Proteins help drinks such as smoothies achieve a thicker, smoother consistency.
Creamy, thick, smooth and full-bodied. Those are just some of the adjectives used to describe foods that owe much of their taste appeal to fat, yet labor under the perception of being less-than-healthy.

Increasingly, however, those qualities do not necessarily have to throw up a caution sign to food formulators or consumers obsessed with limiting the use or intake of fat or other undesirable ingredients that mimic fat. Quite to the contrary, foods with a typically indulgent profile today actually can be very healthful at the same time they wrack the consumer with guilt for enjoying something that pleases the palate.

Technology Widens Functionality

Steady advances in protein extraction, concentration and isolation technology can claim some of the credit for that change. Proteins, especially those derived from milk, wheat and soy, are getting a chance to show off their abundant functional capabilities, not to mention extensive health attributes, in the formulation of foods in which mouthfeel and texture are critically important.

Take a product like fruit smoothies. A couple of recent entries into the market for this meal-like beverage (that has growing mass appeal) credit protein for delivering products with a unique mouthfeel, a critical sensory quality. General Mills', Minneapolis, new fat-free Yoplait Nouriche smoothie uses whey protein to help give the product a thick, yogurt-like consistency. Frulatté Foods Co., Oakland, Calif., meanwhile, has combined both whey protein isolate and soy protein isolate in the company's debut product line that bears the same name. Frulatté's six fat-free or low-fat flavors derive five grams of protein each from whey and soy isolates.

“The combination was chosen to impart the best taste profile possible, while also highlighting the health attributes of each,” says Frulatté spokesperson Jade Yoong. “Whey protein complements the flavor and organoleptic profile of the product, increasing its health benefits while improving consistency and smoothness.”

The smoothies market is just one of many applications where both proteins are strutting their stuff. Blessed with varied abilities to gel, foam, bind water, emulsify, brown and affect flavor, proteins can be the equivalent of a Swiss army knife to food formulators looking to impart qualities to food that have a definite premium in today's market. Ready-to-eat puddings, frozen and flan-type desserts, some types of ice cream and other smoothie-like beverages are some of the indulgent foods that can benefit from ingredients like whey protein isolates and concentrates, as well as other, more abundant milk-based or milk-derived proteins like caseins, which have functional properties that are different from whey.

For indulgent food formulation, milk proteins have perhaps the most appeal and greatest opportunity, although soy-derived proteins appear to be gaining ground. Whey protein has emerged as an ingredient of interest, due not only to functional attributes that continue to be discovered and refined, but also to increasing evidence of its potential health attributes, among them the ability to perhaps control hypertension in certain quantities.

“Whey has characteristics that can manipulate parameters such as mouthfeel and viscosity, while delivering a comparatively clean flavor, and the move by the whey industry to new generations of concentrates and isolates is opening up some new uses for whey as an ingredient,” says Bill Haines, vice president of business-to-business marketing for Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, Ill., the organization that administers the dairy industry's checkoff-funded product promotion and research program. “Whey used to be used mostly as an extender for non-fat dried milk, but as we move into products that have a higher protein concentration, we're finding new applications, and dessert products and confections are among those new areas.”

Indeed, a leading ingredient supplier bills its powdered, microparticulated whey protein concentrate as being ideal for formulating numerous types of indulgent foods. Product literature touts the ingredient's ability to “provide creaminess, opacity and texture to puddings and aerated desserts,” and providing “structure, reducing starch, enhancing flavor release and syneresis control” when making puddings and flans. In ice cream, the product “provides significant benefits by reducing viscosity at the mix, homogenization and pasteurization stages.”

Today's roster of whey concentrates and isolates, though, does have its limitations. One of the major ones is the challenge of getting the ingredient to gel at ambient temperatures, and thus provide thickening properties, outside of formulations that require heating. But recent work at the Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center, Raleigh, N.C., may eventually yield a new type of whey protein that addresses that deficiency and opens up a host of new applications in the process.

The product of the center's research is a derivatized whey protein that has proven capable of gelling at temperatures far lower than concentrates now on the market. Having received a patent for the product last year, the center is now working with ingredient manufacturers to commercialize it.

“Normally, to get dairy proteins to thicken you have to have heat treatment,” says Chris Daubert, a researcher at the center, which is connected to North Carolina State University at Raleigh. “This modification allows us to have an ingredient that thickens and adds body to materials produced and consumed at colder temperatures.”

Daubert says the availability of this new type of whey could further expand whey's functionality in food products that are cold-processed. “It would allow manufacturers to better adhere to all-dairy labels in products like ice cream that are now stabilized with pre-gelatinized starch and other ingredients like carageenan, which don't bear any relation to Bessie the Cow,” he says.

Product developers have long used traditional proteins such as gelatin in frozen dairy desserts.

Spotlight on Soy

Such efforts to expand whey's usage profile are being driven, in part, by the competition that soy protein is providing to dairy proteins across the formulation spectrum. Soy protein concentrates and isolates are turning up in more indulgent food products, notably yogurts and smoothies, for both their functional attributes as well as their abundant healthful properties.

“More and more, we're trying to take soy protein into products where only milk proteins have gone, into products like smoothies and other cultured products where things like flavor, low viscosity and a smooth mouthfeel are important,” says George Rakes, director of food protein research for a leading soy protein supplier.

Rakes says continued progress in making soy proteins more flavor-neutral are helping lower the barriers to soy's inclusion in indulgent-type foods. While perhaps lacking the breadth of functional attributes that dairy proteins enjoy, a major advantage that soy is capitalizing on is the presence of health-promoting isoflavones. The ability of food formulators to make label health claims for soy is opening up new food-systems opportunities for soy.

“A new horizon for soy is the indulgent foods category,” Rakes says. “Because of that we're trying to measure the properties that might make soy proteins fit into those products much better than they have in the past.”

That can only be good news for formulators of indulgent foods. The more that both dairy and soy protein suppliers can do to build functionality into a basic nutritional building block, the better indulgent foods makers will be able to make the case that their foods are good-for-you as well as good-tasting.

Sidebar: Supplier Showcase

A highly-soluble soy protein featuring a low viscosity and a smooth, rich mouthfeel similar to milk is available from Central Soya under the AlphaE brand. This product is an alternative for whey protein concentrates and isolates, soy protein isolates, nonfat dry milk and other proteins. Alpha has high isoflavone levels and can be used to formulate products that meet the FDA's soy protein health claim. Central Soya, Gary Wilson, www.alphaprotein.com, 260-425-5126

This company offers BioZateW 1, a hydrolyzed whey protein isolate. Davisco Foods International Inc. conducted a clinical study on the protein's anti-hypertensive effects, finding a significant drop in blood pressure. For a complete abstract of the study, visit www.DaviscoFoods.com. Davisco Foods International, 952-914-0400

Looking for a protein boost? Searching for a specific egg product? Visit www.aeb.org to learn the latest information on egg products, specifications, and functions. The American Egg Board (AEB) can also help locate a supplier of processed egg products to meet specific needs. For formulas and/or technical assistance, call the Egg Answer Line (toll free) at 877-488-6143. American Egg Board, Glenn Froning, 877-488-6148, gwfroning@juno.com

This product's textural quality holds up well in retort applications without burn, and its water- and fat-binding capacities increase yield and reduce formulation costs. MGP Ingredients, Inc. offers WheatexW, a textured wheat protein ideal for meat replacement in vegetarian products and for meat extension in beef, poultry, fish and seafood applications. It also has a low flavor profile with no aftertaste, requiring less flavoring. MGP Ingredients Inc., 800-255-0302, x3276, www.mgpingredients.com

A German ISO 9001-certified manufacturer offers various milk proteins. They are widely used in adult nutritional supplements, infant formulas and other traditional hospital feeding programs. Additionally, they are utilized in nutraceutical end products requiring protein fortification. MILEI GmbH, a manufacturer of various milk proteins, offers whey protein concentrates Milacteal 65, 75L and 80, available from the North American representative Dairy Specialties, Inc. MILEI GmbH, David H. Brown, 614-855-2331, dsibrown@aol.com

As a proud national sponsor of the American Heart Walk, NutriSoyâ soy protein is dedicated to helping the American Heart Association in its fight against heart disease. If you would like to learn about a new way to reach consumers concerning the heart health benefits of soy, contact ADM. ADM Specialty Ingredients, 800-637-5850, specialtyingredients@admworld.com, www.admworld.com

This product is a spray dried 80% whey protein concentrate designed for bakery, meat and surimi-based products. ProliantE 8610 forms a firm, elastic, salt-stable high gel strength in applications, while saving formulation costs and providing a superior protein source. Proliant Inc. World Headquarters, 800-369-2672, usoffice@proliantinc.com

Gelatine-hydrolysates are used to enhance taste and texture profiles and to reduce the amount of sugar in a product. The GELITA Group offers an extended line of GELITAW Gelatine-Hydrolysates for use in food bars, nutritional drinks and health confections. These gelatines are non-gelling and soluble in cold water. Each product varies in molecular weight, whether the application requires protein enrichment and/or binding properties. Ask about the company's patents for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. GELITA Group, 888-4GELITA

Land O'Lakes' PowerProW hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate is available in a low and medium degree of hydrolysis powder. This offers a quickly absorbed, high PER protein soluble over a wide pH range for use in nutraceutical formulas and sports nutrition. Land O'Lakes, Mike Kothbauer, 651-766-1606, mkoth@landolakes.com

A line of steam-textured soy proteins, under the Bontex name, and the Solcon S line of soy protein concentrates are available for use in all types of food and many beverage applications. The ingredients are available from non-GMO identify preserved soybeans. The company's three factory plants are certified ISO 9002 and Kosher. Solbar Hatzor Ltd., +972 8 856 1414, bar@solbar.com

A variety of soy ingredients including soy flours, textured vegetable proteins and flavored protein pieces are available from Cargill. In addition to helping create great tasting products, applications specialists with Cargill Soy Protein Products can lead manufacturers to new, more economical product formulas; evaluate ingredients; and maximize labeling opportunities in compliance with FDA soy labeling requirements. Standing behind those services are the company's stringent food-safety, quality-conscious soy ingredient processing techniques. Cargill Soy Protein Solutions, www.cargillsoyprotein.com

Website Resources

www.cals.ncsu.edu/food_science/sdfrc/sdfrc.html — Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center
www.extraordinarydairy.com/Standard.asp?ContentPageId=86 — Dairy Management Inc. web page with news release about the new whey protein
www.extraordinarydairy.com/DR_WheyIngredients.asp — Dairy Management Inc.'s general whey page
www.spcouncil.org/contents.htm — Soy Protein Council
www.soyfoods.org/ — Soyfoods Association
www.cpkelco.com/food/simplesse.html — CP Kelco microparticulated whey protein fat replacer