There's good news and bad news for ingredients, according to those executives working on this first step in the launch of branded food products. The good news is that technologists are focusing on health, which is what consumers are demanding. The bad news is that regulatory hurdles stand in the way of a product launch. Because of heightened public awareness of links between health and food, much ingredient development focuses on healthful products. This includes ingredients for calorie reduction, replacements for ingredients that create a negative health effect, such as saturated fats, and ingredients that promote health.
"Our view is that for the remainder of the decade and into the next century, a number of things are going to be important," said David Trecker, senior vice president of food science Research and Development, Pfizer Food Science Group, New York. "These include low-calorie bulking agents and high-intensity sweeteners, which go hand in glove. Fat substitutes -- clearly the hot button in the U.S. -- are gaining interest around the world. There's also an increasing interest in things that are natural, especially additives. The last is nutraceuticals, which are foods that provide a medical benefit."
Much of the new product activity centers on fats and fat replacements. The focus has shifted from total fat replacement to ingredients that allow significant reduction. Many fat replacers consist of traditional food ingredients modified physically or chemically to mimic the mouth-feel and functional characteristics of fats. Generally these are carbohydrate based, such as starches, maltodextrins and gums, fiber products, or protein derivatives.
"Often these are modified versions of existing products," said Mark Freeland, director of advanced hydrocolloids, Rhone-Poulenc, Cranbury, N.J. "Some of these ingredients have actually been around for a long time, but the market has evolved to the point where the ingredient fits -- maltodextrin fat replacers, for example."
Specific permutations work differently under different conditions. This allows significant new ingredient development in terms of optimization and modification. By their nature, these fat substitutes are not appropriate for very low-moisture foods or extended, high heat.
Some emulsifiers mimic fat or enhance low levels of fat. Because most of these are derived from fat and contribute nearly the same caloric content, they are treated as fats in terms of labeling. A product using high levels of these emulsifiers, such as mono and diglycerides, may no longer qualify as "fat-free."
The search for true synthetic fats continues. Olestra, Procter & Gamble's much ballyhooed sucrose polyester fat replacer, still awaits Food and Drug Administration approval a decade after its invention. Two other products, nontriglyceride fat substitutes, are under development -- Arco Chemical's ethoxylated triglycerides and Pfizer's Sorbestrin, a polyester of sorbitol.
Sorbestrin is a family of products with a focus on a high-temperature, low-calorie frying oil and baking substitute. It has a caloric utilization of one calorie per gram. New "designer fats" run the gamut from specialty oils optimized for specific applications, to those derived from biotechnology to modified fats or fat-like ingredients with specific nutritional characteristics.
"Most fats and oils were never optimized for minimal levels in their end use," said Bill Richard, director of new business development, food ingredients, Van Den Bergh Foods Co., Lisle, Ill. "For example, in reduced fat cookie creams you must be able to coat all the sugar particles. With a standard all-purpose shortening, you can't form a cream at reduced levels. So we developed a softer product with reduced viscosity that coats more particles with less fat."
Health as well as functionality spurs the development of new fats.
"A great deal of emphasis has been placed on monounsaturates," said Richard. "You get better stability than with polyunsaturates. There is some concern that high levels of polyunsaturation are susceptible to free-radical activity. The trans-fatty acid controversy may become a hot issue again, so our company is preparing to respond to consumer's needs as necessary," he said.
Several suppliers are offering fats made from oil seeds selectively bred to increase stability without hydrogenation or increases in saturates. Reducing the level of linolenic acid and increasing the oleic acid increases the oxidative stability and shelf life.
High oleic sunflower oils contain 80% monounsaturates as opposed to 20% in ordinary sunflower oil. Certain soybeans yield a low linolenic oil that increases the oleic content by 7%. High oleic canola also is available with levels of over 80% in a hydrogenated product and 70% in a nonhydrogenated version.
"Ideally you are looking for low saturates, low polyunsaturates, and high monosaturates," said Tony Petricca, director of food and nutrition at SVO Specialty Products, Eastlake, Ohio. "With our sunflower oil, Trisun, our intent was to offer food processors and retail marketers a high-stability oil. The product was aimed at the retail market because of its high monosaturates that mimicked olive oil," Petricca said. Some companies create fats not found under normal conditions called structured lipids. These exhibit specific functionality or nutritional value. They contain the glycerin backbone found in fats with certain fatty acids, often at specific positions on the glycerin molecule.
Last June, Stepan Co., Maywood, N.J., petitioned the Food and Drug Administration for the use of the common name Captrin for structured lipids known as medium chaintriglycerides. These combine glycerin and the medium chaintriglycerides, primarily caprylic and capric acid. Proposed uses include baked goods, beverages, chewing gum, confections and frostings, dairy product analogues, fats and oils, frozen dairy desserts, processed fruits and soft candy. According to Dondeena Bradley, business development manager of the food ingredients department at Stepan, these fats provide physiological advantages due to the type and distribution of fatty acids.
"Medium chain fatty acids are not normally found in vegetable oils, except the tropical oils," explained Bradley. "But they are found in human milk. With preterm infants, researchers are finding higher levels of these fatty acids present in the milk because they protect the body and enhance the immune system."
Some structured lipids act as reduced-calorie fat: Pfizer's Salatrim, invented by Nabisco, and Proctor & Gamble's Caprenin both provide 5 calories per gram.
"The shorter the fatty acid chain, the lower the calories per gram," pointed out Richard, "while the very long chains are undigestable."