Big crunch, bold falvors

by Jeff Gelski
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The microwave oven may no longer be a hostile place for batters and breadings. Additionally, spicier and bolder flavors may be achieved and even more fiber may be added to products. Yes, batters and breadings may make all these traits possible for processed foods, but that’s provided formulators keep one idea in mind.

"From the consumer standpoint, it’s all about texture," said George Manak, vice-president of marketing for Southeastern Mills, Rome, Ga. "A big crunch is a good thing."

Focusing on texture, Southeastern Mills worked on improvements in three areas: microwavable coatings, superior texture out of the oven and texture that is not broken down by processing equipment.

"Consumers have been willing to accept a trade off with microwavable foods," he said. "The product is not as good as when they went to the restaurant."

Restaurant items often are deep fried, he said, and Southeastern Mills wants its breadings for microwavable items to have close to that ideal fried taste. Southeastern Mills faces a challenge of keeping moisture from the product out of the breading or outer layer.

Southeastern Mills mainly offers flour-based batters and breadings, including bread crumbs. Texture innovations are possible, though, said Paul Ludtke, director of R.&D. for coatings for Kerry Ingredients, Beloit, Wis. Tortilla chips, cracker pieces and colored particles are a few examples of alternatives to the standard bread crumbs to make coating systems visually appealing, Mr. Ludtke said.

The food ingredients group of The Kellogg Co. offers such food product breadings and coatings as Kellogg’s Corn Flake Crumbs, which are made of milled corn and ideal for appetizers, entrees and frozen food. Crushed Kellogg’s Corn Flakes may be used with a variety of foods, including chicken, fish and pork chops. Rice grits, meanwhile, may add crunch to breadings.

Whole grains, too, are finding their way into batters and breadings. Bake ‘n Joy, North Andover, Mass., offers a line of all-natural, whole wheat muffin batters. The 5.25-oz predeposited batters were launched in 2005 and made available in blueberry, banana nut, corn, cranberry apple, oat bran raisin and triple berry.

Kerry Ingredients introduced whole wheat and multigrain in breading last year. The breading may add fiber to breading and formulators may find

they can achieve 2.5 grams per serving, or a good source of fiber, Mr. Ludtke said. The whole wheat breading is more suited for retail products where the consumer bakes the product instead of frying it, Mr. Ludtke said. The breading becomes a darker color in frying applications.

If Southeastern Mills were to offer organic or whole wheat breadings, the company would need to check out its supply chain since those ingredients are not as readily available as more conventional ingredients, Mr. Manak said.

"We would need to make sure it’s a project required from a customer standpoint and that we can do that in a cost-effective way," he said.

For another innovation, Kerry Ingredients continues to work on no-fry coating systems, Mr.Ludtke said. In some cases this coating system can reduce fat by up to 40%. The challenges formulators have to overcome are to have the no-fry coating system to taste cooked and fried.

"The hurdles are the flavor and the texture," Mr. Ludtke said.

Make no mistake that flavor is key in breaded items. When the Wendy’s restaurant chain introduced new spicy chicken choices last year, Ian Rowden, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, said, "Our research shows that consumers today are looking for foods that deliver varied tastes and different textures, especially menu items that have bold, interesting, spicy flavors."

Adding flavor in coatings may aid in developing processed foods for different global cuisines like Indian, Chinese, Malaysian and Mexican. In red meat or poultry, the coating system may be formulated to work well with the flavor of a marinade, for example, Mr. Ludtke said.

Southeastern Mills has seen demand for flavor combinations, Mr. Manak said. Caribbean dishes, for example, may feature sweet and hot flavors. For Italian or Mediterranean flavors, garlic and tomatoes may be used in the breading.

Southeastern Mills also uses marinades for flavors in batters and breadings with the goal of getting the flavor as close to the substrate as possible. This strategy may entail a predust coating to get the flavor as far away from the top coating as possible.

"We’re being asked for more and better flavors — a flavor pop," Mr. Manak said. "Sometimes you can do this through the coating system."

A big crunch is a good thing.

— George Manak, vice-president of marketing for Southeastern Mills


Breaded items bask in chicken consumption increase

The demand for breaded chicken items, just like the demand for chicken products overall, continues to increase. According to a 2005 survey by the National Chicken Council, Washington, 90% of adult American consumers ate chicken at least once in the two weeks prior to the survey, which was up from 86% in a similar 2001 survey.

The survey showed 30% of the consumers had eaten chicken strips in the past month while 25% consumed chicken nuggets and 25% also consumed fast-food chicken sandwiches.

"Americans like to consume chicken," said George Manak, vice-president of marketing for Southeastern Mills, Rome, Ga. "The per-capita consumption increase from the mid-1990s to today has been broadly based, both in breaded and non-breaded."

Food companies have noticed and launched new breaded chicken products. McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., offers Chicken Selects, for example. ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha, Neb., last year introduced Grip-n-Dip Chicken Strips, a new variety among its 14 Kid Cuisine meals.

Companies are making an effort to improve the healthy qualities of breaded chicken items. Fast-food chains are removing the trans fat, a process that involves switching frying oils. Five-piece chicken nuggets at Wendy’s restaurants are now 0 grams of trans fat, down from 1.5 grams, and the chain’s chicken strips menu is 0 grams of trans fat compared to 3 grams.

KFC, Louisville, Ky., also has plans to eliminate trans fat from its menu items.

"The great news is KFC’s Original Recipe and Extra Crispy chicken, along with the majority of our menu items at KFC, will have the same delicious taste with 0 grams of trans fat," said Gregg Dedrick, president of KFC Corp.

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