The combination of Annual Meeting and Food Expo is used as a trend-spotting mechanism by IFT members and others. A large number of technical presentations on related subjects, followed a year or so later by a number of new ingredients on the Food Expo floor, identifies the beginning and peak of a trend. Some of these concepts/products are adopted by food processors, and become solid features, building business and growing into permanent product lines. Others peak and disappear.
By watching the ingredients, packages, and processes on the “show” floor, one can understand the dynamics that cause the next wave of new foods to hit the shelves and restaurants within the next year or so. By watching the technical presentations, new science can be observed as it emerges.
By combining the two sets of trends, one can gain a fair idea of new product introductions, product improvements, and to a degree, policy shifts that will occur within the next several years. The editors of Food Technology have identified five continuing trends from this year’s Food Expo & Annual Meeting Technical Program that suggest some direction for researchers and companies interested in new and better foods. These trends are discussed below and in several related stories following this article.
A Rebirth of Identity Preservation Activity, But in a Different Way
Identity Preservation (IP) has been the subject of a lot of discussion in the past several years. Grains had been identity preserved for a few decades, but most grain processors preferred to use a standard grain product and make the changes in the product via chemical, physical, or enzymatic modification. But this is starting to change, as European and now American companies are requiring that farmers identify which grains have been modified with resistance to herbicides or additional pesticide qualities. Possibly because these qualities don’t provide positive attributes to consumers, they’d just as soon not use products that are genetically modified, or “Bio.” So IP becomes a negative: identify the Bio grains, and ship others to sensitive accounts. It appears that the cost advantage may be on the side of the non-Bio grains, as over half of the grain grown is genetically modified.
An increase in interest in non-Bio grains that have specific qualities was seen in the low-trans sunflower oils being demonstrated for the past two years. The sunflower oils were derived from high-oleic sunflower seed produced by conventional plant breeding of mutations in the oilseed, and there is now enough high-oleic sunflower to provide commercial quantities of the oil. Similar activity in soy has been seen, and high-oil corn is getting to be commonplace and must be kept separate from corn that will be used for milled products.
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Technical presentations further identified IP candidates, including a presentation about the use of biotechnology to produce novel starch functionalities in maize (paper 3-3). This report from Du Pont researchers studied the effects of starch branching enzymes and soluble starch synthases, and the use of techniques to cause over-and underexpression of the enzymes to produce starches with more and fewer branches, altering the viscosity of starch solutions. Certain varieties (high-amylose and “waxy” varieties) of corn have been traditionally grown on contract and kept on the farm or in specified elevators until processing, although this practice has been less used in recent years.
Another candidate is special potatoes. Paper 3-6 described work by Monsanto Co. on reducing damage from potato pests, potatoes with resistance to bruising, and potatoes with high solids content for use by potato chippers. Different varieties of potatoes are purchased for special uses, so IP is basically the way that potatoes are bought and sold. Still, a genetic addition such as the Round-Up Ready gene or the gene that imparts insecticide crystals from Bacillus thuringiensis, which specifically deters individual common pests (such as the Colorado potato beetle) would be important if the potatoes are to be used in an exported product, and would have to be labeled as containing bioengineered products.
Of course, the possibility of using plants to manufacture pharmaceuticals or nutraceuticals puts a totally different spin on IP. Paper 3-4 discussed the genetic engineering of rice to produce lysozyme and lactoferrin, factors in human milk. While there would be little danger of rice with these characteristics getting lost in the general rice crop (the cost to produce rice with lactoferrin would make it worth watching), it is another crop that would require careful handling.
There is increasing interest in more organically grown materials, and this, too, requires IP procedures. We can expect to see more tests to ensure that a product is what it is expected to be. These may include testing to ensure that the food does not include DNA that is introduced by artificial means, new segregation procedures, changes in the ways that food is stored, and alternative ways to store and ship grains, fruits, vegetables, herbal and flavor extracts, and, eventually, animals.
Continued Interest in Healthy Components, But with Greater Precision and Definition
The trend toward “healthy” foods, nutraceuticals, medical foods, and such may include the increasing use of fruits and vegetables as thickeners and garnishes; the use of milk protein fractions for technical as well as health reasons; and selection and use of special fats and oils with rearranged fatty acid profiles.
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Technical presentations on milk fractions increased this year, and, most important, the precision of characterization, use, and separation increased as well. Technical presentations about the antioxidant activity of specific conjugated linoleic acid isomers and ways to selectively increase the conjugated linoleic acid in milkfat were presented. Milk fractions and microorganisms that are appropriate in milk-based products were discussed in technical presentations and on the Expo floor, in increasing numbers and with increasing specificity. New methods of recovering alpha-lactalbumen and beta-lactoglobulin were covered in paper 47-2, which reported research ongoing at the University of California–Davis. Information about the interactions between vitamins E and A and beta-lactoglobulin were discussed in paper 47-3, provided by researchers from North Carolina State University.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) has been discussed widely over the past few years, and further understanding was reported in paper 79A-25, in which researchers from Instituto Technológico de Veracruz discussed enrichment of CLA in butter oil by use of a continuous-flow reactor, and treating the butter oil with immobilized lipase. Paper 79A-41, from the University of Wisconsin discussed CLA concentration as affected by lactic cultures and added linoleic acid. A symposium (session 82) dealt with CLA as a functional food component of meat and dairy products, with six presentations on various aspects of CLA, including basic information about structure of the component, how to enhance its presence, and its health effects.
Phytochemicals, particularly antioxidants, were widely discussed, with a great deal of interest in soy components. Soy is one of the most advanced sources of nutraceutical ingredients, with the possibility of a health claim being permitted soon. Several companies are working on isoflavones, including Archer Daniels Midland and a new strategic alliance between Eridania Beghin Say (Central Soya) and Henkel. Paper 4-3 by researchers from Texas A&M University discussed the processing and purification of raw materials and isolation and purification of active ingredients, and paper 4-5 by researchers from Hauser, Inc., discussed use of high-performance liquid chromatography and other assays for specific phytochemicals, including the active ingredients in St. John’s wort, echinacea, kava kava, and other herbal products.
Information is also appearing about the function and stability of other phytochemicals, such as anthocyanins, carotenes, and polyphenols, to name a few. Technical presentations described the characteristics of green tea flavonol glycosides (paper 11-A7 from the University of Alberta, Canada); the chemical composition of sage antioxidants and their anti-tumor characteristics (paper 11A-8 from Rutgers University); and the qualities of anthocyanins from red cabbage and strawberries (paper 11A-29 from the Universidad de las Americas–Puebla, Mexico). Use of some of these compounds for natural color, antioxidant function, and flavor stability was widely discussed, as more antioxidant compounds are defined and their different qualities identified.
On the Expo Floor, fruit pieces that were stabilized by infusing with sugars were being demonstrated, and powders and purees that are useful in adding color as well as texture were offered. Just last year, papers were given on infusing bell peppers for improved color, and optimizing processes for production of red radish concentrates and red-fleshed potato anthocyanins. Infusing of more fruits and vegetables has reached commercialization, and more such products are being offered.
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Finer Dining Trends Cause Chefs to Gain Ascendency as New-Product Gurus
As chefs become more important in the design of new foods, food scientists develop the skills needed to rapidly adapt the chef ’s recipes to commercially processable formulations, source ingredients that are not easily commercially available, and design processes that are appropriate to these new products.
The availability of sensory specialists to carefully characterize the chef ’s creations and serve as a watchdog to be sure that the final product remains true to the original adds another note of authenticity to the proceedings. The use of “chef’s ingredients” on a large scale is seen in the large number of ingredient suppliers at Food Expo—the variety of fruit and vegetable powders, essences, colors, slices, and dices indicates that there are people eager to use these products.
While most of the activity regarding culinary effects on food product development was seen at Food Expo, there were indications in the technical presentations that sensory work to ensure that commercial products developed from culinary input meet the characteristics of the chef-derived product. A symposium (session 55) on ethnic foods and ingredients around the world, sponsored by IFT’s Religious & Ethnics Foods Division, talked about the marketing of ethnic Mexican and South American foods, and the business opportunities arising from the popularity of these products. A presentation on Indian foods also discussed the use of both exotic and standard spices in preparing these foods.
Food Safety Activity Expands Direction, by Rapid Test Methods, Increased Attention to Sourcing, and Minimally Invasive Processing Methods
The emphasis on food safety was underlined by an address given by Jane Henney, M.D., Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, to the meeting of Chief Research Officers. She noted that the major priorities of FDA for food was in the area of food safety, as seen by the Clinton administration’s President’s Council on Food Safety.
The administration statement made by Henney during the Annual Meeting noted the changes in sourcing of foods and noted key points: adequate surveillance and monitoring, science-based risk analysis, focused education and research, effective and consistent regulation and enforcement, response and adaptation to new technology and changing consumer need, adequate human and financial resources, and partnering with all stakeholders. Henney spoke of advances in research, Good Agricultural Practice and Good Manufacturing Practices, and new technology development.
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Presentations given by researchers from USDA (paper 6-3) and Health Canada (paper 6-4) discussed special concerns about emerging pathogens and changing populations.
A number of presentations took food safety away from the broad strokes of overall policy and to specifics. Paper 61-1 by researchers from Rutgers University discussed the detection of viable but nonculturable strains of Escherichia coli O157:H7, a nagging problem that seems to require more research to understand. The coliform, thought to enter the viable but nonculturable state when in contact with ground beef, requires special conditions for growth. Those conditions are the subject of study. Paper 61-7 discussed the potential of noninvasive techniques that can help to understand bacterial spore formation, particularly in milder food preservation techniques.
New materials and methods for food preservation, including hexanal vapor used to extend shelf life of sliced apples (paper 62-1), the effect of ozone on food pathogen reduction (paper 65D-14), and a series of papers (papers 79C-6–10) on pasteurization and other techniques to reduce or eliminate bacteria on specific foods, particularly apples, and in multiple food types (papers 79C-12 and 16) identify the degree of activity and concern about food safety, especially when the national diet changes to more fresh and already prepared foods.
Flavor Improvement, and Flavor as the Essential Element of All New Foods
The emphasis on healthy foods, nutraceuticals, convenience, fresh, and every kind of food featured by suppliers are secondary issues. The real issue is flavor and texture (and maybe cost) of food products. Without extremely good flavor, none of the other attributes make a difference. That said, the problems involved with “healthy” or functional foods and the interaction of neutraceutical ingredients with flavor systems are dealt with in a variety of ways. Food safety is also paramount, so that combining methods to ensure safety, taste, and other attributes of food makes the difference in market share.
A technical presentation (paper 26-4, reporting research from Takasago International Corp.) discussed the role of flavors in masking and enhancing nutraceuticals and identifying some of the masking ingredients used to ameliorate “off-notes” in products containing nutraceutical ingredients. Paper 26-5 (Strategic Food Solutions) identified the use of flavor profiles and Flavor Attribute Analysis as a tool used to move formulations through various stages of development toward an acceptable final product. A poster session (session 50B) offered a number of reports on descriptive sensory analysis and evaluations that compared to instrumental profiles. A number of presentations discussed rheology as an important attribute used to predict or measure texture in foods, and indicated some of the uses of rheology measurements as predictors.
Many other technical presentations during the Annual Meeting discussed the specifics of flavor: flavor generation, the effect of packaging materials on flavor, the effects of processing parameters on flavor and texture, and related subjects.
Trends are time dependent—they do not appear and disappear instantaneously, and they transform from small peaks on the horizon to overall direction. Most of these trends were visible much earlier as isolated research or isolated products, but the research activity and product utility have combined into a forward-moving direction.
None of these trends are earth-shatteringly new, and they are at different points in their cycle of importance. They will all remain important, we believe, but the relative urgency will change as conditions do.
by FRAN KATZ