One difficulty any food ingredient producer faces is the fact that the language with which they describe their products is different from the language which their customers, i.e. the food producers, use to define the expected properties. Though being different, the two descriptors used to define the properties of the food ingredient use technical languages, which can be correlated with each other. In contrast to the technical language used between supplier and user, the consumer uses a more emotional and phenomenological language to describe the properties an ingredient induces in a food product.
The starch producer’s language
The starch manufacturer typically characterises the product with some physical chemical parameters, some of which have been in use for a very long time. Viscosity related parameters are e.g. DE value, sugar spectrum, viscosity, rheology or the molecular weight distribution. All these parameters are used to define glucose syrups, whereas the latter 3 parameters are used for the characterisation of starches or modified starches. The more specialised the properties of a starch or starch derivative, the more specific the parameter is in describing the specific property. If a particular type of modification induces a specific rheological behaviour at two different temperatures or at two different shear rates, such parameter will typically appear on the product Spec Sheet.
Data relating to the purity criteria of a food ingredient, such as heavy metal content, pesticide or fungal toxin residues, are not discussed in this section since they do not represent functional properties of starch or starch derivatives, but are the sine qua non for the marketability of the products
The food producer’s language
The food producer can only partially correlate the properties specified by the starch producer into his own technical language describing the properties of the ingredient after passing one or more technological process steps. These steps can be described in a very simplified way as:
- blending and mixing, with different shear rates
- heating and cooling, with different heating or cooling rates or prolonged thermal exposure
- combination with other ingredients
These steps expose the food ingredients used for the production process of a particular food to:
- mechanical stress
- thermal stress
- compatibility stress
In the best case scenario all these process stresses are within the tolerable range of the food ingredient’s properties and will not cause a process related change in properties. The properties incorporated to the food product by the addition of the food ingredient should then, in theory, correlate directly with the physical chemical parameter of the ingredient. This works very well for basic parameters, such as the dry substance and sugar spectrum of a glucose syrup used in a beverage application yielding the anticipated brix value and osmotic pressure of the beverage.
In food products, which are characterised by a more pronounced textural profile than beverages, the standard viscosity parameter of a modified starch measured at a certain concentration in water will correlation poorly in products like custards or creams which have a significantly lower water and a high sugar, fat and protein content.
In addition to the technological processability and functionality of an ingredient the effect on product shelf-life becomes an important additional decisive quality parameter.
Neither the brix value and osmotic pressure of the first example nor the textural profile of the second example can actually describe the sensory impression the consumer experiences.
The consumer’s language
For the consumer the technological descriptors of neither the ingredient supplier nor the food producer are relevant. The consumer looks for a sensory experience which is related to flavour, colour and mouthfeel of a product. The vocabulary used to describe this sensory experience necessarily has to be different from the technologically driven language of the manufacturers. Some can be easily correlated, like ‘gelled’ or ‘creamy’ with rheological parameters, some, however, like ‘glossy’ or ‘cling’, can only be determined phenomenologically but are difficult to technically specify.
In addition to taste, texture, mouthfeel and appearance the consumer also looks for health related functionality of a food product. The regulation for the marketing of health claims has forced food producers to substantiate any claim with clinical studies of the food product. Even though this regulatory demand has almost completely eliminated health claims from marketing campaigns functional technological claims have taken their place and are positively identified by the consumer. These are for instance all ‘free-from’ claims, like sugar-free which is associated with tooth health and lower calories.