Textural properties of food can change a person’s flavor perception. Someone might rave over an entree featuring outstanding flavors, yet have an involuntary gag reflex to that same dish if it has poor or unexpected textures.
This type of sensory input reaction to an unsavory mouthfeel is often examined as part of the science called food rheology — the study of the flow and consistency of food.
To put it simply, chips should be crunchy, taffy should be chewy and sauces should be creamy. If a food product doesn’t live up to its perceived consistency, it causes a psychological disconnect that is almost impossible to overcome no matter how good it may taste.
Textural Challenges in Cheese Sauces
Altering a cheese sauce formulation to prolong its shelf life, save costs or improve nutrition poses many challenges for food formulators. It’s difficult to replicate the velvety smooth viscosity of a fresh, homemade cheese sauce in products that need to be reconstituted, come from a container, or have been formulated in a frozen entree.
Common textural challenges with prepackaged cheese sauces result from a variety of production processes or improper ingredient selection, and might include:
- Separation or pooling of liquids
- A sticky or tacky mouthfeel
- Gummy or gelatinous consistency
- Viscosity breakdown
- Clumping or fish eyes
- And more
Causes of Poor Consistency in Cheese Sauces
Why do most alternatives to fresh cheese fail to mimic the rich, creamy consistency of the real thing? Ah, let us count the ways...
Lower fat formulations, in particular, have a higher probability of clumping and separation. In an attempt to restore a product’s integrity, food formulators may use alternative thickening or gelling agents such as gums, starches or carrageenan. Unfortunately, these ingredients are not considered clean label by most consumers and may simply replace one textural problem with another in addition to having off-flavors. Modifiers may be used to address some issues, but they may not be freeze/thaw stable and can be compromised by thermal treatments.
High shear environments and excessive mixing in food processing pose risks as well, compromising the structure of many ingredients. If a cheese sauce containing starches and gums is heated, the bond between glucose molecules can be broken, resulting in a stringy consistency.
Properly hydrating powdered ingredients is a key step in producing creamy applications. However, many commodity thickening agents result in agglomerates, or fish eyes, when improperly heated or mixed into a formulation. Trying to break up the clumps may result in excessive shearing and viscosity breakdown overall.
Real Dairy Solutions to Textural Issues in Cheese Sauces
For years, food scientists have turned to alternative ingredients in an attempt to replicate the flavor and texture of real cheese or processed cheese with mixed results. New and innovative products have come on the market to address these challenges. Among them are Grande Gusto®, a real dairy ingredient that tastes like cheese and maintains the same creamy consistency because it’s naturally derived from the cheesemaking process.
Grande Gusto is a cost-saving and nutritious all-natural whey ingredient that allows formulators to replace up to 50% of the cheese in an application while actually improving consistency and mouthfeel, according to a controlled study.
Consumers love it for its familiarity, clean label and savory flavor, and manufacturers love it for its ability to easily incorporate into their existing food systems and formulations. It acts as an emulsifier and surfactant that has superior water-holding capabilities and keeps formulations from separating in thermal applications or over time as it sits on a shelf.
Lowering costs, fat, calories and sodium in an all-natural, shelf-stable cheese sauce while still upholding the original formulation’s structural integrity has been a near impossible feat for food manufacturers. But it’s now possible with Grande Gusto.
View our Macaroni & Cheese Case Study below showing how one manufacturer leveraged the functionality of Grande Gusto in a budget-friendly mac and cheese application. Then, see for yourself why Grande Gusto won over the taste buds of an independent panel and convinced them that lower fat, fewer calories and reduced sodium formulations really can taste as good or better than the “real” thing.