Enhancing Product Appeal In Fruit-Based Beverages

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Consumers are becoming more health-conscious, and want enhanced or better-for-you beverages. Texturants can help manufacturers to meet these needs without compromising on visual appeal or texture. By Xue Si-Ying, innovation lead, DuPont Nutrition & Health

If there is one industry trend that’s been growing consistently over the last 10 years, it is health and wellness, and this trend is evident in nearly every supermarket aisle in the Southeast Asian region.

‘Hydrating’ and ‘quenching thirst’ are no longer the primary selling points for beverages. Armed with extensive information, today’s consumers are becoming more discerning and conscious of their health. They are demanding more from beverage developers. Whether it is nutritional, functional or enhanced, better-for-you beverages are set to be in great demand. Consumers want healthful drinks. The trend is clear—soda is out, functional is in.

Beverages are an exceptional platform for innovation because they are good vehicles to deliver functional ingredients and demonstrate interesting product concepts.

Formulation Hurdles

The beverage industry is an interesting segment with a high level of ongoing product innovations. As manufacturers attempt to jump onto the health and wellness bandwagon, they are also expected to constantly innovate with a range of different tastes and functionalities set to capture the palate of increasing pool of health conscious drinkers.

Global trends, such as low or no calorie drinks, are driving changes in the beverage industry due to the focus on widespread obesity. Low- and no-sugar beverages are becoming increasingly popular with the health conscious consumers.

Fortification is an effective strategy in the prevention and management of micronutrient deficiencies. Unfortunately, reducing the amount of sugar and/or adding new and different fortifying ingredients in beverages presents many challenges. They can alter the mouthfeel, taste and stability of the final formulation and affect the consumer’s perception of the product. This formulation process is far more complex than it seems, especially in fruit-based beverages because these tend to be described as pulpy, full-bodied or smooth.

Many fruit-based beverages that contain pulp may require suspension. When manufacturers cut back on the actual juice components for cost savings, the product will end up having poor mouthfeel and texture. To maintain the thick, smooth viscosity, they will have to turn to adding texturants to build back texture.

Fruit-based beverages need to appear tasty visually and also taste great regardless of the kind of fruit, pulp concentration or flavour used. The consumer’s experience with a beverage prior to and during consumption is very important because it affects how the beverage is perceived in general. This means that the sensory properties must be able to meet the consumer’s expectation of the beverage.

Adjustment of sensory properties could involve the fine-tuning of body and fullness, freshness, clean mouthfeel properties and flavour release. Regulating these parameters relates to controlling viscosity at various shear rates. This is because when a beverage is consumed, it is exposed to different mechanical actions in the mouth.

Beverage Categories

Still fruit-based beverages can refer to either ready-to-drink beverages or dilutables (concentrated beverages). There are several types of fruit beverages and they can be sub-categorised as explained in Figure 1 above.

The term ready-to-drink beverage applies to a large number of beverages ready for consumption. They include fruit juice drinks, fruit nectars and fruit juices.

Fruit juice drinks usually contain 2-25 percent of pure fruit juice, prepared from either single strength juice or reconstituted from fruit juice concentrates. Stabiliser systems, sweeteners, flavourings, colourings, food acids and other additives may be added.

In the beverage industry, fruit nectar applies to pulpy fruit juices blended with sugar and sometimes food acids to produce a ready-to-drink beverage. In some countries they may also contain stabiliser systems, flavourings and vitamins.

Fruit juice is defined as 100 percent fruit-based product without any additives. The natural flavours lost from the fruit during processing can be replaced.

Dilutables (or concentrated beverages) can be divided into three basic groups. These products are diluted with water before consumption. Fruit drink concentrates and squash typically have a dilution ratio of between 1:4 and 1:9. These products are normally based on fruit juice or comminute (concentrated puree produced from whole fruit). Traditionally, these drinks contain 10-50 percent juice.

Fruit juice concentrates are produced by the mechanical processing of fruit followed by the concentration of solids. When the fruit juice concentrate is diluted, it fulfils the requirements for ’fruit juice’.

Cordial is generally used to flavour dilute-to-taste drinks. The exceptions are blackcurrant and lime which may also contain some juice as well as flavouring. The dilution rate can vary from 1:4 to 1:9.

Texturants—Creating Textures

Texture has always been an important attribute because the mouthfeel of foods and beverages matter. In some cases, an adverse texture is enough for consumer to reject a food even before tasting it. This is because consumers not only use the sense of feeling in their mouths, or mouthfeel, to assess a food’s texture; they also create expectations of texture by visually evaluating the food.

Texturants include ingredients such as xanthan gum, pectin, cellulose gum (CMC), guar gum and microcrystalline cellulose. Selected types of dietary fibre can also help improve a product’s mouthfeel and viscosity and are instrumental in simultaneously imparting functional benefits. All of these can be included in the formulation depending on what functional properties and beverage type is desired.

The Work Of Texturants

Texturants have two main properties. They suspend pulp and particles and avoid phase separation during storage and control mouthfeel and sensory properties.

To fulfil the requirements for good suspension properties and good sensory control, highly effective texturants and customised systems are needed. For some types of beverages, the use of single texturants may be sufficient to obtain the desired functional properties. In other cases, a combination of texturants is required.

While it is important for beverage manufacturers to select an efficient system with good suspending effect and can be applied in a wide range of beverage applications, it is also advantageous to choose one with low cost-in-use from a production yield perspective.

The sedimentation of pulp, particle and cloud material is a phenomenon related to beverages based on a high content of fruit pulp solids. This takes place over a certain storage period and the result is a non-homogeneous product with an unattractive appearance. The most common types of separation in fruit beverages are shown in examples B and C in Figure 1:

Figure 1: Types of separation in fruit beverages. A: stable beverage; B: slight sedimentation of pulp and fruit particle (ineffective stabiliser system); C: complete phase separation (wrong stabiliser system); D: neck ringing—essential oil separation due to unstable flavour emulsion.

Mouthfeel Improvement

Health and cost concerns have led to increasing interest in removing sugar from drinks and replacing it with a non-nutritive sweetener. Although sweeteners can replace taste loss, they do not replace the texture provided by sugar. When selecting a system for fruit beverages, the most important parameters to define are:

  • type of beverage: ready-to-drink or dilutables
  • level of pulp-suspending effect required
  • mouthfeel characteristics: heavy or light
  • viscosity profile
  • fruit type
  • fruit juice/concentrate content
  • required flavour release
  • legislation
  • cost

There is also a range of specially combined texturing systems available for more effective beverage suspending properties and sensory control. The functionality of these stabiliser systems depends on the functional properties of the individual components used, combined with their synergistic effect in relation to rheology and organoleptic properties.

For example, CMC can be found in various beverages worldwide. They cover the entire spectrum of textural requirements from light to full-bodied. They also meet the needs for high transparency and top flavour release, with low cost-in-use as another important gain.

Rise Of ‘Natural’ And Nutritious

The highly competitive fruit beverage market segment has raised consumers’ expectations for a more ‘natural’ feel with higher nutritional value for products containing fruit pulps and fruit bits. This means that manufacturers must react to market trends and include ingredients such as pulps and fruit bits so that consumers can better associate products with ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ claims. This calls for the need to have more robust solutions to ensure that products have good pulp and particle suspension and an overall acceptable mouthfeel.

Hydrocolloids such as xanthan, CMC and pectin have been traditionally used to improve mouthfeel and improve flavour release in still juice drink. These help manufacturers to have more effective use of juice ingredients, ensuring finished products are affordable without compromising their organoleptic profile.

There is a range of customised solutions available to suit Asia’s tropical climate where suspension performance can be challenging during transportation and storage. Such systems allow for more effective beverage suspension properties and sensory control. They also allow flexibility in production where:

  • particles can be suspended while the beverage is being filled at higher temperature
  • allow bigger and denser particles to be used in the formulation and
  • ability to suspend the particles in reduced solids recipes

Stabilisation and suspension can be achieved using a customised blend of stabiliser system with a high yield value. Stabilisers are able to create a 3-dimensional network in the beverage liquid phase and this helps to promote the suspension properties.

Eliminate Sugar, Build Texture

Traditional beverage manufacturers may use sucrose as the major sweetening agent. Sucrose provides sweetness, texture and flavour characteristics that are not easily imitated by substitutes. However, health and cost concerns have led to increasing interest to remove sugars from drinks and replacing it with a non-nutritive sweetener.

The use of high-intensity sweeteners alone in sugar-free beverages is widespread. However, compared to full sugar beverages, such sugar-free versions often lack mouthfeel. Texturants play an important role by replacing the loss of mouthfeel in a cost-effective way.

In addition, sweetener ingredients also offer food manufacturers an alternative to replace sugar, yet remain competitive by maintaining cost in use. In addition, such ingredients can also improve the nutritional profile of the products.

The mouthfeel profile can be improved through the addition of small amounts (as low as 0.5 percent) of polydextrose. It is non-crystalline, but its high solubility and low viscosity in solution make it a valuable ingredient for providing mouthfeel and fibre content. It has an energy value of just 1 kcal/g, and can be used in sugar free and low calorie beverages. It is also suitable for incorporation into diabetic products.

Polydextrose is an insoluble fibre and helps add bulk, which makes it suitable for applications where a fibre content claim is required. It provides a fuller mouthfeel to enhance taste perception, and also has a clean taste and helps to enhance the taste profile of the final product.

Used in the food industry for over 30 years, it is recognised for its ability to facilitate nutrition and health claims in a diverse range of food and beverage applications, without negatively impacting taste and texture and therefore end product appeal.

The challenge for beverage manufacturers today is to create healthful drinks with functional benefits, yet with the right texture profile and pleasant taste. Visual appeal is equally important in beverages and there are various solutions and alternatives available to help processors innovate their products to taste, look good on shelf and highly stable.