A boost for beverages

by Jeff Gelski
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Adding whey protein, along with its benefits in muscle mass growth and satiety, may be a way to boost sagging sales in several beverage categories. The actual applications, however, literally may present murky problems. Clear beverages, when whey protein is used, may develop such issues as cloudiness, insolubility and unwanted taste.

U.S. convenience store sales figures from the Nielsen Co., New York, reveal how certain beverage categories may use a boost. U.S. sales of sports drinks were $1,607,073,345 for the 52 weeks ended March 20, 2010, which was down 11.5% from the previous 52-week period. Bottled water sales dropped 6% to $2,356,328,903 in the same 52-week period. Sales of juice/juice drinks dipped 1.1% to $1,739,917,896.

Adding whey protein might allow beverage formulators to target several market groups.

“Protein supplementation can be particularly beneficial to certain cohort groups, including pregnant and lactating women, baby boomers leading active lifestyles, children and the elderly,” said Starla Paulsen, applications manager for Glanbia Nutritionals, Inc., Monroe, Wis. “In these cases, protein is needed for muscle recovery and growth. Whey proteins have the highest concentration of branched chain amino acids available from any natural protein source — essential for forming skeletal muscle tissue.”

The amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine are found in whey protein, Ms. Paulsen said. They maintain and repair muscle, provide muscles with energy, and regulate blood sugar.

In addition, 5 grams of whey protein per serving have been shown to affect satiety positively, said Luis Hernandez, applications scientist for beverages for Fonterra USA, Rosemont, Ill.

Fonterra offers a ClearProtein whey protein isolate that has been shown to work in functional beverages. Potential applications for ClearProtein are “smart” waters, which Dr. Hernandez likened to functional waters or enhanced waters. The ingredient delivers a clean taste and leads to a beverage that is less astringent and clearer, he said.

Dr. Hernandez said for example formulators would not want a smart water with a pomegranate flavor to have any milk taste. The use of ClearProtein would allow formulators to avoid the milk flavor while still adding whey protein.

The pH level of any beverage will factor into whey protein applications.

“Whey protein without the introduction of heat is fully soluble in both neutral and acidic pH environments,” said Aine Halihan, the head of R.&D. with Carbery Ingredients. “At the isoelectric point for whey proteins, namely 5.1, whey protein will become insoluble.

“However, the situation is very different when you introduce a heat treatment. The heat treatment of neutral pH results in protein aggregation which can be observed as increase in viscosity, aggregation, gelation, protein insolubility, reduction in clarity and precipitation. However, whey protein is heat stable at low pH.”

Ms. Paulsen said the biggest challenge for food manufacturers has been creating clear, high-protein beverages. In clear beverage applications, which usually use hot-fill mechanisms, a pH of about three will maintain good stability and solubility. A thick hot-fill beverage, such as a smoothie, does not need the same level of clarity and may be produced at higher pH levels.

Glanbia Nutritionals has a pre-acidified whey protein that offers clarity in beverage applications.

“Pre-acidification presents two main benefits for manufacturers,” Ms. Paulsen said. “Firstly, it offers a better flavor profile, as the whey is less astringent, and so makes it easier to create great-tasting foods and beverages fortified with whey protein. Unpleasant astringent notes are most common in high protein, low pH beverages, which is why pre-acidification of protein is important.

“Secondly, Glanbia Nutritionals’ pre-acidified whey protein is easier to use in manufacture. One common problem in creating high-protein beverages is the sourness that can result from acidification of the beverage. Pre-acidified whey proteins, such as Provon A-190, provide a solution.”

Whey protein opportunity in beverages may increase as a result of research at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. Commissioned by Carbery, the research focuses on flavors present in whey protein and the relationship between flavor, manufacturing processes, storage and consumer responses.

Much of the research will characterize the flavor profiles of Carbery’s Optipep hydrolyzed whey protein range. Optipep has been shown to work in ready-to-drink beverages.

Carbery, based in Cork, Ireland, and Synergy, its flavor and savory ingredients company, work on flavor engineering for whey protein. Synergy Flavors Inc. is based in Wauconda, Ill.

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