Throughout the food industry, product developers rely on cultures and enzymes to provide various functions in food systems. Though in many instances the naturally sourced ingredients serve as processing aids, meaning they have no technical or functional effect in the finished food and are present at only insignificant levels, they typically are declared on ingredient statements in dairy foods, as consumers expect them and understand their inclusion. That’s because cultures and enzymes are the star performers in such products as cheese, sour cream and yogurt. Without them, there would only be milk.
Further, an increasing focus on clean, simple labels and sustainability has many companies exploring new uses of cultures and enzymes. That’s because next-generation, highly specialized offerings often allow for the removal of ingredients such as preservatives, stabilizers and even flavors, with a little going a long way in terms of product performance.
Cultures are function-specific in dairy foods manufacturing. Some participate in fermentation and contribute to sensory characteristics, including flavor, texture and visual development. Others, those described as probiotics, do almost nothing until consumption, and then have a biological influence on the host. And still other cultures exert a bio-protective effect against yeast and mold, allowing for the production of dairy products free of preservatives and stabilizers.
“We are constantly monitoring market needs and keep developing cultures to fit customer needs and deliver the desired quality of fermented milk and yogurt,” said Mirjana Curic-Bawden, principal scientist, application manager-fermented milk and probiotics, cultures and enzymes, Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee. “Recently we launched cultures specific for the development of drinking yogurt, but they work in other applications as well. These cultures contain specially selected strains that give unique combinations of mild taste (low acidity), high smoothness, high mouthfeel and excellent stability.
“Due to the mild flavor, these cultures allow for a reduction of added sugar, but more importantly, they also allow for exclusion of starch and other stabilizers in drinking yogurts. This feature is not only important for cost savings, but also for achieving a clean, simple ingredient statement.”
Mark Fahlin, global product line manager for fermented milk products, DSM Food Specialties, South Bend, Ind., agreed that the growing drinking yogurt category requires unique culture solutions.
“High-performing cultures enable low post-acidification during and after the fermentation process, compared with traditional yogurt cultures,” he said.
This performance allows flexibility in the process for cooling, which means that the quality of the product will not be affected by long times at high temperatures. DSM has developed drinking yogurt cultures to ensure that a smooth texture is achieved within the timeframe required by industrial fermentation processes.
Another opportunity for cultures is to develop what only may be described as deliciousness. In recent years, indulgent, creamy yogurt options have
have become increasingly popular in the United States. While using whole milk or cream contributes to the mouthfeel, cultures may help as well.
“Certain cultures have significant fat-mimicking properties to provide a taste for those consumers looking for more indulgent and creamy dairy yogurts and desserts,” Mr. Fahlin said. “Visually these products should appear shiny and smooth with a thick and creamy texture that melts in the mouth.”
DSM’s next-generation of yogurt cultures has been formulated for the development of Greek yogurts and other ethnic styles such as skyr and Australian.
“Our new range allows for the creation of appealing high-protein, indulgent products with an authentic texture,” Mr. Fahlin said. The cultures allow for the development of distinguishing flavors, from classic tart to mild, as well as a range of textures.
Chr. Hansen recently developed a culture system intended for nonfat and low-fat yogurts. It not only delivers a creamy texture like one would get in whole milk yogurt, but also develops a similar creamy taste.
The company also has a new pH stable culture.
“With this culture, yogurt manufacturers are able to achieve desired texture during the warm-filling process,” Ms. Curic-Bawden said. “This allows for a more consistent consumer experience by preventing continuous acidification during shelf-life. When all other quality requirements are met, this pH stable culture lengthens product shelf-life.”
A separate recent innovation from Chr. Hansen is a specially selected combination of culture strains intended for such mesophilic and thermophilic applications as buttermilk, fromage frais, quark and sour cream.
“The unique combination enables the development of a complex, cultured buttery and creamy flavor but without carbon dioxide development,” Ms. Curic-Bawden said.
It is designed to be used as an adjunct culture, on top of the traditional fermentation cultures for these products.
The new culture, which is a blend of Lactobacillus species, shows an ability to improve the flavor profile during storage of fresh dairy products. Most fresh dairy products lose their fresh and indulgent flavor during the first two to three weeks of storage. This culture allows for improved flavor that is maintained for a longer time due to the diacetyl production during chilled storage. This contributes to a lengthier shelf-life, which is especially attractive in today’s dairy industry where there’s consolidation of production sites and increased distribution routes.