Milk Protein Ingredients for Nutritional Bars

Nutritional bars are formulated to deliver specific nutritional requirements and meet consumers’ need for convenience. Typically high in protein, low in fat and fortified with vitamins and/or minerals, there is a chance they can taste unpleasant. On the other hand, indulgent/candy bars are high in sugar, fat and saturated fat, and low in nutrient density, but can be tasty. This leaves a great opportunity for nutritional bar manufacturers to significantly improve bar palatability to grow the market. 

Nutritional bars with high levels of protein are tolerated by gym goers, dedicated athletes and dieters, as they understand the protein benefits and are willing to consume them for their end-goal. Because nutritional bars often have an inferior taste and texture, they are rejected by most mainstream consumers, who are not willing to compromise on the sensory experience. “The challenge is for formulators to bridge the gap between delivering nutrition and convenience, while also delivering an enjoyable eating experience,” explained Rachel Marshall, technical manager-bars and snacking, Fonterra USA, during her presentation, “Milk Protein Ingredients for Nutritional Bars,” given at Prepared Foods’ 2009 R&D Applications Seminar-East.

“Texture is a key issue for bars,” said Marshall. “Texture is multi-dimensional, so formulators need to take into account the initial bar texture and how the texture changes over time, including firmness/hardness, chewiness and degree of tooth-packing. In high-protein bars, the protein source, whether dairy or non-dairy, has a significant impact on bar texture and needs to be chosen carefully to make a product with wide consumer appeal.” 

Milk proteins often are included in nutritional bar formulations, either alone, or in combination with other proteins, such as soy. Dairy protein ingredients offer clean flavor and high-protein quality. Whey proteins are high in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), particularly leucine, which is important for muscle maintenance and recovery. This makes milk proteins ideal, without limiting them to sports nutrition solutions.

Traditional milk protein ingredients for bars include calcium caseinate, milk protein concentrate, milk protein isolate and milk protein hydrolysate. Whey protein ingredients include whey protein concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate. Each ingredient has pros and cons, with many of the cons being flavor-, cost- or texture-related. For example, whey protein hydrolysate forms a soft bar; however, usage levels are limited by its unpleasant flavor and cost. Whey protein isolate has a clean flavor, but its use is limited by chewiness and firmness developing over time. Whey crisps allow formulators to introduce crunch to bars; this adds interest and can help reduce hardening over time. Whey crisps also contribute a cleaner flavor, when compared to soy crisps.

Dairy protein suppliers are creating innovative new protein solutions to reduce limitations. Functionalized milk proteins and whey protein concentrates are now available, and they deliver the same benefits as traditional alternatives, without the limitations, said Marshall. They offer clean, neutral flavors, improved texture and mouthfeel, improved shelf-stability and cost advantages, making it easier to create more appealing bars. For example, a new whey protein concentrate offers a “step change” in bar formulating, enabling more whey to be included in a bar without the extreme chewiness typical of high-whey formulations.

It is important for formulators to understand all milk protein ingredients are not equal. Many have been created for a specific functionality, so it is recommended product developers work with suppliers to determine the best protein for their needs.  
“Milk Protein Ingredients for Nutritional Bars,” Rachel Marshall, technical manager–bars and snacking, Fonterra USA; for queries about this article and Fonterra’s dairy ingredients: Chris Heppe, applications scientist–bars and snacking, Fonterra USA,,
--Summary by Elizabeth Mannie, Contrib. Ed.

Gelatin and Collagen in Functional Foods
Gelatin is a natural, collagenous protein derived from porcine skin, bovine hide or bone, or at times from poultry or fish. Gelatin is an old product that was used in ancient civilizations as an adhesive. Even though modern gelatin production has been around since the late 1800s, the industry is continually innovating and developing new gelatin products.

Gelatin carries the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status, allowing gelatin to be used safely in many favorite foods. Gelatin, a hot water-soluble gelling agent, is processed by exposing collagen to heat and water. With gel strength, as indicated by Bloom, gelatin is ideal for marshmallows, frozen foods, fillings and icings, gummies, meats, gelatin desserts, dairy, wine, beer, juice fining, wafers, lozenges and encapsulation.

Used as an aerating agent, emulsifier, stabilizer, protective colloid, water binder, adhesive agent and gelling agent, gelatin is simply irreplaceable by any other hydrocolloid.

“As a gelling agent, gelatin adds a ‘one of a kind’ mouthfeel, affecting texture of products,” stated Mindi McKibbin, specialist, edible technical services, Gelita USA Inc., during her presentation titled, “Gelatin and Collagen Peptides: Opportunities in Functional Foods,” given at the 2009 Prepared Foods’ R&D Applications Seminar-Chicago. The special melting point of gelatin contributes to flavor release in confectionery, desserts and other culinary creations. “For example, gelatin is the market standard for gel desserts. Other hydrocolloids can’t offer the same smooth, ‘melt-in-your mouth’ sensation as gelatin,” added McKibbin. In marshmallows and mousses, gelatin promotes superior whipping, elastic texture and foam stability. In dairy spreads, gelatin works as an emulsifier to stabilize water and oil systems, allowing no water separation and promoting a smooth texture. In yogurt and sour cream, it mimics fat and is compatible with other hydrocolloids.

Ice cream and frozen products benefit from gelatin through crystallization control, heat shock resistance and texture maintenance. In low-calorie or low-fat bars, desserts or meats, it improves texture by binding water and improving adhesiveness. Specialty types include leaf gelatin and instant gelatin. Gelatin, a pure protein, contains no fat, carbohydrates or cholesterol.

Collagen peptides, processed by exposing enzymes to gelatin, are cold water-soluble and non-gelling, with application in protein bars, beverages, confectionery, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, and low-carb, low-fat, and low-calorie formulas. “Proprietary bioactive collagen peptides are scientifically proven to regenerate joint cartilage,” added McKibbin. Clinical studies on a collection of these bioactive collagen peptides showed improved mobility, reduced pain and a reduced need for analgesics.
“Gelatin and Collagen Peptides: Opportunities in Functional Foods,” Mindi McKibbin, specialist, edible technical services, Gelita USA Inc.,,
—Summary by Elizabeth Mannie, Contrib. Ed.

Fortifying Protein Beverages with Various pHs
With obesity an increasing concern, functional beverage developments are delivering more specific health benefits in the area of weight management. High-quality proteins play a role in enhancing satiety, increasing thermogenesis, decreasing hunger and reducing food intake.

In their presentation at the Prepared Foods’ 2009 R&D Applications Seminar-Chicago, “Fortifying Protein Beverages from pH 7 to 3,” Loretta Martins, applications scientist, and Max Maxwell, market analyst, from Glanbia Nutritionals, outlined the challenges and provided solutions for the development of beverage applications with neutral pH (6.0-7.0); intermediate pH (3.5-4.2) and acidic pH (<3.5) levels. Sports nutrition, meal replacements and dairy beverages are examples of applications in the neutral category. Smoothies often fall into the intermediate pH. Acidic beverages were described as including sports drinks, isotonic teas and protein waters.

Developing beverages with various protein levels can present challenges in taste, texture, emulsification, stabilization and shelflife. Dairy protein often is used in neutral pH applications. Such formulations can be produced through pasteurization for refrigerated applications or through ultra-high temperature (UHT) for shelf-stable products. These products are typically cloudy or “milky” in appearance and usually flavored with chocolate or vanilla. Meal replacement products represent the largest portion of the “neutral pH” protein beverage market, ranging from drinks for weight management to senior nutrition. These beverages contain carbohydrate and fat, which can act as stabilizers, and protein (ranging from 5-7%). Carrageenan, cellulose and phosphates often are used as stabilizers.

Beverages in the intermediate pH range of 3.5-4.2 are most typically smoothies, in formats including refrigerated, which are pasteurized or shelf-stable. Distribution of refrigerated formats is often expensive and, hence, manufacturers are seeking shelf-stable solutions. Processing of such beverages requires UHT, which must be done with caution to avoid protein denaturation. Such beverages are generally thicker in consistency and may be stabilized by pectin. The amount of protein that can be added is limited. And, without proper stabilization and processing, problems will arise with gelation and protein aggregation, precipitation and separation. Equipment requirements include a post-heat homogenizer.

Acidic beverages with pH 2.7-3.5 present other challenges. The higher the protein level, the lower the pH required in order to ensure clarity and stability of the solution. Low acidic beverages are generally water-based. Typically, such applications are processed using hot-fill.

Whey protein isolates are most ideal for use in high-acid beverage formulations, as they will remain stable over a wide range of pH and heat processing conditions. Beverages with high levels of protein (i.e., 25-40g) are usually aimed toward the body builder market segment and are formulated to be easy and quick to drink. Flavor and after-taste can be challenging, as high protein levels can result in astringent and/or “tingling” mouthfeel. Such beverages require a low pH to keep protein in solution. The key is working with an ingredient supplier that understands the challenges and is able to provide timely and cost effective solutions.
“Fortifying Protein Beverages from pH 7 to 3,” Loretta Martins, applications scientist,; Max Maxwell, market analyst,; Glanbia Nutritionals,
--Summary by Kelley Fitzpatrick, Contributing Editor

Benefits of Soy Proteins with Dairy Ingredients
In today’s market, interest in soy protein is being driven by its long-term economic value as a dairy alternative, as well as its nutritional benefits as a source of high-quality, plant-based protein.

“Soy proteins are economic alternatives to dairy proteins that also can provide comparable protein nutrition,” stated Minhthy Nguyen, Ph.D., director, applications technology, Solae, LLC, during a presentation titled, “Benefits of Combining Soy Proteins with Dairy Ingredients: Flavor, Function, Nutrition & Sustainability,” at the 2008 R&D Applications Seminar-Chicago.

In 1993, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) adopted the PDCAAS method of protein quality evaluation for food labeling purposes. This method takes into account a protein’s digestibility and ability to supply the essential amino acids in the ratios needed to support human growth and development. Based on the PDCAAS method, soy protein is considered equivalent in protein quality to milk and egg sources.  (See chart “Digest-ing Protein.”)

A common misconception about soy protein in the industry is there is a high incidence of soy allergy in the population, when, in fact, the incidence of soy allergy is less than that of milk protein. Soy protein allergy affects an estimated 0.5% of the population, compared to a 2-8% incidence of milk protein allergy, noted Nguyen. Most manufacturers have found the value of using soy protein far outweighs the costs and efforts involved in effectively managing soy as an allergen in production facilities.

Today, leading soy suppliers offer products made with standard commodity (genetically modified-GM) and identity-preserved (non-genetically modified or IP) soybeans. Both GM and IP products function similarly in food products. 

Soy proteins deliver many valued functions in food systems. For example, in nutrition bars, soy protein isolates provide good dough machinability, enabling a dough that is not sticky and easy to extrude. Good flavor can also be expected, as it is bland and does not impart bitterness. It helps maintain bar softness throughout shelflife and is compatible with most dairy proteins.
“Benefits of Combining Soy Proteins with Dairy Ingredients: Flavor, Function, Nutrition & Sustainability,” Minhthy Nguyen, Ph.D., director, applications technology, Solae LLC,,
--Summary by Elizabeth Mannie, Contributing Editor