While it always has been difficult to pin down just what consumers mean when they ask for clean label, it seems lately the definition has undergone another evolution. Consumers want not only recognizable ingredients but also sustainable and value-added ingredients, too.

“Sustainable nutrition is running up against clean label,” said Rachel Cheatham, founder and chief executive officer of Foodscape Group, L.L.C., Chicago, during a presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual expo, held June 2-5 in New Orleans.

The concept of clean label varies by product category and targeted consumer. What’s clean to one may not be clean to another.

“But don’t let that deter you,” she said. “Just because there is not one definition doesn’t mean there aren’t anchor points you can strategize against. Consider sustainability in the equation. That may be where you can push the envelope in this whole conversation around what is clean, clean eating and clean label.”

Still, “real” is big in the baked foods sector, according to the “Power of Bakery 2019” study conducted by the American Bakers Association (A.B.A.) with the Food Marketing Institute (F.M.I.) and sponsored by Corbion.

“Top better-for-me strategies are the use of real ingredients such as cheese, chocolate, milk and eggs as well as avoiding artificial colors and flavors,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, president, 210 Analytics, L.L.C., San Antonio, which conducted the study along with ToddHale, L.L.C.

Clean Label, baking

Preference for natural colors and flavors appears to be a constant in the clean label space. The study showed 59% of shoppers prefer natural colors in indulgent and seasonal baked desserts.

“They recognize and are accepting that they may not get the same brightness and full range of colors when choosing natural,” Ms. Roerink said. “On the other hand, 41% of shoppers prefer bright and seasonal colors, and to get them, they will buy baked goods made with artificial colors.”

Color suppliers such as Chr. Hansen are bridging the gap in color brightness so that shoppers don’t need to compromise. Using traditional and non-G.M.O. methods, the company developed the Hansen sweet potato, which provides a natural red pigment that can act as an alternative to carmine and synthetic colors.

“As consumers move toward vegetarian and vegan food choices, the need for a carmine alternative has become more pressing. Our new red juice concentrates are 100% plant-based and provide a new solution to our customers looking to respond to this consumer trend,” said Jakob Dalmose Rasmussen, vice-president, commercial development at Chr. Hansen Natural Colors.

After all, consumers are reading labels. Three-quarters of shoppers look for one or more ingredients when purchasing baked foods, according to the “Power of Bakery 2019.” While whole grain (43%) and multi-grain (37%) are the most sought ingredients, a third of shoppers look for products with no artificial ingredients.

For fats and oils that means a movement toward no artificial ingredients, plant-based and non-G.M.O. Bunge Loders Croklaan offers a range of clean label margarines that are free from artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, with a non-GMO Project-verified option available.

The added-nutrition bump

The clean label platform has expanded beyond natural and whole foods to include whole food ingredients with value-added benefits.

Bay State Milling Co., for example, offers high fiber wheat flour, which delivers a minimum of 25% naturally occurring dietary fiber in refined flour, thus eliminating the need for fiber additives.

“It’s a sustainable and clean label approach to fiber enhancement delivered directly from an annual crop with no waste,” said Donna Reiser, marketing communications manager. “It requires only ‘wheat flour’ on the ingredient statement. It is also Non-GMO Project-verified and sourced from wheat that is traceable to family farms in the U.S.”

Clean Label, baking

Delavau Bakery Partners by SafPro, Philadelphia, offers a calcium fortification mineral-based ingredient that provides the bonus of assisting with sodium reduction.

“We can deliver good, excellent and glass-of-milk levels of calcium in a single baked good serving — such as a 6-inch sandwich roll — while maintaining the desired sensory experience,” said Matt Patrick, technology application and technical services, Delavau.

Eliminating chemical dependence

Chemical-sounding names typically do not have a place in clean label formulating. Cultures and enzymes may provide a more appealing ingredient declaration.

“Food enzymes may help bakers maintain or improve product volume and offer versatility and consistency in production,” said Janelle Crawford, strategic marketing lead, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences. “There are enzymes for dough strengthening, which enables a reduced dependence on chemical emulsification. They improve dough handling and deliver a fine, uniform crumb structure to bread, buns and rolls. With better consistency waste is reduced, leading to improved margins and more sustainable production.”

DuPont also offers bakery enzymes for improved freshness and resilience throughout desired shelf life. Softness and eating quality are improved, while moistness and resilience are maintained.

In the clean label preservative space, Brolite offers a natural mold inhibitor. It is a cultured product that naturally produces propionic acid to increase a product’s shelf life, said David DelGhingaro, president.

Chemical-sounding emulsifiers also often are replaced when a baker goes clean label. Plant-based emulsifiers offer formulators a friendlier option. Cargill now offers canola lecithin. This non-G.M.O. plant-based emulsifier may be used in organic products and doesn’t require allergen labeling.

Clean Label, baking

“Bakers can use our premium canola lecithin — often in combination with enzymes — to replace popular dough conditioners, including azodicarbonamide, sodium stearoyl lactylate, DATEM (diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides) and monoglycerides,” said Matt Gennrich, senior food technologist, R.&D. bakery applications. “This can be done without adding a single ingredient to the product label, as enzymes and lecithin are both commonly found in bread formulas.”

Kemin has a new clean label blend of enzymes and hydrocolloids specially formulated to provide softness to shelf-stable corn tortillas.

“It mainly replaces reducing agents like sodium metabisulfite, which is most commonly used in the flatbread industry for improved machinability of dough,” said Courtney Schwartz, marketing director.

Common swaps for claim compliance

There’s a multitude of clean label claims that bakers make that appeal to different consumer segments. This includes organic, natural, non-G.M.O. and vegan.

AAK now offers plant-based, sustainably sourced oils that can be used to replace the milkfat-based ingredients commonly used in baked foods such as cheddar cheese in bagels and cream cheese in pastry. The dairy-free cheese is made with a blend of organic coconut oil and organic sunflower oil and serves as a base that can be flavored to specification.

IBIE Interactions

During IBIE, companies mentioned in this article can be found at the following show floor locations:
  • AAK, No. 2027
  • Bay State Milling Co., No. 7723
  • Brolite Products, Inc., No. 2127
  • Bunge Loders Croklaan, No. 1535
  • Cargill, Inc., No. 451
  • Delavau Bakery Partners by SafPro, No. 727
  • Kemin Foods, L.C., No. 5240
  • Sunsweet Growers Inc., No. 2077

Bakers who are trying to eliminate caramel color may find malt ingredients useful. Brolite Products offers a dark malt powdered blend that can replace Type III and Type IV caramel colors in baked foods.

Another alternative to caramel color is dried plum (prune) ingredients.

“Their unique physiological composition helps promote browning,” said Kate Leahy, spokesperson, Sunsweet Ingredients, Sunsweet Growers Inc. “This can be helpful in gluten-free grain-based foods, which have a harder time achieving a golden-brown appearance.”

Dried plum ingredients also help bind moisture, even in low-fat grain-based products, without the need for fillers. Bakers can replace 50% of fat with prune puree or prune bits rehydrated in water. “While sugar itself isn’t banned from clean label products, many grain-based companies are looking for ways to reduce sugar,” Ms. Leahy said. “Using prune juice concentrate with a little water can improve texture and maintain sweetness in products such as brownies, cookies and cakes without artificial sweeteners.”

Kemin Food Technologies offers clean label antioxidants for grain-based baked foods, including straight rosemary extract and combinations with other plant-derived ingredients. Recently, the company launched rosemary extract combined with ascorbic acid, which provides more efficacy and longer shelf life for baked products such as crackers and bars.

“We are also focused on clean label antimicrobial alternatives that could potentially offer better flavor or less off-flavor in certain baked matrices compared to available options in the marketplace,” Ms. Schwartz said. “One option is a highly concentrated form of cultured dextrose that allows for lower usage levels to improve flavor. In certain food matrices, plant-derived extracts can be used to make the flavor more appealing.”

And, she noted, today’s consumers are mostly ready to pay the price for clean label, but where taste is ­concerned, they’re not ready to compromise.