When texturants are not included in the initial product development stages, there are often issues with ingredients separating or not maintaining a uniform suspension.

Nutrient fortification complications

Historically beverages were designed to quench thirst and hydrate. Over time they evolved into vehicles for delivering energy, vitamins, minerals and most recently, protein. The macronutrient’s documented ability to assist with weight loss and weight management by helping control hunger, provide lasting energy, aid in sports recovery and maintain muscle mass with aging has made it one of the hottest nutrients of the decade.

Beverage marketers lead the protein-enhanced foods segment. Many are blending protein ingredients sourced from both animals and plants to deliver at least 5 grams per serving for a “good source of protein” claim, or 10 grams or more per serving, which enables an “excellent source of protein” claim.

The concentrated levels of protein are being added to everything from flavored water to juice to coffee. Each product matrix has a unique set of challenges as processing parameters, pH and other ingredients all impact beverage stability. It is paramount that the added protein be an invisible addition, thus stabilization is necessary.

A stabilized protein beverage is one that’s homogeneous and smooth without gelling or lumping. The proteins contained in the beverage cannot flocculate or become sediment. Grittiness is unacceptable.

“Texturants not only improve mouthfeel and cover up grittiness, they can mask off flavors that come from certain types of proteins, which is becoming more of an issue as formulators blend numerous animal and plant proteins to achieve specific nutrient profiles,” said Tonya Armstrong, senior applications scientist, Grain Processing Corp., Muscatine, Iowa. “Furthermore, texturants can also be used to manipulate perceived sweetness.”

This, too, has become more of an issue as formulators blend sweeteners and flavors to achieve a target sweetness level while keeping added sugars at bay.

Indeed, reducing added sugars and calories from sugar continues to drive product development in the beverage category. Such formulations may be lacking in texture, since removing sugar removes bulk solids, and this results in a beverage with a thin mouthfeel.

“Texturants help to maintain the original texture of reduced-sugar/calorie beverages or help to develop new and innovative textures in beverages,” said Marcello Nichi, senior manager marketing texture, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill. “Besides improving mouthfeel by highlighting textural properties such as creaminess or smoothness, texturants are highly functional for problem solving many different issues.”

This includes keeping fruit particulates in suspension in juices and smoothies, preventing separation of cocoa powder in chocolate milk and keeping essential oils used in many flavors in solution. Texturants also assist with delivering a full-fat mouthfeel without all the fat or calories.

“Carrageenan and cellulose gel can easily be included in low-fat and fat-free beverages to enhance consumer liking,” Mr. White said. “At the right use level, they deliver the same rich texture of full-fat options and in protein-enriched recipes, they aid in nutrient suspension, ensuring each sip has the same amount of added protein or any other added vitamin or nutrient without needing to shake the carton.”

Texturants assist with innovation. There’s a growing trend in recreating desserts as indulgent beverages, with many of them based on dairy. Think drinkable crème brulee or tiramisu. Such indulgent flavored milks are gaining notoriety in Europe and are starting to catch on in the United States.

“This is a concept with its origins in flavored coffee creamers,” said Adams Berzins, project leader at Ingredion. “But today’s consumer does not want to drink a glass of 40% butterfat cream. That’s where texturants, most notably carrageenan, can assist by creating a rich, smooth, creamy mouthfeel without all the fat calories.”

The largest demand in the ready-to-drink sector remains nutrient delivery for on-the-go consumption.

“These products are expected to have increased protein and fortifying ingredients while maintaining a consistent mouthfeel and shelf stability,” Ms. Silagyi said. “Most of these products are designed to be shelf stable, which means aseptic processing is required. When processing aseptically, the ultra-high-temperature step removes microbial contaminants but it can also create a variety of formulation challenges.”

Cellulose gel texturants are able to withstand the rigors of ultra-high temperature processing.

“The functionality of cellulose gel shines in this segment, as it can deliver physical stability that withstands the microbial processing technologies while providing a very desirable texture,” Mr. White said. “Similar to carrageenan, cellulose has very low usage levels and is used at just tenths of a per cent in beverage applications to provide the necessary stability and creaminess.”

TIC Gums offers an ingredient line specifically designed to suspend varying levels of protein and other fortifying agents in dairy-based systems.

“With these texturants systems, manufacturers are able to achieve their targeted texture and stability requirements while preventing sedimentation of additional ingredients, like cocoa, that are added for taste,” Ms. Silagyi said.

Instant protein beverage mixes are moving from a niche body-builder market to mainstream consumers, as they deliver essential nutrients in a convenient powdered form. Historically these mixes were known to yield beverages that were not always texturally desirable; however, the target user was willing to overlook this sensory casualty in order to reap the benefits of the muscle-building protein. Today’s athletically inspired health- and wellness-seeking consumers are less forgiving.

“The protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber that supplement these instant beverages can produce an astringent end-product with an increased awareness of particulates,” Ms. Silagyi said. “Cold water soluble hydrocolloid systems are essential in the formulation of instant protein beverages as they dissolve easily and rapidly, increase viscosity and provide suspension, which decreases the perception of particulates. This allows consumers to experience textural benefits upon reconstitution.”

Grain Processing’s specialty is texturizing ingredients for beverage mixes.

“For a meal replacement drink mix we suggest a pre-gelatinized agglomerated modified food starch to improve mouthfeel and ease of dispersion when mixed into a liquid,” Ms. Armstrong said. “The starch can be used in conjunction with carrageenan to further modify the texture. Maltodextrin can be used to help improve dispersion, mouthfeel and build solids while controlling sweetness.”