CHICAGO —  Food texture preference is very personal. This may be exemplified by cooked egg. Some prefer eggs scrambled, whereas others cannot tolerate the sponginess. Identifiable whites and yolks are favored by some consumers, with preference in yolk consistency ranging from runny to solid.

Food texture also may be an indicator of product quality. Cheese connoisseurs, for example, know that tyrosine (an amino acid) crystals are a sign of a finely aged hard cheese, while many everyday consumers don’t appreciate crunch in their Parmesan.

Then there’s evolving texture.

“Texture over shelf life is what we call stability, meaning we want the texture to look and perform on the last day of product shelf life the same as it did on the first day it hit the stores,” said Ivan Gonzales, marketing director of dairy for Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. “We do not want drastic changes to the texture over time. Typical problems to avoid are syneresis, hardening, losing viscosity and developing graininess. Changes to texture most likely will impact appearance and flavor release in the final product.”

When it comes to dairy products, consumers typically expect smooth, creamy and void of standing moisture, liquid or frozen. They don’t want starchy or gummy lumps in sour cream, protein or mineral sedimentation in drinkable yogurt, or ice crystals in ice cream. Visual cues are indicators of product texture, which in turn influences how the product feels in the mouth. This is why texture has become a focal point during the early stages of product development.

“Texture is an integral part of the eating experience,” said Ben George, senior food scientist, Kerry, Beloit, Wis. “A watery yogurt or a gelatinous chocolate milk will turn even the biggest fan of the product away for good. Controlling the texture of a product is a necessity in today’s manufacturing. Knowing the equipment and shear a product will ultimately see is the first step in developing a successful product. Taking this information, the developer can formulate the product to include the necessary ingredients to ensure proper texture in the finished product.”

The role of texturants

Most consumers don’t think about a food’s texture or mouthfeel unless it is inferior. Texturants can assist with delivering a product that keeps consumers coming back.

Usually carbohydrate- or protein-based, texturants vary in function and by application. For example, maltodextrins and polydextrose add body and build total solids, while starches add viscosity and body. Gums tend to build viscosity and prevent phase separation, while emulsifiers bind fat and aqueous phases.

Broccoli and cheese soup“Texture is our first, and often our lasting impression of the food we eat,” said Brian Surratt, senior dairy applications scientist, Cargill Texturizing Solutions, Minneapolis. “As a result, one of the most basic questions to answer before any development project begins is what is the intended consumer’s textural expectations and desires.

“Too often, the end textural target is vaguely defined, if it’s defined at all. We encourage product developers to create a specific goal in terms of a finished product’s texture, as well as a means to measure the targeted attributes. In essence, we start from the end, and work our way back to the beginning, determining the specific components that will deliver on our textural goals. It’s like watching dominos fall, but in reverse.”

Mr. Gonzales said product developers should address texture needs first in order to ensure the ingredients used in the formulation stand up to the manufacturing process and storage requirements. Once that is confirmed, then flavor, color and the other attributes may be addressed.

The texture considerations of dairy foods are as varied as the many products in the marketplace.

“The processing conditions for cheese are very different than ice cream or yogurt, and each of these products have unique texture attributes,” Mr. Gonzales said. “Ice cream and cheese, for example, are quite unique in their texture challenges, the first one for the complexity of ice crystal formations and the second for the melting attributes required in the mouth and in the different final food applications.”

Specifically, with cheese, each application will have unique texture and functional requirements. Pizza cheese should melt and be stringy. Cheese inside a microwavable pocket sandwich must not run out or burst through the breading. Cheese baked into a muffin or cracker must remain identifiable. Sauce for nachos should flow and not form a skin when cooled.

In the case of processed and imitation cheeses, as well as the growing number of vegan cheese-type products in the market, it’s important to identify melting properties upfront. Other important considerations include shredding and slicing.

Considering clean label options

Depending on a product’s positioning in the marketplace, traditional texturants such as modified starches, gums and chemical emulsifiers may make the most economic and functional sense. They are consistent and reliable. However, as consumer demand for simple, natural labels gains momentum, many of these go-to ingredients are falling out of favor.

“Current food trends are all about natural ingredients and farm-to-table products,” Mr. George said. “Developers are continuously asked to make products with little-to-no traditional stabilizers and still keep the original textures consumers are accustomed to.

“Flavored milk with no carrageenan or ice cream with minimal emulsifiers and hydrocolloids are some of the challenges developers are getting tasked with. These products use texturants to not only bring desired mouthfeel to the product but also are highly functional in visual, melting and flavor release of the product as well.”

Using functional ingredients such as protein in combination with natural flavors may allow for the replacement of some traditional hydrocolloid texturants in dairy foods. Kerry offers such texturant blends. Depending on the application, the blend may provide viscosity, emulsification and flavor masking. Made with grass-fed, Non-G.M.O. Project verified dairy proteins, the ingredient system also boosts protein content.

“Dairy flavors help formulators overcome limitations in delivery systems and provide unique dairy richness and indulgence to lower-fat and lower-sugar products,” said Beth Warren, chief commercial officer, Edlong, Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Refrigerated yogurt cupsProtein combined with natural flavors is one approach to clean label stabilization. It is particularly useful in refrigerated yogurt, a product that often undergoes temperature and physical abuse during transport by the consumer from home to office.

Some yogurt formats, such as conventional Swiss- and stirred-style yogurts, must withstand intense thermal processing and high-shear conditions. Acidic dairy beverages also require special textural considerations.

“For years, product developers relied on modified starch and gelatin to deliver the viscosity, gel structures and mouthfeel associated with these products,” Mr. Surratt said. “However, if those tried-and-true ingredients are off the table due to label considerations, we run into challenges finding acceptable alternative solutions that can withstand modern processing realities, meet formulators’ shelf life requirements and still deliver the textural attributes consumers expect.

“Drinkable yogurts must have a thick viscosity in order for consumers to feel like they are actually drinking a yogurt beverage versus thin, white milk. Often, if processing techniques or ingredients are used improperly, they can produce a gritty, rough texture. Pressure to reduce added sugars can further complicate these formulations.”

Tools in the texture toolbox

At the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and expo, scheduled for July 15-18 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, Cargill is tackling this challenge with a strawberry drinkable yogurt made with 4 grams of added sugars per serving. The innovation team built back the missing sweetness with steviol glycosides, but still needed to replace sugar’s bulk in the formula. To deliver the creamy, thick mouthfeel consumers expect from a drinkable yogurt, the company developed a tailored solution for this texture challenge.

“Using label-friendly ingredients like corn starch and chicory root fiber, we achieved a mouthfeel comparable to a full-sugar drinkable yogurt and designed a system that kept dairy proteins in suspension throughout the shelf life of the beverage,” said Christine Addington, senior dairy technical service specialist at Cargill. “Our prototype meets consumers’ label and sensory expectations, keeps added sugars in check and qualifies as an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein and calcium.”

Parsippany, N.J.-based Beneo Inc. is launching its second functional native rice starch at the I.F.T. show. The company’s production process enhances the functional properties of rice starch without using chemicals, thus achieving performance levels comparable or superior to modified food starches.

Drinkable yogurt beverage“Not only is this new functional native rice starch clean label, it also provides manufacturers with wide-ranging opportunities to enhance the texture of their products with a versatile ingredient that is sustainable under the harshest processing conditions,” said Jon Peters, president of Beneo. “In convenience foods, including cheese sauces and ready-to-eat meals, the challenge is to maintain optimal functionality under various manufacturing requirements. This rice starch allows food manufacturers to create unique textures and excellent product stability under extreme circumstances, such as low pH, high temperature, high shear, without the need for modified starches.”

AIDP, City of Industry, Calif., now offers a next-generation seaweed extract ingredient for dairy and non-dairy desserts and yogurt-type products. Developed by Algaia S.A., Paris, the alginate line provides a rich and creamy texture while allowing for a reduction in fat. In desserts such as low-fat dairy flan it is possible to deliver desirable texture without the use of eggs or traditional additives.

“One of the biggest challenges was to prevent the interaction of our alginate with calcium,” said Fabien Canivet, applications manager for Algaia. “Alginate ingredients are well known to strongly interact with calcium, creating potential technological complexity limiting their use by dairy manufacturers.”

The new line provides a texture option for the dairy industry, offering a rich, creamy, indulgent profile with a low-fat advantage, Mr. Canivet said. Alginate properties include solubility at low temperatures and the ability to preserve sensitive ingredients, such as vitamins and flavors.

Kerry offers an acacia fiber that enhances mouthfeel while keeping a lower viscosity. This is useful in chocolate milk and yogurt drinks, which require creaminess without being too thick and having too much mouth coating.

Ingredion recently introduced a line of multi-functional tapioca flours. The range of ingredients couples a clean tapioca flour label with the functionality of a modified starch. The full range of flours is adapted to suit a variety of production processes, offering tolerance and stability advantages while at the same time helping manufacturers achieve indulgent dairy products and smooth sauces, puddings and custards.

The flours provide exceptional flavor release and enhanced, creamy textures that allow food manufacturers to reduce fat content and improve nutrition profiles. At the same time, the range of ingredients delivers higher viscosity than clean label starches in some applications, offering opportunities for cost savings, Mr. Gonzales said. The multi-functional tapioca flours support non-G.M.O. and gluten-free claims, aligning with consumer-driven trends reshaping labels around the globe.