How to measure and analyse the texture of food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and adhesives.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Texture Analysis of Food in Vogue

Today, things are rather different in the food market from the produce that was available a few decades ago. 
While some familiar flavours and textures endure, the market is now defined by a constant stream of new flavours and textures allowing the food product development universe to expand in every direction.

Product development teams are seeing a new landscape of possibilities and behind this is growing consumer adventurousness. The broadening appetite for new flavours and textures stems from the exposure consumers now have to diverse food and drink cultures created by increased mobility, prosperity and the media-rich world. Younger consumers in particular are keen to seek out new flavours and textures and represent such an important target segment in this booming area of food product development.

Recent years have seen an explosion of food blogs and food photo sharing online, so it is no surprise that foods are following trends more than ever. The last decade has seen bacon incorporated into everything from jam to chocolate, salted caramel replacing ordinary caramel, avocados baked into cheesecake and smashed on toast, and gourmet popcorn sold in every flavour under the sun. A rise in a food’s popularity often originates for health reasons and once a mainstream shop picks up on it, it makes a move onto menus and shop shelves.

There is a lot of motivation for businesses to keep up to date with these trends as it makes them appear current and customers will always be attracted to novel or fashionable food. For food manufacturers it is crucial that the product texture is on point. For food replacements (such as courgettes or beetroot taking the place of carrots in cake sponge), the texture must be the same or even better. In this case, if the hardness under compression is increased, or if the sponge is tougher when cut with a blade, it will be rejected by the consumer, there will be no repeat purchase and negative reviews will appear on the product’s website.

These two tests, compression and cutting, can be automated using a Texture Analyser. Multiple samples can be tested in quick succession with fast data analysis and report generation made possible using the Exponent software by Stable Micro Systems. Additionally, batches are saved separately for easy comparison, which is particularly useful when comparing a new variation on a product with the original, popular version.

In the coming year we are likely to see health as a major focus in the food fashion world. Similarly, to the low fat focus of the eighties, the large quantities of sugar being consumed have caused a major health scare and health authorities are pushing for a reduction in the consumption of sweet food and drinks. This is bad news for confectionery and bakery companies, but artificial sweeteners (and natural low-sugar sweeteners such as stevia leaf sap) are now very sophisticated and sugar free sweets and chocolate are becoming more widely-available, with excellent imitations of the texture of the original. Sugar plays a more important part in bakery, however, helping sponges rise and affecting bubble distribution, as well as helping the products to form a crispy, browned exterior, so sugar free bakery with a satisfying texture is still in its early stages of acceptance.

Just as quickly as sugar is being removed from food, protein is being added. So often these days, food is eaten on the run, with consumers snacking throughout the day instead of eating the traditional three meals. While this is not necessarily detrimental to health on its own, the types of food that are available to eat in this way are not usually health-focused (not including items that have to be kept refrigerated – they are generally of higher cost and lower convenience). The majority of these products are high in fat and carbohydrate, particularly sugar, and low in protein and vitamins. The incorporation of vitamins is not generally difficult (cereal manufacturers have been fortifying their produce for years) as texture is not altered dramatically, but the addition of protein can be more tricky. Whey protein is often added to sports nutrition bars, giving a chewy, adhesive mouthfeel that is not always pleasant.

More recently, manufacturers are looking to alternative protein sources, including insect protein. Cereal bars containing powdered crickets (or “cricket flour”) have taken off in the sports world, and are predicted to trickle into the mainstream food market this year. A fast increase in popularity is not likely, as it will take time for consumers to overcome the squeamish aspect of this food source. However, insect protein is healthy, cheap and more sustainable than that from the dairy industry, although it may be some time before chocolate covered cockroaches are anything other than a novelty food in North America and Europe.

As there is already an acceptability barrier to these products, their quality has to be perfect for them to take off, which involves a great deal of testing. In the case of protein-enhanced cereal bars, this may involve testing for crispness – a compression test should show multiple peaks on a force-time graph and the associated acoustic data recorded using the acoustic envelope detector should show the same characteristic peaks and force drops as the original product. Additionally, a three point bend test should not show a brittle snap but instead a long plastic deformation period.

2016 was the year of the spiralizer, with “noodles” made of butternut squash and courgette replacing traditional spaghetti for followers of low carbohydrate diets, and grated cauliflower replacing rice. A common complaint was the unsatisfying texture; eating a plate of courgette noodles still tastes like the vegetable and does not give the satisfying mouthfeel of wheatflour spaghetti. This year, the popularity of products such as edamame spaghetti is on the rise. This is still a vegetable product but its processing method gives it the al dente texture of pasta. There are alternatives made from beans as well, such as black bean spaghetti and chick pea rotini. The brand with the closest texture to traditional pasta will almost certainly be the consumers’ favourite. The Triple Ring Cutting System from Stable Micro Systems can help with the R&D process, which cuts cooked noodle samples in a bulk volume. Toughness and softness/firmness are the key parameters here.

On the theme of health benefits in food, the popularity of turmeric has exploded recently. With anti-inflammatory properties and a golden yellow colour, its powdered form has been added to a multitude of food items such as cakes, curries, lattes, teabags, and, dubiously, confectionery. Turmeric powder suppliers must keep a close eye on its quality. This is a simple affair with the range of powder testing options offered by Stable Micro Systems, including speed flow dependency measurement using the Powder Flow Analyser, and unconfined yield stress using the new purpose-built rig. 2017 has seen a rise in sales of the turmeric root itself, which is similar in appearance to ginger. This will likely be used in cooking and chopped up for infusion in hot water. Samples of turmeric root undergoing quality control may be subjected to penetration tests, with the supplier looking for a high maximum force at a low strain.

Vegetarian and vegan cooking has been popular for quite some time, but with worries about the sustainability of the meat and dairy industries as well as health concerns, vegetarian restaurants and vegan cookbooks have been on the rise. As well as this, vegetables are no longer confined to a side dish next to the main plate.

“Plant butchery” is an important new area for persuading meat eaters to go vegetarian, providing plant based foods with the satisfying texture of meat. It has been labelled as a quiet rebellion against the traditional high street butchers shop. Mycoprotein (Quorn) and soy protein based items have been available for decades, and have been steadily improving, but this is a whole new area. Plant butchers are often whole shops dedicated to vegetarian “meat”, and they keep up to date with trends in the meat world - for example, pulled pork, Korean ribs and chicken satay, which are to be found on most restaurant menus this year. Their main focus is on flavour and texture.

To be fulfilling enough to satisfy a meat eater, the texture has to be spot on, which can be assessed in many ways using a Texture Analyser. A Warner-Bratzler Blade is perfect for performing cutting tests on sausages, Kramer Shear Cells are useful for bulk testing meat pieces that may not be homogeneous, and multiple puncture testing is well-suited to burgers.

When you have committed to new products to embrace this new landscape you will need a few tools in your lab to measure and control the success of your new products.  If you don't yet have one, a Texture Analyser can be the new employee in your laboratory.  Providing an accurate, objective measurement to your product analysis with little or no maintenance, a Texture Analyser can help you perfect and quantify your product texture before your customers get their teeth into it.

We can design and manufacture probes or fixtures for the TA.XTplus texture analyser that are bespoke to your sample and its specific measurement.

Once your measurement is performed, our expertise in its graphical interpretation is unparalleled. Not only can we develop the most suitable and accurate method for the testing of your sample, but we can also prepare analysis procedures that obtain the desired parameters from your curve and drop them into a spreadsheet or report designed around your requirements.

For more information on how to measure texture, please visit the Texture Analysis Properties section on our website.

TA.XTplus texture analyser with bloom jar The
TA.XTplus texture analyser is part of a family of texture analysis instruments and equipment from Stable Micro Systems. An extensive portfolio of specialist attachments is available to measure and analyse the textural properties of a huge range of food products. Our technical experts can also custom design instrument fixtures according to individual specifications.

No-one understands texture analysis like we do!

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Watch our video about texture analysis Replicating Consumer Preferences
 Texture Analysis applications

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