Clean label, multifunctional, intuitive health, and stealth health are some of the many hot concepts today’s research chefs and product developers are focusing on.

When proposing new solutions for consumer needs, a common request is to help convert a recipe from one that uses synthetic ingredients to an all-natural formulation. But let’s face it, if it doesn’t taste good, who’s going to eat it? The challenge is to use natural ingredients that taste great and maintain the colors, textures and other organoleptic qualities of the original.

One task that exemplifies these challenges was creating a lower-sodium pasta sauce. For the sauce reformulation, the team studied all the ingredient components, natural and artificial. Then began culinary experimentation using vegetable-based ingredients and botanical extracts to replace some of the formula’s health- or clean label-challenged ingredients. It was determined that precise application of certain herb and spice extracts made it possible to compensate for the reduction of salt.

Texture was the next step: In a previous project—making a salad dressing healthier—an alternative to the high use of soybean oil involved thickening the dressing with micro-cut vegetable purées, maintaining the suspension through xanthan gum or pectin.

This has proven a versatile technique. Roasted red pepper combined with chipotlé pepper, onion and garlic completed the flavor notes for the heartily robust dressing formulation. In other projects, to obtain a Thai-inspired dressing with a delicate flavor profile, the solution was found in micro-cut carrot, ginger, and scallion purée, plus lemongrass.

Coming Clean

Clean label is a major trending challenge developers are faced with today. With the growth of the Internet and food bloggers, consumers are overloaded with information regarding food ingredients and what is or is not perceived of by the consumer as safe or desirable.

For example, preservatives such as EDTA, used to prevent oxidation, and BHT and BHA, which are used in some oil-containing foods to prevent rancidity and off flavor notes, are categorized GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA. However, many health organizations have raised concerns about these and others additives commonly found in the food supply, and processors are pressured to meet those demands.

To tackle the challenges of clean label and help clients develop finished products without controversial ingredients, the culinary R&D team turns to ingredients from the NATstabil line of commercial products. For example, StabilEnhance, derived from rosemary and known for its strong antioxidant properties, was able to replace artificial antioxidants and preservatives in the pasta sauce and dressing reformulations.

The rosemary ingredients work as natural food preservatives, helping to prevent rancidity, off flavors, and color degradation. And, since they are designed to be oil-soluble for such applications, their usage is equally suited to meat, snacks, seasonings, and vegetable oils.

In other formulations, the culinologists used a blend of rosemary extract with natural citric acid or ascorbic acid. These provided for fat stability and are members of the Oxy’Block line of stabilizers. Rosemary extracts also were useful combined with botanical extracts from pomegranate and acerola, (members of the XtraBlend line) to help preserve color in a variety of finished products. These also work especially well in meat-based items.

Another formulation the group worked on needed to be both clean label and multifunctional—a protein meat bar for health-conscious exercise enthusiasts. The objective: a healthful, flavorful savory protein snack totally unlike the high-sugar, sweet protein bars on the market. This bar consisted of beef sirloin, to which was added roasted red bell pepper purée, chipotlé purée, plus a garlic and Italian herb purée. These then were combined with lime juice powder and powdered spice extracts from the EZ-Caps spice extract line.

The bar was free from sodium nitrite, and naturally cured with a cherry powder cure (from the VegaCure Enhancer line). Then, the StabilEnhance rosemary extract was added to inhibit oxidation and extend shelflife. The end result was a warm, red, savory, and slightly spiced meat bar. It met all the objectives for creating a great tasting, high-protein, naturally cured snack.

Stealth Health

Beyond making products healthier and cleaning up labels, the team devotes efforts toward products designed for “Intuitive Nutrition Enthusiasts.” Intuitive Nutrition Enthusiasts (INEs) “know” certain foods are “good for them,” without requiring direct evidence, and they seek such foods out throughout the day.

INEs are comfortable with most vegetable taste profiles, and typically enjoy a vast variety of vegetables. Tasks for this demographic involve formulating applications that optimize the nutritional content to suit INE needs and knowing vegetables on a fundamental, detailed level. Foremost for culinologists is the ability to blend vegetable components and flavors optimally, while balancing nutrition and taste priorities.

For consumers who aren’t enthusiastic about vegetable flavors, but are aware of the health value of produce, the team has adopted a different approach “Stealth Health” (or “sneaking healthy into tasty”). Adding vegetables to a formulation is a surprisingly easy way to increase the nutritional value of a recipe. For example, when developing a bakery item, it’s possible to reduce the fat (whether from butter, oil, or shortening) with a vegetable purée, similar to the approach taken with dressings.

Carrot purée and sweet potato purée are excellent choices because they impart moisture and provide a nice airy texture to the overall structure. With sweet potato juice concentrate, it is possible reduce the amount of table sugar in some formulations. One example is yeast rolls: A typical yeast roll requires flour, milk, water, oil or butter, eggs, sugar, and yeast. Combine the yeast, but with a 50% reduction of sugar, in a large bowl. Heat the wet ingredients with a 50% reduction of oil or butter to 105°F, mix together with yeast mixture and let rest for 10 minutes or until foamy. Add sweet potato purée (this replaces the fat and gives moisture to the rolls) and sweet potato juice concentrate (this replaces the sugar and adds mild sweetness). Add the eggs and blend in the flour until soft dough forms, then knead on a lightly floured surface and place into a lightly greased bowl. Cover and rest until doubled in size. Once doubled, punch down dough and roll into ¼ sheet, cut dough into strips and roll each strip. Place each roll into greased muffin tins. Cover and let rise 30 minutes. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

The result is a tender flavorful light roll with no “vegetable notes” since the sweet potato in this application has little flavor. Moreover, the addition of sweet potato purée and concentrate increases the nutritional benefits; reduces calories from fat from 60 to 35 for a 57g serving, reduces cholesterol from 20mg to 15mg, and increases potassium from 55mg to 75mg per serving.

In working with beverage applications, single-strength vegetable juice concentrates or micro- purées have proven effective. The formulations developed can be calorie conscious, using single-strength cucumber juice or kale, which have a low brix value. Combined with fruit powders, it’s possible to create high-quality, low-calorie 100% juice beverages.

Purple sweet potato juice and purple carrot juice provide natural sweetness and color.

They also are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that consumers desire. As an added incentive, they are trending hot. For the health-conscious athlete, creating natural pre-, peri-, and post-workout beverages is an excellent way to formulate with these vegetable-derived ingredients. One pre-workout beverage designed to help hydrate and prepare for a workout was made with beet juice concentrate. It’s naturally high in nitrates and provides an energy boost that aids in oxygen utilization.

Acerola, as a concentrated natural source of vitamin C, helps support the immune system. Blending acerola or beet ingredients with blueberry and raspberry powder and a touch of hibiscus for high notes gave this particular beverage formulation a subtle tropical flavor. Creating a “during workout” (peri-workout) beverage involved formulating to contain the optimal carbohydrate level to aid hydration and electrolyte absorption during exercise.

For this beverage, sweet potato juice concentrate provided the carbohydrate and cucumber juice concentrate boosted hydration. Coconut provided electrolytes, along with Panax ginseng for energy during exercise.

In the post-workout beverage, the main benefits came from cucumber juice to support hydration and restore antioxidant metabolism and electrolytes. Rosemary leaf extract was included with naturally occurring vitamin C from acerola, as well as magnesium, and potassium. Ginger extract was then added for its benefits in managing inflammatory responses and relieve joint pain.

Formulating with vegetables and fruit can be tricky, but the challenge is exciting and the results rewarding. Natural, plant-derived ingredients and flavors open many doors to building on multiple formulation concepts. They allow the culinologist to create complex, successful new products that taste great and are also good for you, through balancing ingredients and layering flavor profiles.


Originally appeared in the June, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as A Taste for Health.