy. However, regular corn starch will tend to set or gel upon cooling or refrigeration. This is due to the higher amylose content in regular corn versus waxy corn and tapioca.

Reduction constructions

Then there are low-sugar and -salt formulations that not only affect organoleptic properties, but sauce stability, as well. Sugar adds mouthfeel and salt acts as a preservative, says Angelina de Castro, senior technical service technologist,  National Starch. In reduced-sodium sauces, manufacturers may need to make modifications to the processing, formulation, or even packaging, to keep their product as stable as the full-sodium version.

To address the changes in solids content that sugar or salt reduction imposes, starch suppliers offer specialty products that build back some of the lost body. National Starch, for example, has a proprietary line of functional native starches for clean-label foods. As an added benefit, says Yadunandan Dar, Ph.D., applications technology manager,  National Starch, Clean-label and tapioca-based starches have little impact on flavors and can allow the remaining flavors in a system to come through when sugar and salt are reduced.When you pile cost optimization on top of a sauce thats already been reformulated for cream or butter reduction, you risk tweaking the eating experience even further. National has recently launched a series of products designed to assist food developers faced with this task of cost optimization without drastically altering the texture of products that consumers already know and love, Brewer says. Some of the applications where these products are exceptionally well suited are cream-based and alfredo-type sauces, where the focus is on cream or butter replacement.

So, while clean labels may be easier for the consumer to understand, when it comes to pasta sauces, sometimes the execution can be quite difficult.

Kimberly J. Decker, a California-based technical writer, has a B.S. in consumer food science with a minor in English from the University of California, Davis. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys eating and writing about food. You can reach her at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Kimberly Decker

Contributing Editor

Kimberly J. Decker is a Bay Area food writer who has worked in product development for the frozen sector and written about food, nutrition and the culinary arts. Reach her at [email protected]

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