Comfort Food & Healthy Eating: How One Ingredient Allows Food Manufacturers To Achieve Both

Comfort FoodsConsumers are fickle: One minute we say we want restaurants to feature a variety of low-fat, low-carb, and high-protein menu items, and the next we’re yearning for big-flavor, high-calorie comfort foods with little nutritional value. Technomic, the nation’s leading foodservice research and consulting firm, has identified some of the trends expected to gain momentum in the restaurant industry in 2014. In its report Technomics commented, “The demand for healthier eating is real…but so is the backlash.” That’s why one of the trends they expect to surge is what they call “Creamy, Cheesy, High-Fat Goodness,” specifically pasta with cream-based sauces.

While today’s major chain’s menus are full of the delicious, rich, fatty foods that are their mainstay, they also focus a lot of effort and resources on developing better-for-you options to address the growing demand of consumers. It’s such a burgeoning trend, in fact, that there are apps and websites, like healthydiningfinder, dedicated to helping consumers find local restaurants serving healthy fare. Type in your ZIP code and you’ll get a list of well-known restaurants, each with special healthy menus – some even have these menus designed exclusively for kids. Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Chili’s, Olive Garden and even Hooters provide diners with great-tasting choices lower in fat and calories.

Is there a way to achieve both? Like honest-to-goodness, rich-and-creamy macaroni and cheese with a sauce that clings to the fork…with a nutritional profile that doesn’t cause diners to eat a full day’s (or week’s) recommended daily allowance of fat? Comfort foods people feel good about ordering, rather than just regret?

Yes. One way we help food scientists and product development teams at food manufacturers achieve both richness and healthy profile  – or either, separately – is using a functional whey protein ingredient, Grande Bravo®, to modify formulations to allow them to reduce a dish’s fat content while maintaining that all-important rich, creamy mouthfeel diners expect from dishes like macaroni and cheese, Alfredo sauce, cheesy appetizer fillings, salad dressings, and sweet or savory dips.

Grande Bravo allows manufacturers to replace some of the cream in their formulation without compromising texture; in some applications, replacing cream with Grande Bravo actually enhances the texture. Replacing high fat dairy ingredients also reduces the product’s ingredient cost significantly.

As an example of the kind of results manufacturers can expect, we recently worked with a manufacturer to reduce the cream in an Alfredo sauce by creating an emulsion of Grande Bravo, soybean oil, natural flavors and water. We reduced the cream and non-fat dry milk (NFDM) in the formulation and the resulting mouthfeel was identical to the original and had a better nutritional profile. An additional benefit of using Grande Bravo in an emulsion was that and the product’s dairy ingredient cost was reduced by more than 50%. 

As food manufacturers and restaurants look to address consumers changing demands, ingredients with this kind of functionality (especially ingredients that, like Grande Bravo) will become more important, to both the quality and the cost of the food they’re producing.