Taking Out the Carbs But Keeping the Taste
If you are looking for quick answers to the low-carb phenomenon or want to hear more statistics about the number of Americans on the Atkins or South Beach Diets, stop right now. However, there is something to be said for this emerging mania from a culinary perspective. Traditional mainstays of the American diet such as pizza, pasta, and potatoes are on the Top Ten Most Wanted list for current Public Enemy No. 1—carbohydrates. While not necessarily endorsing low-carb diets, chefs can play a leading role in finding acceptable and desirable alternatives to address the growing low-carb trend without sacrificing taste.
A few things we know for sure: Obesity and other health issues pertaining to food and diet are at the highest interest level among consumers. The low-carb category is the biggest target, and manufacturers, restaurants, and the retail segments have begun to answer the bell. This is the race that will be watched and counted by all who have a stake in it. Similar to the home meal replacement category that redefined meals, day parts, and where we actually ate our food, the low-carb craze seems to be ultimately helping the overall trend toward healthy, better-for-you choices. This, in turn, is channeling consumers to understand labels, ingredients, and overall nutrition issues as chefs, scientists, manufacturers, and operators strive to provide the products that fit consumers’ evolving eating patterns.
There are three ways to approach reformulation of products to make them low in carbohydrates. The first, easiest, and possibly the most efficient way is to eliminate the bread or starch portion of the offering. Things like bunless sandwiches, doughless pizzas, and vegetables or salads instead of fries have been the quick fix for the menu and the consumer. Chefs have control over the menus and in some segments over the entire foodservice operation. They can work with suppliers and manufacturers to give diners many reduced-carbohydrate options as well as market and position current items in new ways to appeal to low-carb dieters. In one scenario, a chef of a single unit can create a low-carb menu in addition to the regular fare. On the other hand, a chef of a multi-unit operation can partner with manufacturers to provide reduced-carb components that they can then incorporate into menu items as low-carb offerings.
The second way—one that poses the most culinary challenges—is through the replacement of undesirable ingredients or food items. Products that seem to be easy to transform into low-carb often face the backlash that low-fat experienced with regard to taste, texture, etc. What might appear to be the runaway favorite from a product introduction standpoint just might fall short of the palatability mark. What will we compromise as consumers in our “have cake and eat it, too” culture? If food technologists find ways to reduce or eliminate components to meet the dietary needs, the chef will play a critical part in getting the product back to the gold standard.
The third approach—one that is more long-term in scope—is using new and unique technologies with new or traditional processes to create the ingredients or even the finished products that match the existing gold standards. Working in partnership with food scientists, chefs have more tools than ever to make it happen. For example, culinary artistry combined with baking technology and low-carb ingredients resulted in one major casual-dining chain’s recent launch of a line of lower-carb breads that deliver full flavor and excellent texture. They created a formulation that is high in protein and fiber, then incorporated traditional artisan techniques that included an all-natural starter and an extended fermentation process. By mixing culinary skill, innovative technologies, and breakthrough thinking, they found a lower-carb solution that meets consumer expectations for artisan bread.
The culinary and technology worlds want to deliver the best, most appealing product that captures all the senses. From a cook’s perspective, it’s all about staying true to the food—taking products and staying true to their flavor, color, taste, and naturally occurring texture through various preparation and cooking methods. From a technologist’s perspective, it’s about formulating with technologies like functional ingredients, flavors, sugar replacers, and flour replacers. Once again, it’s about the synergy of food arts and science working together to create a product for those who have made the choice of lowering or eliminating the carbs. This process is evolving as we learn from our trials, improve our technologies, and deliver better products as time goes on.
by DANNY BRUNS
20925 Watertown Rd.
Waukesha, WI 53186