Formulating solutions for niche products
Many new niche products target specific consumer needs and wants.
BakingBusiness.com, January 31, 2011
by Laurie Gorton
Fitting baked foods to niche market needs such as gluten-free, low-fat, high-fiber and even reduced-sugar is no easy task. Formulators must take into account texture and appearance as well as taste, according to Yadunandan Dar, PhD, applications technology manager, National Starch Food Innovation (NSFI), Bridgewater, NJ.

“Texture is a key issue with such foods, not only gluten-free for celiac sufferers but also sugar-free for diabetics,” Dr. Dar said. Another key issue is appearance, which alters when sugar and fat are removed. “Such products just look different,” he observed.

It’s not only the formulation that changes; the process does, too. “Many traditional baked foods are built around wheat flour, eggs, sugar, dairy and shortening,” Dr. Dar explained. “When you reduce or take out one or more of these com-ponents, unexpected things happen in the production process.”

Machinery built to handle conventional baked foods is designed for high efficiency, but replacement formulations can render the equipment less efficient. With gluten-free, for example, the dough becomes more batter-like in consistency. Rheological properties change, affecting rolling, kneading, dividing and forming operations.

Although many suppliers, including NSFI, offer functional replacer ingredients, successful use of these depends on taking care with the application and the process. Dr. Dar urged formulators to follow four essential steps. First is to measure the texture of the original product, applying both sensory and instrumental analysis. Second is to identify the best functional replacement ingredient. Third is to understand the role of the replacer in the formula and the process. “It’s not always a 1:1 replacement,” he said. And fourth is to measure the new product’s characteristics with respect to the original product.

“There’s always a difference in the finished products. As a formulator, you have to be able to measure and fine-tune,” Dr. Dar said. “These steps are important. They provide some surety that consumers will accept the product. If you don’t get the texture right, people will reject the product.”

NSFI recently introduced ingredients intended for niche markets. Homecraft GF flour replaces wheat flour in gluten-free baked foods. Precisa, another replacement ingredient, targets removal of fat from sauces, dips and dairy products.

“But using a wheat flour replacer is not enough,” he cautioned. “All the other ingredients have to work with it, and you have to be able to help the customer with such applications. This is true for us and true for all other suppliers of such replacement ingredients.”

Check out our upcoming February issue of Baking & Snack, which carries further tips for how to formulate properly for gluten-free and other niche products.