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

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Ensuring Snack and Nutrition Bar quality

Snacking is not a modern concept. As humans, we have been snacking for our whole existence.

The Stone Age hunter will have eaten berries while waiting for his next rabbit, Native Americans used to throw their ears of corn on a fire to produce early popcorn, and the first pretzels are said to have been made by a 6th century Italian monk. 

However, along with this snacking behaviour, we also started to eat larger, regular meals a few thousand years ago once we started breeding livestock. 

The removal of many women from the home to work in factories during the 18th century pushed the balance back towards snacking on convenience foods, until once again the “traditional” setup of a stay-at-home wife and mother became the norm after the Second World War, and three regular meals were eaten every day by the majority of the Western world. 

However, the last 50 years have caused a shift once again away from this setup. Now both men and women work long, busy days and rely heavily on convenience food. Taking time to cook and eat large meals at fixed times is often seen as an avoidable burden. Just like the hunting caveman, the majority of our diet is made up of a large number of small snacks, giving us freedom of time and place to eat.

But now, more than ever, we are realising the importance of a healthy diet. Whether prompted by a better understanding of the human body, the prevalence of delicious unhealthy food causing weight gain or simply slowing metabolisms as more of us work at a desk all day, we are always searching for healthier substitutes for the traditional snack.
 

Let’s consider one of the most basic snacks – the cereal bar. Often covered with seeds but full of sugar, this specious food has had a lot of attention from the health brigade. Healthy cereal bar variations are often being released. They have had fibre and protein added, carbohydrates removed and fat reduced by altering preparation techniques. One ingredient provider is even offering a sucralose sweetener that contains collagen peptides in an attempt to look after our skin while we snack, all the while reducing the percentage of sugar in sweet food.

As always when looking to alter food products, it is of paramount importance that the texture and flavour are at least as good as the old version, or customers will not make a repeat purchase. Stable Micro Systems offers a large array of physical testing solutions for cereal bars, covering the bar itself, the foil packet it is stored in and finally its cardboard box.


When eating a cereal bar, many people break it in half before putting it in their mouths. They generally expect a chewy, stretchy bar that breaks with a moderately high force. This action can easily be mimicked using the Three Point Bend testing rig, which supports the edges of the sample while forcing the centre of the sample downwards. This test can be used alongside a specification of the ideal range of bending forces.


While biting into the bar, the consumer is constantly assessing the finer points of the texture. Again they are looking for a chewy bite, but if there are hard inclusions they will be felt by the teeth at this stage. 

By cutting through a cereal bar using a blade, you can assess the force at each stage – the initial hardness as the teeth make contact with the outer surfaces, the softness of the interior and the presence of harder particles or layers, as well as the energy required to cut through the bar. A cereal bar is inherently variable in texture across its length, so the use of several blades will give better repeatability.

When the customer is opening up the cereal bar from its heat-sealed packet, they will find it irritating and time consuming if the seal is too strong. Likewise, if the seal is so weak that the packets have split at the seam during transit, they will be disappointed that the bars have become stale while left exposed to the air. Stable Micro Systems offers many different tensile grip options. The use of the standard Tensile Grips on a section of the heat seal can help to understand the peel forces holding the layers of plastic together.


Lastly, the job of the box keeping the cereal bars safe is an important one. The performance of outer packaging is usually a compromise between reducing weight and sometimes volume, and keeping the product safe from being squashed during storage on the supermarket shelf. The Rectangular Compression Platen mimics the application of a load over a large surface area on your box sample.

Contact Stable Micro Systems for more information on all areas of texture testing and physical property analysis.




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.

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