Keeping Pace With Special Diet Needs And Science In The Food Industry
With an increasing awareness and discovery of what’s healthy and what isn’t to the human body, consumers are becoming more attentive to their lifestyles – especially what they eat and drink. When it comes to adapting to what consumers want, food and science go hand-in-hand more than they ever have to ensure safe consumption for all diet restrictions. To today’s manufacturers, restaurants and chefs, its more than just fat-free or sugar-free, it’s about satisfying cravings while being mindful of the client’s needs.
Gluten is a type of protein that is contained in foods such as – but not limited to – pasta, bread or rice. While many find comfort in these types of food, throughout recorded history there have been cases of those who have suffered from consuming this particular protein. This ailment more than often stems from celiac disease. Celiac disease is a condition that has been around for a couple of centuries but recently awareness has grown and become more of a movement to find alternative foods and recipes for those who have been diagnosed.
In the past the definition for the term gluten-free was liberal and changed between each manufacturer, causing an alarming concern for consumers who suffered from celiac disease. This past August the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put its foot down and gave the term, or any term similar, a solid definition. As stated directly on the FDA’s website, in order to claim that the end product being sold to consumers is gluten-free, it must not contain “any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains” in any way shape or form. If it must contain any form of the grains listed then their total amount must be at or below 20 parts per million (ppm) in size. This minuscule amount is what has been determined as safe to consume for those with celiac disease.
The FDA has recently issued that food manufacturers have until August 5th of 2014 to comply for all products labeled as gluten-free or any variation of the term, or get rid of the claim altogether. To keep up to par with the new regulations, some common and trending alternatives to items containing gluten are quinoa, ground flax seeds and soy. As with all cases of altering ingredients in a recipe, trial and error must be done to ensure a premium end product.
Dairy and Egg Alternatives
Many dessert dishes and recipes contain some sort of dairy, be it eggs or milk, and anything that is made from those ingredients, such as butter, sour cream, ice cream or yogurt. While there are those who choose to not consume dairy products of any kind, there are also those who have health problems that prohibit them from eating dairy products. The most common health problem related to dairy is lactose intolerance, where the body is unable to fully digest the lactose found in many dairy products.
Whether it’s from a lifestyle choice or health risk, there are alternatives out there for various dairy types, each with their own set of pros and cons.
In recent years milk alternatives have been increasing and gaining leverage in the world of cuisine. No longer are the choices simply almond or soy milk. According to www.veganoutreach.org, now there are alternatives such as rice milk, coconut milk, cashew milk and even flax milk. All of these are also available with added vitamins and minerals so that when making the switch from dairy to non-dairy no significant nutritional value is lost. When cooking with milk alternatives it is best to keep in mind how it affects the density of the final product. For perfect results that mimic a recipe that contains dairy milk, trial-and-error testing must be done before going into full-scale production.
The organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) shares alternatives on its site, as eggs can be replaced with more than just processed liquid that has the same consistency and nutritional value as eggs. Depending on the recipe, egg can be replaced with tofu, bananas, starch vegetables such as potatoes or squash, or a mixture of agar powder dissolved in water. As with milk, replacing eggs is no easy task and must be carefully researched and tested before going into full-scale production. Not only is the texture and consistency varied between alternatives, but so is the overall flavoring of a dish.
Besides simply having a craving for a fresh vegetable or fruit just harvested off the vine or tree, there are those out there who choose to be very strict with their diet at all times. Two of the most up-and-coming diet choices are vegetarian and vegan. Vegetarians are those who choose to eat vegetables and a loose definition of no meat: some consume eggs but no red meat or fish, some consume just fish as their source of meat (Pescatarian), or any other combination thereof. Veganism is a much more strict version of the vegetarian diet, consuming nothing that has any association with meat or animal by-products.
With these two most common diets, the focus is on having a product that maintains a healthy balance between fresh ingredients and processed chemicals. Making fresh ingredients shelf-stable isn’t guaranteed to avoid chemicals altogether, but the less that is used in the end product the better for the fresh-conscious consumer.
Erin Evans, research and development technologist at PreGel AMERICA, shares some of her tips when dealing with fresh ingredients. “When sourcing ingredients in bulk or at the peak of freshness, buying ingredients that are in season is key,” says Evans. She also suggested, “looking at distributors close to your facility. This way you know where the ingredients are from and can avoid over-ripeness or already rotten ingredients upon delivery due to a long travel time.”
Modern Food Allergies
Food allergies are more than just peanuts and milk. The variety of food allergies out there is as diverse as the amount of different foods that are consumed. As stated on the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) website, “while only eight foods (milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy) account for approximately 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions, a person can be allergic to virtually any food.” Having a final product or variety of final products that accounts for all food allergies is out of the question, but taking the correct precautions to avoid cross-contamination of ingredients not listed in the final product packaging can avoid unnecessary risks.
Labeling all ingredients that are contained in the final product in a legible, consumer-friendly way is a great way to avoid confusion or misunderstandings. For businesses, it’s best to post statements of any and all allergens that could potentially be in food – especially if cross contamination can occur. A great example is in gelato production, where you generally work from light to dark flavors. What that can mean is making a hazelnut and then a chocolate. If you continually batch and don’t thoroughly clean between, there’s a chance that traces of hazelnut can be in your chocolate.
Evans stressed the importance of simply being educated on what ingredients are what, especially when it comes to processed ingredients. “If it’s an uncommon term being used in the ingredients it doesn’t automatically make it an unhealthy or unnatural ingredient.” It also doesn’t mean you can be ignorant of what that ingredient is – many ingredients have various general and scientific names. Being straightforward with what ingredients are contained in your end product is always beneficial to consumers because they need to understand and comprehend what is going into their bodies and fulfilling their individual needs.
With the increasing awareness among consumers about the importance of their diet, and the often-complex requirements, planning for diet diversity is a must. For today’s consumers, only full transparency regarding ingredients will satisfy those needs. The more honesty there is between you and the consumer, the more rewarding and comforting the food produced is for everyone.