Despite recent publicity to the contrary, consumers still want to buy low-fat foods. But they want them to taste good. To this end, application scientists at the Pfizer Food Science Group in Milwaukee have perfected the use of Dairy-Lo, an all-natural milk protein, as the key to fat replacement in natural cheese products.
Consumers are reluctant to consume full-fat dairy products because they contain cholesterol that many believe is a health concern. Health experts have linked high levels of fat consumption to the increased incidence of heart disease. Dairy-Lo is an all-natural dairy product. It consists of a milk protein derived from sweet whey. The protein undergoes a special thermal process to maximize the functionality of the protein. This increases water-controlling properties and improves emulsification pro-
perties. The enhanced functionality helps to mimic many of the flavor and textural properties of milk fat. Depending on the type of cheese, the fat levels typically range from 10% to 35% or higher. Often, using traditional fat replacers and standard techniques to reduce the fat level in cheese results in products with unacceptable flavor and texture.
Researchers have developed cheese formulations with Dairy-Lo that reduce the fat up to 75%. Craig Schroeder, Ph.D., technical manager of Pfizer's Dairy division, claims that these formulations significantly improve the appearance, texture and flavor of the finished product.
"Typically, the quality of reduced-fat cheeses drops off sharply at the 50% reduction level," Schroeder says. "Adding Dairy-Lo increases the water-binding capacity and makes the texture smoother and less rubbery. We conducted a series of tests at the University of Minnesota and found that our formulas with a one- third fat reduction were mistaken for the full-fat control."
Determining the optimal formula was not simple. First, scientists conducted basic research to see how fat affects the cheese-making process. Using this information, Pfizer enlisted the aid of several universities to refine the formulas and manufacturing process.
"You cannot just take out fat, add back another ingredient and expect an acceptable product," cautioned Schroeder. "We take a systems approach and look at the process as well as the other ingredients. For example, in addition to poor texture, you often saw poor flavor in reduced-fat cheeses. We recommend the use of a pure, fermentation-derived rennet, like Chy-max chymosin, which results in a clean flavor in low-fat cheese applications. Also, adding specially developed starter cultures gave the cheese a needed boost in flavor."
Researchers found that modifying the process also improved the finished product. Controlling the order of ingredient addition, the temperature and pH results in better quality. Schroeder also recommended the addition of a wash step before draining. This reduces the lactose levels and prevents over acidification, a common occurrence in the production of low-fat cheese.
Pfizer claims that using Dairy-Lo in reduced-fat cheese increases the yield up to 11%. This is due to increased moisture and fines retention. It also softens the cheese body and improves the mouth-feel by making the texture smoother. Adding this ingredient increases the opacity or whiteness of the cheese so it looks more like full-fat cheese. Because of its bland flavor, it does not alter the finished product flavor.
Dairy-Lo was initially developed for use in a 1%-fat ice cream product currently being sold commercially in Canada by Ault Foods. Ault was able to capture over 3% of the ice cream category in Canada after only nine months on the market. It also makes other reduced-fat dairy products using Dairy-Lo, including processed cheese. The ingredient was introduced in the United States last year, and is being used commercially in ice cream products. Because it's a protein, it has four calories per gram vs. nine calories per gram of fat. Dairy-Lo should be labeled as whey protein concentrate. It has been affirmed for use in foods as a Generally Recognized as Safe substance under 21 CFR 184.1979C. It can be used in a fat replacer in any product where standards do not prevent the use of whey protein concentrates.