Food processing aids and additives, between re-evaluation and novelties

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CaramelleThe remaining food additives shall be evaluated by 2020. Aspartame, the most commonly used artificial sweetener, is one of the cases that raised most concerns in consumers. It is used as a food additive in foodstuffs such as light drinks, low-fat yoghurt, some probiotics, chewing gum, ice creams, chips, and so on. In December 2013 EFSA published its assessment on aspartame. After the previous positive evaluations of 2006, 2009, 2011, the opinion concludes that this sweetener and its breakdown products (phenylalanine, methanol and aspartic acid) are safe for general population, and precisely there is no indication of toxic, genotoxic or carcinogenic potential at the current exposure levels. The present ADI (40 mg/kg body weight) is still valid, except for patients suffering from the medical condition phneylketonuria (PKU), a disease that causes an increased level of phenylalanine in blood, which is toxic to the brain, as they require strict adherence to a diet low in phenylalanine.

Trends and developments
A recent Eurobarometer survey report pointed out that 66% of European consumers is worried by the presence of additives in food. The food industry favours new natural products, such as those obtained by enzymatic treatment or bacteriophage substances that combat micro-organisms present in food. Another trend concerns the products for reducing fats, such as whey protein concentrate obtained by micronization. Finally, even modified starches are garnering growing recognition, as partial or total replacement of some ingredients. Unlike traditional flavours extracted with solvents, new natural flavours are extracted with an enzymatic process, which involves an “enzymatic digestion” of material of animal origin (milk and dairy products), followed by the separation and concentration of the various components that characterise the flavour. With traditional technologies, only one aromatic constituent is isolated, and sometimes the aroma is unbalanced, whereas latest extraction technologies allow the isolation of several aromatic constituents, in order to obtain a more balanced aroma. In the case fatty of acids, for instance, it is possible to isolate the shorter and more volatile constituents – responsible of the aroma – as well as those with a longer chain – responsible of the bouquet and palatability of the product.

papaya smoothieThese aromas have a natural taste, similar to that of fresh products, with standard aromatic profiles. There are several aromas available. The range includes aromas like butter, milk, cream, sour cream, yoghurt, as well as aromas required for rounding off the taste of cheese such as Blue cheese, Caciocavallo, Camembert, Cheddar, Feta, Gouda, Edam, Manchego, Mozzarella, Parmesan-type. These are just a few examples, but various references are available with more or less spicy tones.  They are available on the market in form of distillates or paste. Besides priding themselves of being a “natural” product, these flavourings are an excellent replacement for expensive raw materials in the finished product; for instance, by adding a small amount of flavouring (0.5-3%), the butter can be replaced with vegetable fats, without sacrificing the typical aroma, resulting in lower formula costs.  Another trend is the use of natural bacteriophages to inhibit the pathogenic and/or spoilage bacteria present in/on foods.  They can replace chemical preservatives or inhibiting agents. They are odourless and tasteless, and do not interfere with the organoleptic properties of the food, nor with the activity of food-friendly micro-organisms.  Bacteriophages are gender-specific and sometimes even species-specific; this meaning that an anti-Salmonella phage will destroy only the infective bacteria of Salmonella and not other bacteria. Bacteriophages are harmless to human health, and are considered technological adjuvants. Therefore, they don’t need to be mentioned in the label, as in the case of food additives. Next to more natural foods, consumers are requesting products with a lower fat content. A new frontier is opening thanks to the use of whey protein concentrated, obtained by micronization. The process denaturates the whey proteins, and reduces them to micro-particles, more stable and with a particle size similar to that of fats, which they can replace partially. These proteins can be used as aerated products, and act as stabilizers, interposing themselves in the fat-water and air-liquid interface, to make the food more creamy. Furthermore, they increase the palatability and can be used as opacifiers. And what to say about modified potato starch? They can be used as a total or partial replacement for casein or caseinates in food preparations similar to cheese, thus reducing costs and giving the product properties such as excellent mouthfeel, smoothness, and melty texture. These products include various starch derivatives, as oxidized starch, acetylated starch, acetylated distarch adipate, starch sodium octenyl succinate. In food labeling they are mentioned as modified starch or modified potato starch (E1404, E1420, E1422, E1450, etc.). They can replace casein, totally or partially, thus  reducing to zero the cost of an ingredient, and obtaining an entirely vegetable product, suitable for vegans and people with milk allergy. Other uses are: cheese singles for hamburgers, which melt but do not drip when heated, preparations that can be grated, cut to chips, slices or cubes. Furthermore, they can be added to obtain salad dressings and mayonnaise, filling for pies or other cakes and baked products, entirely of plant origin, with the possibility of dosing fats thus achieving price stability and cost reduction. They can also – partially – replace gum arabic and/or animal gelatine generally used in gelatines, gummy sweets and liquorice tablets. Finally, they can be used to thicken liquids, as well as soups.

By Stefania Milanello