Function vs. Flavor

By Megan Pellegrini, Contributing writer

Today’s batters and breadings, however, are healthier, more exotic and specialized.
If you bread it, they will eat it. At least, for many poultry and some meat manufacturers, that’s been the governing principle of the last few decades. And consumers were happy to comply. Today’s batters and breadings, however, are healthier, more exotic and specialized.
All of the major protein players do batters and breadings. Nuggets, filets and tenders aren’t quite the same without that crunchy zip. Although poultry far outpaces meat and pork with its breaded offerings, the flavor profiles can be similar: hot and spicy, bold and ethnic. The latest flavor trends, of course, are following the path of other food products. Bold flavors — ranging from chile peppers to curries — in batters and breadings are only gaining in popularity.
Williams Ingredients, for one, is working a lot with South American chili peppers, which have a different flavor than other spicy peppers and have received a nice acceptance with consumers, says Dianne Pallanich, national accounts manager with Williams Ingredients, based in Lenexa, Kan.
“[South American chili peppers] are in a variety of our seasonings — really, anything with a roasted chili background,” she says. The ingredient manufacturer also works with Hispanic, Cuban and Italian flavor profiles.
Mexican, Tex Mex, Italian and Asian flavors are still popular in batters and breadings, but there is now a movement to flavors from specific countries or regions, as seen with Thai, Vietnamese, Veracruz or Yucatan flavors, says Paul Ludtke, director of research and development, coatings, for Kerry Ingredients, based in Beloit, Wis. Texture remains a major consideration in coatings systems.
“The marketplace continually asks for more crisp or crunch for products that are baked in an oven, or held under a heat lamp,” says Ludtke. “There is also a desire to have products stay crunchy or crispy after sauce is applied.”
Coating systems are combining seasonings blended with bread crumbs to provide intense flavors that don’t “flash off” in the cooking process, notes Jim Farace C.C., research chef for foodservice innovation at McCormick & Co., Inc., based in Hunt Valley, Md.
“Some profile examples are garlic, lemon and rosemary, toasted onion, bell peppers and herbs, and Italian herbs and cheeses,” he says. “The end result is a functional and flavorful coating system that both the customer and consumer will love.”
The coating system itself is now more specialized, with added value. As a result, breadings may now contain textures and visuals of a “homemade” appearance or incorporate complete flavor systems, says Orest Hanas, manager, product development, for McCormick.
“Product loss has always been an issue,” he notes. “One way to solve this is to formulate for better adhesion using stabilizers. This allows more of the coating to stick to the protein, thus decreasing product loss.”
When breading equals healthy
Ingredient manufacturers are also trying to address consumers’ health concerns about breaded products. Many are now focused on creating tasty products with better texture, but also less fat or sodium. Reducing the sodium content of foods presents manufacturers with the challenge of formulating breadings with lower sodium but still delivering great flavor impact.
“Sometimes [consumers] don’t want better-for-you products per se, but rather products containing better-for-you ingredients, such as multigrain and fiber,” says Ludtke.
These “better for you” products are advertising less fat and sodium, and contain ingredients that really are better for you — such as whole wheat, multigrains and fiber. To promote these health claims, food manufacturers are focusing more on providing natural ingredients. Ludtke notes that manufacturers can use their labels to call out healthy product features, and many manufacturers are making an effort to provide cleaner labels.
In addition, companies are also formulating their coating systems to have lower oil absorption, which results in a lower fat content of the finished product. Also, by simply recommending that consumers use trans fat-free oils when cooking, protein and ingredient suppliers can lessen negative perceptions about batters and breadings. Responsibility, in fact, ends with the shopper.
Chicago-based Newly Weds Foods’ exclusive Newly Crisp process allows customers to formulate products with the same taste, texture and appearance of deep-fried foods without pre-frying, or any frying at all. Any product can bypass the fryer and still deliver that crispy-fried appeal. Since Newly Crisp is baked, it delivers clean-tasting results with substantially less oil and fewer calories — a big plus for health-conscious consumers. The system is also compatible with current breading operations, and can be reconstituted in a conventional or convection oven.
The batter and breading company also offers Signature Breaders, which are customized combinations of two or more components, such as flours, starches, leavenings and various crumb types, that are complemented with spices, seasonings, particulants or flavors. The Breaders can be used to enhance the integrity and coverage of a coating, as well as improving appearance, texture and flavor. The current Signature Breader portfolio includes beer, buttermilk, Cajun, cheddar, chili-cheese, coconut, pecan potato, tortilla, foccacia and zesty Italian.
McCormick has also been working with its suppliers to use ingredients specifically developed for oven bake and microwave preparation, says Farace.“This gives finished products the same crunch and texture you normally associate with a product that has been fried, yet you get a healthier result,” he says. “This is not a new concept, but technology has been improved to the point that today’s ‘oven-fried food’ is much better than what you might expect based on memories from decades, or even just years, ago.”
Farace points out that breaded products being offered today in the freezer case — such as Lean Cuisine and Weight Watchers entrees — bear out the notion that they can be trendy, flavorful and healthy.
Ingredient companies are also utilizing natural and organic materials, although natural ingredients are getting more attention due to their lower costs and more availability of materials. According to Ludtke, raw organic materials can sometimes cost up to five times as much.
Williams Ingredients is currently offering natural, organic and non-genetically modified seasonings.
“Our customers demanded we offer them,” says Pallanich.
Comfort foods remain popular
Although many shoppers are looking for healthier options in the freezer and deli area, they still want the breaded goodness of comfort foods as well. Excalibur Seasonings is more than willing to help them out, offering more than 13,000 seasoning blends, which are well-suited for traditional products such as Chicken a la King, Chicken Kiev, chicken-fried steaks and new innovations.
“The American people are still in love with breading and breaded products,” says Jerry Hall, CEO of Excalibur Seasonings, based in Pekin, Ill. “There’s still a big market for new innovative products, but the old standbys are doing a good job too.”
He notes that today’s Chicken Kievs or a la Kings have lightened up on the breading, compared to where they had been in the past.
“There’s still room for lightly breaded, ready-to-eat items,” he says. But today’s breading is best-suited for the oven, not deep fryers.
Meats, such as fresh and smoked sausages, continueto provide a fertile ground for experimenting with seasonings. Excalibur offers over 30 unique flavor profiles which are designed to produce a liquid pick up as high as 15 percent when using lean, boneless cuts of beef or pork and up to 20 percent when using boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
A Perfect Match
Lemon grass and lychee or red curry and masa? Poultry and meat offerings are experimenting with a variety of flavors, and restaurant-savvy consumers are paying attention. As shoppers continue to be interested in health and wellness, authentic ethnic ingredients and cooking techniques, and local and artisan foods, their palates will only keep evolving. Here’s a look at the top 10 flavor pairings for 2008.
Oregano and Heirloom Beans: This combination creates an antioxidant powerhouse with fantastic flavor.
Vanilla Bean and Cardamom: An indulgent yet approachable treat, this flavor match provides comfort.
Chile and Cocoa: Old World authenticity in a modern context — the result: complex heat, depth, dimension and richness.
Coriander and Coconut Water: The essence of the tropics joins a versatile spice for a light, clean flavor.
Lemon Grass and Lychee: Exotic fruits and the ever-growing popularity of Asian cuisines pave the way for this refreshing match.
Red Curry and Masa: This duo brings together Latin and Asian influences to create a unique flavor experience.
Orange Peel and Natural Wood: A new taste sensation is born when the smokiness of wood is matched with tangy orange peel.
Allspice and Exotic Meats: This adventurous combination represents America’s pursuit of experimentation.
Poppy Seed and Rose: An elegant and sensuous pair that captures the pursuit of cuisines from North Africa and the Middle East.
Rubbed Sage and Rye Whiskey: Sage is a wonderful complement to the dry, gutsy nature of rye whiskey, a historic beverage poised for a great renaissance.
Source: McCormick & Co.’s Flavor Forecast 2008