Innovations For Life
by Lori Dahm
Ingredients and technologies make the newest dairy products healthier.
Many innovative new dairy products introduced this past year were possible because of the latest ingredient technologies — for example, the smooth-textured frozen desserts utilize emulsifiers and texture systems, while big news in yogurts and drinkable yogurts was the addition of probiotic cultures.
And, of course, while the industry is still struggling with how best to publicize and use the latest whey research, the scientific community is on fire with the results from human clinical trials which document and validate the significant health benefits whey can impart.
The use of various ingredients in dairy applications continues to revolutionize the types of products available to consumers — improved products in terms of mouthfeel and other sensory attributes, and healthier products, whether that be through the addition of live and active cultures or through the removal of less desirable substances like sugars. The world of dairy products continues to progress due to these newest ingredient technologies.
Going Pro
The inclusion of probiotic cultures in dairy products is finally hitting its stride, after five to 10 years of experts positing that consumers were ready to embrace the probiotic concept. As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics are live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.
“The most essential traits of probiotics are their ability to resist stomach acid, bile salts and digestive enzymes; their capability to adhere to intestinal mucosa and cohabit with indigenous intestinal microflora, or to produce substances that suppress the growth of undesirable bacteria without damaging the endogenous intestinal flora,” says Mirjana Curic-Bawden, senior scientist at Chr. Hansen, Milwaukee. “These characteristics are strain specific. Furthermore, probiotics must be stable in food applications.”
Probiotic cultures have been a part of dairy products in other countries for decades. Kefirs and fermented dairy beverages on the market in Europe and Asia have traditionally included live and active cultures, and consumers there are familiar with the health benefits that probiotic cultures confer, such as gut health, immunity and other attributes.
“We are observing trends in products in the United States that are just the tip of the iceberg of the popularity that similar products have received in Europe and Asia for the past two decades,” Curic-Bawden says. “Fermented milk is undoubtedly the most popular application worldwide, as it offers a wide variety of different product types, from stirred yogurt and drinkable yogurts to diluted fermented beverages.”
As well, new products are appearing in the global market, and signs indicate that soon these new products will cross the ocean and make an appearance in the United States.
“Last year, we also observed an increased interest in applications of probiotics in fresh and hard cheeses, ice creams, frozen desserts and fruit juices,” Curic-Bawden says. “A range of new dairy-based products was recently launched in Europe and Asia, fermented whey or fermented skim milks blended with orange juice or fruit cocktails. These types of products are very innovative; they are usually formulated to deliver combined health benefits of whey proteins, probiotics, vitamins and very often prebiotic fibers or phytonutrients and antioxidants.”
For the present status of probiotics here on this continent, use of live and active cultures is appearing primarily in yogurt-type products, which are particularly suitable for probiotics because of the other cultures within the yogurt formulation.
“One reason that yogurt and fermented milk products are almost always considered traditional carriers of probiotics is because some probiotic strains (most of them belonging to lactic acid bacteria) can grow to a certain extent during the incubation of milk,” Curic-Bawden says. “However, probitoics can also be used in dairy applications such as cheeses, like cream cheese, semi-hard and hard cheeses. In any case, it is of utmost importance that the probiotic strains survive during the shelf life (6 to 12 months in hard cheese), but do not have a negative effect on the taste of the final product.”
It is this survival through the shelf life of a product that is particularly important in the field of probiotic-laden products. To deliver a beneficial effect, probiotics must be ingested in adequate amounts, which generally are considered a minimum of 100 million live and active probiotic cells per serving, although the trend is now moving toward an even higher count.
“Achieving a high count in a freshly fermented product is almost always a matter of inoculation rate and growth (incubation) conditions,” Curic-Bawden says. “Keeping the high cell count for 50 to 60 days, which is now tending to be a standard shelf life of fermented milk in the U.S., depends on numerous factors such as the pH of the product, the presence of dissolved oxygen, the addition of various preservatives and storage temperature.”
Most probiotics currently being used in the food industry belong to one of the following genera and species: Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacteriuim longum, Lactobacillus acidophilus or Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
In order for the human benefit of the probiotic strain to be valid, in vitro and in vivo studies that include human clinical studies must have been conducted. Documented probiotic strains have the unique strain designation (letters and/or numbers), so they can be easily identified in the research literature and distinguished in the market. In most cases, credible probitoics are also protected with a trademark.
“We are continually working on the promotion of probiotics and the education of our customers on the benefits of probiotics,” Curic-Bawden says. “Probiotics are an important segment of the global functional food trends. They are finally entering the U.S. through the front door, and our impression is that they are here to stay and expand.”
Frozen Wonderland
The ice cream and frozen dessert category this past year was a playground for new ingredients that enabled products to deliver improved sensory attributes like the mouthfeel of full-fat ice creams in products with lower fat levels.
“There is a new wave of ‘light’ ice cream products. National brands have been achieving the desired texture through the use of low-temperature extrusion processes. Many of the smaller, regional companies have turned to texture system technology to get a similar result without the large capital expense,” says Don Heffner, market manager of frozen desserts at Kerry Bio-Science, Hoffman Estates, Ill. “As the frozen dessert industry moves toward more lower fat and ‘better-for-you’ products, the use of texture systems has helped to make many of these products ‘eat’ closer to their original counterparts.”
The new “light” ice cream and frozen dessert products that are light tend to have significantly reduced fat levels, as much as 50 to 70 percent below that of regular ice creams.
“We have found that the selection of the right emulsifier system can give the impression of higher fat levels. The key to this texture and proper air cell stability is optimizing the level of fat agglomeration,” Heffner says. “In addition, the ‘light’ products typically have higher overrun levels and slightly lower total solids than regular ice creams. These factors make it necessary to adjust the hydrocolloid system to properly maintain the air cell structure and minimize the effects of more free water in the product.”
Many of the new ice creams and frozen desserts this year offered lowered sugar levels, and such formulations required that traditional sweeteners such as sucrose and corn syrup be replaced with alternative sweeteners that could provide bulk and the desired sweetness level.
“Using sugar alcohols such as sorbitol or lactitol in frozen desserts provide only a low level of sweetness, but add solids and aid in reducing the freezing point to an appropriate temperature,” says Linda Dunning, group manager of frozen desserts and beverages at Danisco USA, New Century, Kans. “Polydextrose and maltodextrin are often added to replace the solids and add back the body that is lost with the removal of traditional sweeteners.”
Using such ingredients provides a reduction in calories compared to traditional formulations, and some formulations include a blend of sucralose, aspartame and acesulfame potassium in no-sugar-added products to provide the desired level of sweetness.
“However, the recent trend has been to use traditional sweeteners with little or no high-intensity sweeteners to create a reduced-sugar product. This application area has a huge potential in a nation that has a growing number of obese children,” Dunning says. “Some parents are not willing to give their children sugar alcohols or high-intensity sweeteners, but they also want to help reduce their children’s sugar intake. Reduced-sugar products that use traditional sweeteners with little or no high-intensity sweeteners can meet this need and have a potential use in school lunch programs.”
Other areas of future growth and opportunity are for both texturizer ingredients and sweetener alternatives that can be part of a clean-labeled product. Although the “organic” designation is not as critical for these ingredient systems — because they comprise such a minimal percentage of the formulation and thereby escape “organic” derivation requirements — having such products be all-natural is becoming increasingly important for the clean-label consideration.
“As well, there is a large amount of work being done in the area of ‘anti-freeze’ proteins for use in frozen desserts,” Heffner says. “These products attempt to exploit the ability of certain organisms to survive in sub-freezing environments through the use of naturally produced proteins that prevent freezing of water in living cells.”
Whey
Of course, the dairy industry has been excited about the potential of whey as an ingredient for the past several years, as the health benefits that whey can impart have become more widely known and substantially documented. Whey as an ingredient is making a showing in many nutritional bars which boast an amplified protein quotient, as well as in some new emerging beverages, also as a protein source.
This is no small wonder, considering that the most recent studies reveal that whey protein has significant power and potential for its healthy attributes. Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), Rosemont, Ill. hosted a Whey Symposium at this year’s IFT Annual Meeting  — titled “Whey Protein: Physiological Effects and Emerging Health Benefits” — that presented several new promising studies conducted with whey with regard to muscle synthesis, weight management and satiety, and even some preliminary anti-carcinogen studies.
“Research reported by Dr. Stuart Phillips at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, showed that milk protein administered after exercise revealed that the combination of whey protein with casein have a positive synergistic effect on muscle protein synthesis and retention. The amino acids from the whey and from casein are both responsible for milk protein being more effective in muscle recovery than other proteins,” says Pete Huth, director of regulatory and research transfer at DMI. “Whey protein is a fast absorbing protein so its amino acids are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and reach the muscle tissue quickly to stimulate protein synthesis, whereas casein is a slower absorbing protein that has been shown to suppress the normal process of muscle protein breakdown.”
Phillips’s research shows that these two dairy proteins have a complementary effect of promoting muscle protein development leading to building the overall muscle in the body.
In other human clinical studies presented at the conference, consumption of whey protein by overweight and obese subjects for six months resulted in significant reductions in body weight and fat with no change in lean body mass compared to a carbohydrate-controlled diet. Another study documented the effect of whey and other dairy proteins upon increasing satiety and reducing food intake.
Extremely preliminary work in animal studies was reported on the tumor suppression effects resulting from the ingestion of a whey protein fraction that is an iron-saturated form of lactoferrin. But while whey ingredients are appearing in new products on the shelf, the specifics of these promising health studies have yet to make their way into the consciousness of the typical consumer.
“Consumer awareness of whey continues to grow, and certain segment of the population such as athletes and fitness enthusiasts are already consuming whey protein due to its numerous health benefits,” Huth says. “Consumer research indicates that once consumers are made aware of the benefits of whey protein, the notion resonates well and they immediately make the connection and are open to whey ingredients.”
Overall, the ingredients that are a part of innovative dairy products within this past year helped amplify the health quotient, whether that be through the addition of ingredients like whey for a protein benefit or probiotics for health attributes, or through the use of ingredient systems to compensate for the removal of substances like sugars or fat. Consumers have benefited from the improved products that resulted from these new ingredients and technologies.