Thursday, March 16, 2023

Dairy Foods Taste Great. Explore Opportunities with Unique Textures and Flavors that Pop.


Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

It’s been a week since Natural Product Expo West and I am still recovering, as well as digesting everything I learned. One thing for sure: dairy delivered at the show! That does not mean there’s not tons of opportunity for innovation and even improvements. But, all the dairy processors I talked to at the Expo said the same thing, and that was that attendees were genuinely excited to be sampling real dairy…because it delivers what most alt dairy products do not.  

In fact, on March 10 at the Expo, 84.51°, a part of The Kroger Co., in partnership with the Plant Based Foods Association, presented proprietary research that identified taste, texture and quality as unmet needs in plant-based meat and dairy. 

The research focused on the top 50% of spenders in plant-based meat, milk and cheese. Eighty-one consumers participated in 60-minute online conversations to discuss unmet needs in the categories. Participants were between 25 and 64 years old and 78% of them were female, as females were identified as more likely to be plant-based consumers and primary grocery shoppers.

The data showed that younger consumers do not want their plant-based foods to mimic animal-based products, while more mature consumers prefer products that are similar to the animal-based versions. All demographics want plant-based foods to be cleaner to help them live a healthier lifestyle.

Plant-based cheese was identified as a specific category with notable unmet needs. Seventy-three percent of the people participating in the research agreed with the statement, “I wish there was a better plant-based cheese alternative that tasted like regular cheese, melted well and didn’t have a grainy texture.”

To read a general review of trends at Expo West, link HERE

My friends over at the Mattson Food Lab said that “texture is a formulation hot button, with snacks leading the way, from minis to layers to 3D. And, flavor experiences are meant to intrigue and push new boundaries that connect the senses with the imagination.” All of this is possible with dairy foods innovations. 

It’s been said for some time that texture is one of the most underdeveloped sensory experiences in food and beverage. In dairy, this is especially true in desserts, ice cream and yogurt. It’s not enough to be creamy any more. Descriptors such as “airy,” “puffy,”  “chewy,” “soft” and “squishy” are being used to create points of differentiation.  

Manipulating textures in these dairy products has a lot to do with managing moisture and sugar content. Ingredient suppliers often talk in terms of “water binding” functionality. This is important for influencing the texture, mouthfeel and viscosity of the product. In general, the greater the water content, the more “fluid” the product. Viscosity increases as water content decreases or gets bound up by other ingredients. 

In dairy products, hydrocolloids—namely starches and gums, but also some fibers and proteins--are most often used to stabilize, thicken or gel the system. Hydrocolloids work in combination with carbohydrate, protein and fat components in the dairy system. Blends are common, as they work synergistically to achieve texture and stability goals with lower total addition levels. Thus hydrocolloid blends may reduce formulation costs. 

Link HERE to read an in-depth technical overview of “Managing Moisture in Dairy Foods,” which I wrote for the recent issue of Dairy Processing

Added challenges with managing moisture come into play when sugar is reduced or even eliminated, as sugar is a natural water binder. It also provides bulk in the form of carbohydrate solids. When sugar is gone, managing moisture in dairy foods is even more critical.

The folks at Mattson also said that “flavor experiences are meant to intrigue and push new boundaries that connect the senses with the imagination.” This may be achieved with the obvious—added flavors—but can also be manipulated with FMPs (flavors with modifying properties). These may include natural, high-intensity sweeteners, such as allulose, monkfruit and stevia, which are used at sub-sweet levels to modify the flavor profile of the food. Such FMPs can make flavors pop and taste brighter without any extra calories. 

And flavors that pop are trending in 2023. Unilever Food Solutions released its first Future Menu Trends report last week. It was developed in collaboration with more than 1,600 chefs in over 21 countries. One of the eight trends identified is an increase in contrasting flavors and textures that create multisensory experiences. Possible pairings may range from the combination of sweet and spicy to crunchy and chewy textures or even mixing hot and cold elements in a single item.

Scattered through this blog are noteworthy recent rollouts that provide multisensory experiences. Please gain some inspiration from them and get creative.

Crème Brulee Boba Milk Tea, for example, is the most recent variety of this canned dairy-based beverage from DaoHer Beverage. The light, yet creamy beverage is made with brewed black tea leaves, milk powder and creamer. It contains boba balls made from starch and konjac gum, instead of the traditional tapioca, in order to withstand the rigors and shelf life of an ambient canned beverage. The beverage made its debut last year in Brown Sugar, Classic and Matcha varieties. 

Boba is booming, as it delivers on texture and pop, Most boba literally pops with flavor when chewed by consumers. Yes, they are chewy, too. 
Amazing Ice Creams offers Tiger Boba (brown sugar) and Ube Boba ice creams. The company also has Matcha Mochi ice cream, where the mochi pieces provide that extra dimension of chewy texture. 

Wells Enterprises has been playing with the texture of ice cream for the past few years. The company recently rolled out Blue Bunny Soft, a three-variety line (Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip and Vanilla) of scoopable soft-serve ice cream. The concept builds on the Blue Bunny Twist Cones introduced in early 2022. To achieve the characteristic creamy mouthfeel of soft-serve ice cream, the company relies on a proprietary blend of emulsifiers, stabilizers and aeration.

Refrigerated dairy desserts present a great deal of opportunity for innovation with texture and flavor. 

Gü has added a trio of potted desserts inspired by the UK’s most-loved cocktails. Espresso Martini is layered with chocolate coffee “pearls,” coffee liqueur cream, coffee crème and crushed cocoa and coffee biscuit. Passionfruit Martini is made with popping candy, passionfruit and champagne compote, passionfruit curd, vanilla vodka cream and crushed crunchy biscuit. Strawberry Daiquiri is made with Jamaican rum and strawberries, layered with daiquiri compote, daiquiri cream, strawberry and lime curd and crushed red biscuit. The multi-layered desserts come in glass ramekins and are sold in packs of two.

Petit Pot is adding new concepts to its refrigerated dairy dessert business. There’s Original and Strawberry Cheesecake, and a Crème Brulee. These single-serve (3.5 ounces) desserts come in glass ramekins with foil seals and have multiple layers of ingredients that one can see through the package. The Strawberry Cheesecake is the most complex, with a bottom layer of strawberry compote followed by creamy, fluffy cheesecake layer and topped with a graham cracker crunch.

Dessert Factory introduced single-serve candy-inspired dairy desserts in the U.K. The company is licensing two candy bar brands and products--Daim and Toblerone--from Mondelez International to produce single-serve refrigerated cheesecake desserts. This comes two years after similar full-size cheesecakes were introduced in the freezer. The desserts come in packs of two 85-gram glass pots. They are more than one-third dairy, with cream, milk powder, concentrated butter and sweetened condensed skim milk the dominant ingredients.

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