What are Functional Ingredients? Our Food Scientists Weigh In


With the exception of increasing protein levels in nutritional supplements, many commodity powdered whey ingredients don’t provide functional properties. Instead, they are often solely used to deliver cost savings. While optimizing costs is certainly a benefit, a functional ingredient must provide quality improvements to a final product.

Commodity whey protein often requires masking agents or fillers to deliver comparable flavors, textures and sensory attributes. Grande Custom Ingredients Group's all-natural functional ingredients do not require such additives, while still improving many of the same attributes.

What are Functional Ingredients? 

The root of the word “functional” provides some indication of its definition; for an ingredient to be functional, it needs to provide a function. 

Functional properties are ingredient attributes that provide a benefit during food preparation and to a finished food application when cooked. These attributes might include how an ingredient looks, tastes, and feels, as well as a product’s structure, quality, texture and nutritional value.

By contrast, some ingredients are inert and are better suited as fillers due to their unreactive nature, and are not considered functional.

Functional Properties of Ingredients

The average consumer likely views the term “functional” similarly to how popular media defines it — providing a health benefit. As noted, food scientists generally view functionality more technically as an ingredient property that improves overall quality and/or processing, including:

Improved Texture

Heavy cream, cheese and other fresh dairy ingredients are desirable for their creamy mouthfeel and texture in soups and sauces, but getting the texture just right is difficult. Fresh dairy can coagulate without proper pH controls or with the addition of enzymes. Incorporating commodity powdered whey ingredients can sometimes result in clumping. Functional whey proteins offered by Grande Custom Ingredients Group will improve moisture retention and help to eliminate clumping. 

Other forms of whey protein may provide a crunchy texture, as in whey protein crisps, or even improve the juicy texture of meat applications by helping to retain fat and moisture.

Improved Process Stability

Production processes like high shear and heat can either improve a product or diminish a formulation’s quality. For example, heat can lead to poor textures if the application is not properly formulated and carefully considered.

Functional ingredients will help maintain a food product’s structure under varying conditions and the application of heat. They’ll also perform well under varying pH levels and reduce syneresis in creamy applications.

Improved Food Preparation

The final cooking process for items like cheese-filled poppers can result in ruptured fillings bursting through a pastry pocket (known as blowout), in addition to other textural problems. Blowout in filled foods is a common problem where the end preparation and cooking methods vary widely. Functional whey proteins help to maintain a product’s structure in varying temperatures, whether in a deep fryer or during freeze/thaw cycles, helping to minimize blowout in finished products. 

Enhanced Flavor

Functional ingredients can help enhance flavor in a variety of ways. The flavor benefits of functional whey protein ingredients are often a result of the attributes they don’t incorporate. Functional whey proteins maintain a clean flavor profile and don’t introduce bitter, off flavors commonly associated with alternative proteins like pea and soy proteins. Those ingredients often require masking agents, reducing a product’s ability to be categorized as clean label.

Functional whey proteins produced by Grande Custom Ingredients Group don’t require masking agents. Instead, they can actually enhance dairy flavors and umami due to their naturally occurring mineral content.

Improved Sensory Attributes

Foods are not judged by flavor and texture alone. Other sensory attributes like appearance and aroma also contribute to their appeal. High-protein sports drink manufacturers, for example, look for whey protein isolates that can serve many roles, like increasing protein levels and reducing turbidity

Most commodity WPIs produce cloudy beverages or result in sediment settling to the bottom of the bottle. This often results from improper pH levels. Grande Custom Ingredients Group developed Grande Ultra, a proprietary WPI that overcomes these challenges.

Improved Shelf Life

A major benefit of powdered whey protein ingredients is their long shelf life, both when held in inventory and in finished products. Whey protein products produced by Grande Custom Ingredients Group have a shelf life of 12 months or more. They also improve the shelf life of products due to their ability to withstand freeze/thaw cycles and reduction of syneresis.

What might improved shelf life look like? In a steam table study, a hot-hold cheese sauce incorporating Grande Gusto was able to reduce moisture loss by 66% and extend the hold time by 50%.

VIEW CASE STUDY: Hot Hold Cheese Sauce Steam Table Study 

Improved Nutrition

We can’t ignore the fact that consumers desire more nutritious versions of their favorite foods. Grande Bravo whey protein concentrate is widely recognized for its ability to help lower fat and calories. Some whey proteins, like Grande Gusto, can also help reduce sodium in cheese sauces and help minimize the need for artificial ingredients in various applications.

Functional Whey Protein Ingredient Properties

Multiple whey protein powders have been developed that deliver these exceptional functionalities in various applications — functionalities that food scientists may not have considered before.

Grande Custom Ingredients Group revolutionized the whey protein powder industry by delivering functionalities that other producers simply can’t replicate, all while maintaining the products’ integrity and clean-label status. 

Let us prove it to you. Contact us today to talk through your formulation challenges and request samples to learn what real functionality looks like.

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