When considering the battered and breaded food marketplace, there are two segments on which to focus. The first is the foodservice industry, where products are either manufactured for reconditioning in the restaurant setting, or batter and breading premixes are prepared for restaurant use. The second segment covers products prepared for the packaged goods segment for eventual home preparation. Each segment has unique attributes and addresses unique challenges and demands.
Consumers are faced with dueling trends, where the demand for nutritious and low-fat options is contrasted by the desire for occasional indulgences that can be fulfilled only by authentic products.
“Consumers are asking for two opposites from manufacturers,” says Dana McCauley, director of product development and innovation at Janes Family Foods (now a wholly owned subsidiary of Sofina Foods Inc.). “On the one hand, there is a yen for everyday products with lighter coatings that are less caloric or that contain healthier ingredients, such as whole wheat. But, on the other hand, we have consumers—often the same ones—telling us they also want restaurant-style versions of battered and breaded items they can indulge in and enjoy at home.”
Trends towards Southern and Midwest foods have long fueled interest in deep-fried products. This has resulted in a recent expansion of interest in novel battered products, such as deep-fried pickles, cookies and snack items that have come out of the Midwest into non-traditional markets. High-end gourmet restaurants have gained good-natured notoriety serving such items as deep-fried s’mores or cereal-crusted fried chicken to high-end clientele seeking authentic tastes at a lower price point.
Authentic offerings from international cuisines also are a driving trend. “We’re seeing more ethnic and bold-flavored profiles in coated products,” says Jeff Anderson, corporate chef for Griffith Laboratories. Recent new product launches have been focused primarily on Hot & Spicy flavors (e.g., “Buffalo-style”); sweet profiles (e.g., sweet BBQ chips, honey-fried wings); and Asian flavors (e.g., tempura). “There also is a growing regionalization of BBQ flavors in coated products,” says Anderson.
Olaf Mertens, master chef and culinary professor at Niagara College, indicates that foodservice operations are looking for batter and breading options that can be used in multiple, customizable offerings.
“We are still pushing to make the perfect batter that has crispness that lasts kitchen-to-table and through to the end of the guest’s enjoyment [of the product],” says Mertens. Single-batter options that have the functionality to be customized using different reconstitution liquids, such as squid ink, sriracha sauce, craft beers or unique broths are important, as restaurants want to deliver variety while minimizing the number of overlapping stock items.”
Breadings have become highly customizable, expanding beyond the traditional bread or cracker crumb offerings. Mixed bread styles, different grains, varying levels and percentages of texture, plus flavorings all have become customizable elements.
“Dry bread crumbs, panko, mie du pain, spices, herbs, seeds and savory muesli-breaded crusts, made or combined in different ratios, can satisfy multiple texture interests on the palate,” says Mertens.
Griffith Lab’s Anderson concurs, adding, “Health and wellness is an ever-growing consumer trend, and this translates to coating systems with the incorporation of whole grains, such as flaxseed, or ancient grains, such as quinoa.”
Anatomy of a Battered and Breaded Product
Battered and breaded products appear to be a simple system; however, there are multiple layers of complexity behind them. In the majority of battered and breaded products, three layers are incorporated to achieve optimal results.
• Pre-dusting: A fine layer of flour, starch or, in some cases, a protein film is used as a preliminary coating to control moisture retention and retard moisture release from the core product. Poorly controlled moisture leads to a soggy product and fryer “blow-outs,” where the product bursts the batter coating. Pre-dusts also are used in certain non-battered, deep-fried product classes, such as French fries, as a type of invisible moisture barrier, extending shelflife and increasing heat-lamp stability.
The technology in pre-dusts has expanded greatly in the past decade. Soy, fish and milk proteins with film-forming characteristics have been developed, alongside a wide variety of natural and modified starches, and polysaccharide gum applications.
• Batter: A batter is a fluid mixture of starches and proteins that forms the predominant matrix in battered products. Typically, batter is a mixture of flour with corn meal and/or various other starches and liquid. Batter needs to have adequate fluidity to coat the product in an even and rapid manner; it also needs sufficient viscosity to adhere and provide coverage at the appropriate thickness to match the texture requirement.
• Breading: A breading is the adhesion of a second layer of starchy matrix particles, typically bread or cracker crumbs, to provide further added texture and visual appeal to a product. Panko, a Japanese bread crumb made of electrostatically baked bread, has a large, flaky appearance and exceptional crunch characteristics. A variety of unique breading inclusions, including multigrain blends, quinoa, puffed grains, tortilla chip pieces, herbs and spices are making it into product design.
Variations in Maillard characteristics and browning time between the batter matrix and the breading can lead to a speckled appearance in products. Certain herbs might not retain their green color during deep-frying, turning dark brown or black. Use of inclusions within batters must be balanced out for variable browning rates, especially to provide uniformity and reduce appearance issues.
The oil, of course, also plays a significant role in creating top-notch fried foods (see “Fat and Oil Fundamentals,” Prepared Foods, September 2012). A combination of technology and simple cross-breeding of seeds has led to a burst of oil and shortening options for cleaner, crisper frying.
“In production, especially foodservice, knowing exactly when to change the oil for fried foods is critical,” says Linda Funk, executive director of The Soyfoods Council. “Not only are temperature and equipment crucial, breakdown of the oil itself affects texture, as well as absorption of the oil into the final product. This can be the difference between crispy and light products vs. heavy and greasy. It can even change the nutritional profile of a finished fried food.”
Processors often rely on methods as crude as color change or a weekly schedule to determine when to change frying oil, Funk notes. But, some of the new oils allow processors a lot more leeway, holding up longer at higher temperatures.
“One of the latest trends is use of high-oleic oils,” Funk explains. “These higher smoke-point oils extend [the] use of frying oil without sacrificing taste or performance. Not only does this help maintain a consistent product, but fewer oil changes mean savings on labor and on the oil itself. Some high-oleic soybean oils can extend fry life two to three times longer than conventional versions.”
One of the key texture challenges of today is that of consistency in formulations that deviate from typical fried coatings and batters. Non-wheat-based coating systems that deliver a light, crispy texture have led to development of rice, potato and soy starches in batters and coatings that perform as well as their gluten-containing counterparts. In spite of being a medical necessity for only about one in 100 persons, gluten-free products have seen steady double-digit growth that is expected to continue. Battered and breaded products provide another venue for product development in that category. While wheat-based batter formulations have the benefit of the improved viscosity, various texturizing gums are able to deliver similar viscosity and adhesion in gluten-free formulations.
When deep-frying products with a gluten-free health claim, standard cross-contamination practices during manufacturing must be utilized, ensuring the battering and breading lines are used exclusively for gluten-free production, or run through full sanitation prior to gluten-free manufacturing. Secondly, while it has been suggested proteins do not carry over in frying oil, it is prudent to utilize a dedicated gluten-free source of frying oil, to ensure no protein or crumb transfer across product lines.
A number of ingredient manufacturers have focused on the development of film coatings typically applied at the pre-dust stage, or as a pre-dip prior to battering. These ingredients, based on milk, soy, fish proteins or polysaccharide gums, provide a barrier that reduces ingress of fryer fat into the battered product. They often provide better moisture control and reduce crust blowouts. The challenge for use of these ingredients is driven by the need for a clean label, and by manufacturers looking to reduce the number of manufacturing steps to achieve desired product.
Improvements in batters and breadings are not just limited to ingredient technologies. Process technologies are delivering better yield delivery and improved throughput. Newer-model battering and breading equipment can deliver much higher throughput, a smaller footprint and higher efficiency for batter and breading delivery.
While limited in the industrial setting, the foodservice sector has introduced centrifugal post-frying technologies, such as circular fryer basket technology, which, post-frying, uses a spinning action to reduce residual oil to a minimum. While mostly used for unbattered products, such as French fries, this technology could provide a unique means to deliver a lower-fat fried product. The challenge of this technology for coated foods is to ensure batters are robust enough to withstand the centrifugal forces applied by the spinning basket at the end of the cooking cycle, and that crumbs dislodged from the product do not accelerate fryer fat deterioration.
Future challenges to fried foods include not only creating textures that are lighter and crisper, or that conform to limitations, such as gluten-free or allergen-free demands, but also developing new parameters in cooking and holding. A good example is the perennial challenge to get a crisp and light, microwaveable version of a fried item. Going forward, there will always be interest in battered and breaded foods. Consumers love the flavors and textures this product category delivers.
For its Queso dipNside, Lamb Weston enclosed a spicy queso dip of Cheddar cheese, green chili pepper, tomato and seasonings in a crunchy, tri-colored tortilla chip coating.
Acrylamides are chemical compounds that form anytime the heating process goes over 248°F in frying, toasting, baking, grilling or other high-heat processes of protein or starch preparations. They are suspected carcinogens and teratogens, and there have been efforts to remove them from cooked products. The key to preventing acrylamide formation is to remove the rate-limiting precursor, asparagine, prior to heating. Research discovered that certain yeast strains can naturally degrade asparagine, but are limited by certain conditions of processing. Technologists have developed a strain of baker’s yeast that functions identically to any other baker’s yeast, yet it can achieve acrylamide retardation under most food-processing conditions, and without extended contact time. It does so by rapidly acting on free asparagine present in its environment, regardless of the presence of other yeast nutrients.
Crunch From the East
“Most chefs have been trained to prepare fried foods with the typical standard breading mixture: flour, egg wash, then breadcrumbs,” notes Robert Danhi, author and chef consultant to food manufacturers, restaurants, educational organizations and professional associations. “This evolved over the years, with the use of panko breadcrumbs most common today.” Danhi notes how technology has entered the picture, citing how manufacturers achieve the unique, large panko crumb with ragged texture by cooking the bread with an electrical current, then staling it for a short time. “[Next], the bread is ripped into large chunks and tossed into a centrifuge to peel back the layers; then they get spun out of a die to sort the size.”
The “next generation” of coatings for Danhi involves experimenting with noodles in place of bread. “Recently, I launched a restaurant chain in Madrid named LAH!, where we coated small bits of chicken with broken up ramen noodles—the same pre-fried, dried noodles college students sustain themselves with. These astonishingly crunchy bites are topped with a bay leaf-scented, black-pepper garlic sauce and some pickled vegetables on a Chinese spoon—for a one-bite wonder reminiscent of Philippine adobo.” Other recent coating ingredients Danhi has used include Frito-Lay’s brand Doritos flavored tortilla chips and cut, dried pieces of mung bean cellophane noodles. “A dip in tempura allows these noodles to puff up when fried, yet this must be done to order, while all the aforementioned can be made before each shift,” he clarifies.
Danhi, who lives part time in Malaysia and travels extensively, describes other recent fried-food finds: “Roaming the streets of Bangkok after a cooking class, I stumbled upon oyster mushrooms that were dipped in a liquid enriched with rice flour, then fried for nearly 10 minutes, until the mushrooms were crunchy. It was not really a full coating, but the rice flour assisted [the texture]. And, in Subang Jaya, an outlying neighborhood by Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I found a batter that was a bit thicker, a combination of wheat flour, rice flour and cornstarch.” According to Danhi, the addition of cornstarch slows down the browning process in frying, allowing the evaporation of the water before the exterior burns.
“Lighter coatings are on the rise, allowing the fried items to be showcased instead of [hidden in] a thick, bread-based crust,” adds Danhi. “The thick coatings still have their place and are much easier to commercialize, based on current knowledge, but I look forward to the R&D industry figuring out techniques for scaling up thinner coatings—and hopefully, consumers will be willing to pay for such quality.”