Top shelf formulations

Alcohol flavors are in the spotlight in all product categories, adding to both savory and sweet dishes. “Interest in craft beer, artisanal spirits and wine appreciation have translated from the restaurants to the large-scale manufacturers,” said Dave Sackett, executive director of sales and marketing, Mizkan Americas Inc., Mount Prospect, Ill.

Whereas many restaurant chefs will cook with “the real thing,” as it’s just a shelf away, culinologists creating packaged foods intended for retail or food service distribution channels typically opt for alcohol ingredients such as denatured alcohols, reductions and natural flavor extracts. That’s because state regulations limit how much alcohol may be used to formulate packaged foods. Further, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives requires special taxes to be paid on alcohol, as well as have food formulas approved.
The retro, minty after-dinner drink inspired this frozen grasshopper pie.

“If you bring real alcohol into a manufacturing facility, you have to pay taxes on it just like you would if you bought it at a packaged store” said Christopher Warsow, corporate executive chef, Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill.

Many restaurant chefs also find alcohol ingredients useful, as a little goes a long way in terms of flavor, providing an economic advantage over formulating with the real thing. There’s no need to worry about cooks sneaking samples, and consumers may try new flavors without consuming alcohol. When formulating with alcohol ingredients, as long as the finished food contains less than 0.5% residual alcohol, no alcohol content declaration is necessary.

Cooking with real alcohol makes that a challenge. An alcohol beverage stirred into a hot solution retains about 85% of its alcohol content while a flamed product is closer to 75%, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If the product is baked or simmered, after just 15 minutes it only has 40% of its original alcohol content. By two-and-a-half hours, the figure is down to 5%.

Denatured alcohol ingredients keep the alcohol content of food at a minimum. The ingredients resemble the real alcohol and may be labeled as such, allowing for claims such as “made with real Kentucky whiskey.” Grape-specific cooking wines allow for similar marketing nomenclature. Suppliers of the ingredients render them non-drinkable through denaturation, which is typically achieved by the addition of such ingredients as garlic, onion or salt. Denatured liquors are exempt from state and federal taxes, making them much more economical than using the real thing.

Alcoholic beverages can also be reduced. These highly concentrated ingredients are prepared using heat, whereby the alcohol and most of the water has been cooked off. The reduction has an extremely concentrated flavor profile, rendering it a very cost-effective ingredient.

“The majority of our products are denatured with salt, between 1.5% and 3%,” said Maggie Harvey, new product development manager for Mizkan. “Given the usage level, this added salt is seldom an issue. Sometimes minor adjustments in additional salt need to be made to reach the right flavor profile.

“The reductions tend to impart a ‘cooked’ flavor to a dish and this can add complexity without the use of a flavor or the need to cook the final product.”

Mizkan introduced denatured porter ale at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition held July 11-14 in Chicago. “Product launches with ale as an ingredient are on the rise and mirror the growth in popularity of craft beer,” Mr. Sackett said, particularly in sauces seasonings and items such as beer batter, beer cheese and beer sausages.

Garth Vdoviak, product development manager at Mizkan offered formulating suggestions for denatured spirits, wine powders and wine reductions: “You can replace some moisture in a cheddar bread recipe by using denatured porter ale,” he said. “Create candied maple bourbon bacon by tossing chunks of bacon in a mixture of equal amounts of bourbon reduction, maple syrup and brown sugar. Then bake.”

The company has jumped on the moonshine trend with a salted moonshine ingredient that can be used with chicken stock to make roux served over protein, vegetables or pasta. There has also been resurgence in use of Colonial-period beverage shrubs in craft cocktails, according to Mr. Vdoviak. “Look for these shrubs to be used for culinary purposes as they closely resemble a gastrique,” he said.

Formulating with extracts

In addition to denatured and reduced alcohol ingredients, flavor extracts are another option. Natural flavors are obtained through commercial fermentation using many of the same components found in the specific liquor.

“The main challenge of formulating with alcohol flavor over cooking with alcohol is that flavors typically only capture the volatile portion of the flavor profile,” said Noah Michaels, senior product development chef at Symrise. “When reducing wine for a sauce, for example, you’re adding a complex mixture of sugars and acids, as well as bitter, oaky compounds not always found in a wine flavor. To create a commercial product with the same profile, you have to adjust your formula, either with wine concentrate or a mixture of sugars and acids along with the flavor to get an authentic product.”

The impact of processing and shelf life must always be considered during ingredient selection. “With a red wine-infused salad dressing, you would want a flavor with more of the highly volatile notes present, as it would simulate use of fresh wine,” Mr. Michaels said. “If you’re making a red wine sauce that will be exposed to high temperatures, then use an ingredient that has already undergone some sort of heat processing, such as a concentrate or a reduction flavor. These will not only taste more authentic but will perform better.”