Though many people would say there is a lot of creativity and art involved in the development of cultured products, we all know there is a lot of technology built into the products we have today. New technologies are used not only in the products’ manufacture, but also in the ingredients that provide texture, flavor or nutrition.
Cultures and enzymes
Besides good-quality milk and cream, cultures are the backbone of a cultured product. There is great diversity in the cultures available today, with technologies that have customized flavor, texture and overall performance improvements.
Some cultures can tolerate high-sugar environments and still ferment under typical incubation temperatures and times. Other cultures are designed to produce unique flavors, which provide a good way to differentiate your new product.
Some cultures can ferment for a specific time and then stop when the desired pH is achieved — a great tool to prevent post-acidification. Other cultures produce exopolysaccharides that help smooth out texture and “naturally” provide some texture stabilization and improved mouthfeel.
Enzymes are not new to cultured products, but typically we think of lactase addition for breaking down lactose into glucose and galactose or rennet to enhance the acid gelling properties of milk as it is fermented. Now there are lactase enzymes that can use lactose to make galacto-oligosaccharides, so the result is a decrease in sugar and production of fiber. Suddenly your Nutrition Facts panel has less sugar and some fiber listed.
If improved body and texture are goals, a typical approach would be to use something such as pectin and starch. Many starches work quite well and can be considered clean label — for example, tapioca starch.
Starch will often mute and mask flavors (even culture flavors), however, so an enzyme approach can work here, too. Different protease enzymes can be added to the milk prior to fermentation. These proteases will interact with the proteins in milk and then be inactivated through the pasteurization process. Once the fermentation is complete, the body and texture will be very similar to what results with added pectin and starch.
There are also new and improved high-potency sweeteners such as stevia leaf extracts with less bitter and metallic flavor and cleaner-flavored monk fruit extracts. Allulose is a new low-calorie sweetener that has 70% of the sweetness of sucrose. All of these are good tools for making products with reduced or no added sugar, and they have good consumer perception.
Fermented foods of all kinds are gaining in popularity; many technologies have made it easier to develop cultured dairy products that consumers will love to eat and be happy with the product label.