BEDFORD, Mass. -- Opta Foods Ingredients here has found that targeting specific fat replacement problems is one path to developing a successful ingredient.
Its starch-based fat replacer, OptaGrade, initially developed for use in sour cream and other cultured products, attracted four key customers in the dairy industry within the first 90 days of its introduction. Currently, 13 dairy companies have incorporated it in a variety of applications: nonfat and low-fat sour cream, nonfat yogurt, nonfat processed cheese and nonfat dairy-based dressings and dips. Confidentiality agreements do not allow Opta to disclose the customers' names.
"We're not presenting this product as something that's going to solve all the fat replacement problems in the food industry," explained Lewis Paine 3rd, president and chief executive officer of Opta Foods. "Our strategy as a company is to work very closely with specific customers to solve specific problems. We looked at cultured dairy products because people told us what was needed, that nothing currently out there would solve their problems.
"We spent months in advance working with key customers before we launched the product, discovering what the problems were," he said. "By the time we got to market, we knew that for these customers it would meet their internal requirements for a fat replacer."
Under development for two years, OptaGrade is an all-natural, heat-stable, white powder that has replaced up to 100% of the fat in these products. It consists only of corn starch, physically altered in a patented process to provide fat-mimetic properties. Because the starch does not undergo any chemical modifications, it may be added to products labeled as all-natural. It provides a creamy mouthfeel and smooth texture similar to fat, but with less than 25% of the calories.
It imparts no taste to the product, but acts as an opacifier, giving products a translucent, creamy appearance associated with full-fat dairy products. This eliminates the need for artificial coloring agents such as titanium dioxide.
"If you look at the ingredient statement on a typical nonfat sour cream," Paine said, "you'll usually find three or four different gums, sugar and artificial color in the form of titanium dioxide. On a product containing OptaGrade, typically the ingredient legend lists only cultured nonfat milk, corn starch and vitamin A. It allows manufacturers to have a consumer-friendly, clean label in addition to an all-natural claim."
OptaGrade exhibits both heat and shear thinning properties, according to Paine. Upon cooling or the cessation of shear, it thickens back to its original viscosity. This allows the product to thin out during processing, but once packaged and cooled, to have a normal thick, creamy consistency.
Paine also said that despite the fact that the product was developed for a limited range of dairy products, it appears that it may be successful in other areas, both as a fat replacer and also as a stabilizer.
"We actually have people testing it as a natural stabilizer in ice cream to replace all the gums currently used," he said. "One thing that we've learned is that, at the core, it's a very versatile texturizing agent -- it provides a lot of stability. We've started to customize new versions for use in products like ice cream and margarine. So far we've gotten some very good feedback on the results. It's potentially very exciting."