The Power Of Starch: Creating Cheese Products With Superior Texture

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

The consumption of cheese in Asia is expected to grow. Studies have shown that consumers have ranked the texture of cheese as one of its important elements, next to nutrition values and taste. Using technology, sensory panels and starches, cheese texture can now be tailor made to perfection. By Ang Hwee Yang, marketing director, Texture, Ingredion Asia-Pacific

The world’s love of cheese in its many different forms has flourished over thousands of years. Traditionally, the chief focus has been on its nutritional properties and taste, but in recent times, it has been discovered that texture is an equally important feature, if not central to the character and enjoyment of many types of cheeses, ranging from soft, creamy goat’s cheese, chewy mozzarella and hard, grainy parmesan.

Cheese consumption in Asia is expected to grow to 1.67 billion tonnes by 2020, from 1.02 billion tonnes in 2012. It is expected that the westernisation of eating habits in countries such as China, Japan and Southeast Asian countries will contribute to the growth in cheese consumption, especially in foodservice and bakery.

While it is clear that there is a growing consumer demand for cheese products in Asia, some dairy-based ingredients that are used in cheese have many restrictions. They include issues with price stability, import tariffs on cheese or dairy solids, as well as handling and processing challenges—some of which can increase costs and negatively impact texture and endproduct quality.

Overcoming Price Instability

Raw material costs continue to fluctuate and rise, making it difficult for cheese manufacturers to plan their financial targets. For example, in February 2014, rennet casein prices reached a peak of US$5.03 per pound. This is a 21 percent increase from prices captured in 2013, giving rise to unpredictability in the market.

To overcome this challenge, manufacturers may seek to optimise their formulations by looking at price-stable, cost-efficient ingredients such as starch-based ingredients. This will enable them to offset or manage any dramatic and unexpected changes.

Formulating To Maintain Or Improve Texture Quality

Cost is not the only consideration for cheese manufacturers when developing their products. The processing, handling and consistency challenges of working with natural cheese may steer many towards choosing processed or analogue cheese because of a number of potential functional benefits. These include customised viscosity for various cheese types, optimised firmness for shredding, and a controlled gelling process (fast versus slow).

In addition, the formulation of processed and analogue cheese offers the option to reduce fat without negatively impacting textural or eating qualities. Replacing some of the fat in cheese products with functional starches can help to achieve this, while maintaining the overall eating experience.

Working With Processed And Analogue Cheese

The three main categories of cheese that can be used in recipes are natural cheese, processed cheese and analogue cheese. Natural cheese varieties develop their taste and functional attributes during the ripening process, but in processed and analogue cheese, these attributes need to be created during the manufacturing process.

Dairy proteins including cheese, casein, caseinates, milk protein concentrates, fats, emulsifying salts, starches and stabilisers are among the most commonly used ingredients in processed and analogue cheese manufacture. A careful balance of the use of these ingredients is required in the formulation, so as not to compromise key functional attributes in the final cheese.

Depending on the application, the key functional attributes that are evaluated in processed and analogue cheese are: firmness, shredability, stretchability, sliceability, meltability, elasticity, flowability, and spreadability.

Starch plays an important role in the manufacture of processed and analogue cheese, where permitted by regulations. They can contribute to the cheese body and texture, as well as providing other functional attributes. With a large selection of starches in the market from different sources and modifications, the challenge for cheese manufacturers is to identify the right one that will fit their processing conditions and deliver the right functional attributes in their final product.

Understanding Consumer Acceptance Of Texture

It takes a thorough, data-driven approach to understand consumer perceptions of texture and subsequently use this insight as a basis for a new product or existing product’s development. This process often starts by benchmarking leading products within a target segment to find out what consumers like about their texture and what descriptive terms they use for it.

Advancement in technology has made it possible to use a dedicated food texture language to decipher terms that could be perceived as subjective. This in return helps develop the technical aspects required to reformulate or improve a product. For example, when consumers say they want a product such as cream cheese to be ‘more spreadable’, the term is broken up into a series of basic technical descriptors. Rheology is then used to measure flow properties like viscosity, and texture analysers to measure yield stress and gel strength.

After translating consumer sensory terms into actual measurable technical terms, sensory tests are conducted and sensory data is analysed to guide the development, ingredient selection and formulation process. Using sensory panels, key products are evaluated within the target segment, and the desired sensory attributes and target texture are decided upon. With this comprehensive approach, manufacturers can reduce trial and error, speed up product time to market, and save time and money.

Selecting The Right Ingredients For Block And Mozzarella Cheese

When it comes to creating cheese products, each challenge is unique. With the array of cheese types, flavours, and inclusions, and the possibility to include cheese in countless applications, selecting the right ingredient or blend of ingredients is of extreme importance.

The production of processed block cheese can be impacted by fluctuating dairy-based ingredient costs. Manufacturers are often required to reduce these ingredients without affecting the textural performance on firmness, shredding, melting and eating quality. Through the use of specialty starches, taste and quality can be maintained when reducing an ingredient such as natural cheese.

For example, different starches can be used to replace part of the cheddar cheese in processed block cheese, while maintaining similar firmness and shredding, also improves elasticity and firmness or enhance key texture attribute of melting while maintaining firmness.

When it comes to processed mozzarella cheese, it is common for pizza manufacturers to want to reduce the use of natural cheese or rennet casein, without compromising on key textural attributes. This is made possible through the use of starch, which is able to replace a percentage of rennet casein in a processed mozzarella cheese formula, while retaining similar shredding, melting and stretching properties.

As consumption of cheese across Asia is increases, food manufacturers looking to include cheese in their products have a number of practical and functional considerations to take into account.

Processed and analogue cheese provide the opportunity for manufacturers to control the cost by circumventing the issue of price volatility of dairy-based ingredients. But to benefit from this, it is critical to maintain the product’s taste and sensory properties to retain consumer acceptance. With the help of technology, sensory panels and starches, it is now possible to be cost-effective and yet maintain the mouthfeel and texture in which consumers have grown to love about cheese.