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A disruptive force in sauce cooking

09 January 2017

Food Processing finds out more about a disruptive steam cooking solution which has been shown to enable fat reduction as well as improved flavour and mouthfeel in dairy sauces, while also offering production time and cost savings. 

The need to decrease levels of fat, salt and sugar in food products to meet consumer demand for healthy yet indulgent food products can be a challenge for food manufacturers. In some instances, this challenge is being tackled with the use of new, disruptive processes, that offer an alternative to product reformulation.

Traditionally it is necessary to add cream or butter to a sauce recipe to provide an indulgent mouthfeel. However, this can make it difficult to maintain product colour and flavour due to hot spots on traditional steam-jacketed kettles causing burn on. Scientific research undertaken at the University of Lincoln has identified a number of areas that can overcome these problems. One of these is through the use of a disruptive steam infusion technology from OAL. According to the findings of the University research OAL’s Vaction steam infusion technology can cook diary based sauces more effectively and can allow for reductions in fat content of up to 20% while also eliminating unwanted Maillard reactions or burn on, and creating products with a creamier mouthfeel and a more indulgent flavour which is due to the fact that the processing environment created by the steam infusion process manipulates starch to enhance the desired creamy mouthfeel without the need for a high fat content.

A reduction of up to 20% dairy fat in a recipe would move a product from a red traffic light product to amber which makes it more appealing to the growing number of health conscious consumers who don’t want to forego indulgent flavours.

“When placed into a cooking vessel, our EHEDG and 3A approved steam infusion Vaction unit is flooded by the fluid being cooked. Steam is brought into the device via a conditioning chamber. The velocity of this steam is accelerated in the conditioning chamber which then enters the fluid stream at above the speed of sound, breaking the fluid flow into droplets to give a much larger surface area of the product being heated,” explained Ian Beauchamp, head of process engineering at OAL. The technology allows for a gentle temperature gradient and a greater surface area for the steam to condense into vapour and the product is not subjected to any hot contact surface areas. “White sauces, such as bechamels and cheese sauce, will cook onto the hot spots in traditional steam jacketed kettles, but this is not the case with steam infusion,” continued Beauchamp.  

The University of Lincoln studied the effects on ingredients that passed through the Steam Infusion Vaction unit. Under certain operating conditions, a fat mimetic is formed which simulates the fat properties in sauces. Evidence suggests that on bechamel, cheese and hollandaise sauce a creamier mouth feel was achieved while maintaining the sauces viscosity when compared to a traditional steam jacketed cook.

Homemade flavours
Gas Chromatography-Gas Spectrometry (GCMS) testing undertaken by the University of Lincoln also identified a difference in the flavour profile of sauces cooked using steam infusion and taste panels also recognised an improvement in flavour between conventionally cooked and steam infusion cooked sauce samples. Both tests found that the steam infusion cooking technique preserves delicate flavours and prevents over-processed notes.

This is made possible due to the shortened cooking times and prevention of burn-on contamination which can affect the flavour profiles of a product. 

Burn-on to hot surfaces is a challenge faced by many food manufacturers producing dairy based sauces. Batches can be rejected due to dark spots occurring in the sauce and often the colour can also be distorted. The steam infusion technology eliminates burn-on by preventing exposure of the product to high temperatures. The technology cooks from the centre of the cooking kettle with no exposure to elevated temperatures, whereas  conventional cooking kettles heat from the outside surface with steam at over 100°C, even with an efficient agitator the residence time of the sauce being in contact with the high-temperature sides will cause burn on, even at relatively low temperatures.

In addition to preventing burn-on and Maillard discolouration, research identified that when cooked using the steam infusion method, dairy sauces appeared cleaner and brighter due to a difference in the diffraction of light. Under certain operating conditions the Vaction unit was found to have a shearing effect on sauces. The University of Lincoln research identified that the cooking technique generated smaller particle droplets that emulsify the fat globules causing the light to diffract differently. This is particularly noticeable in a high-fat white sauce and it results in a cleaner, whiter colour and brighter sheen.

Combining the experiences of using steam infusion in a manufacturing environment with research undertaken by the University of Lincoln, the following points of differentiation with traditional cooking technologies from an operational perspective have been identified:

Capacity: Cooking capacity can be increased because of the heating speed of the steam infusion technology. Work by the University of Lincoln calculated that the technique is up to three times faster than traditional cooking technologies. 

Cleaning:  By eliminating burn on, vessel cleaning times are much quicker and the use of caustic is reduced. There are opportunities to run batch after batch of the same product without the need for cleaning in between. The unit itself has no moving parts which makes it inherently easy to clean.

Energy consumption:  Users of steam infusion systems have reported up to 15% reductions in energy consumption over traditional steam jacketed cooking vessels. Its design allows steam to condense within the unit itself. The heating process does not rely on contact time between the steam and the product and it can run at higher steam pressures without compromising efficiency, helping to minimise losses to the atmosphere.

Steam infusion is already being used widely in the food industry by companies such as Bakkavor and Greencore. According to Jan Kusters, operations director at Larco Foods, steam infusion has reduced the production time of its soups and sauces by over 50%, as well as reducing energy.  Janet Prescott, manufacturing manager at Bakkavor, has reported similar improvements. The company is using steam infusion for the production of porridge. “The system is very fast and has reduced our cooking energy consumption by 15%,” said Prescott.

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