What's New in Food? IFT Expo Offers Tasty Innovations

candy and fudgeAttending the IFT Food Expo was a culinary adventure like none other.  In the course of two afternoons, I sampled countless products including a raspberry peach smoothie made with powdered chicken, protein-enhanced gummies made with collagen, gold stars made with edible film (decorating some scrumptious fudge), and a cracker-size square made from a pineapple core. 


The Expo not only provided experimental snacking but also an opportunity to get a handle on recent food trends and find out how the food industry is meeting the dietary needs and desires of various consumer populations (for example, by adding more fiber and/or protein; cutting down on salt, fat, or sugar; and eliminating gluten, pesticides, or GMOs). 


Among its 18,000 members, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) includes academics, researchers, food manufacturers, suppliers, and others associated with the food industry.  From July 13-16, the organization held its annual meeting in Chicago's huge McCormick Place convention center.  Some 23,000 food professionals from more than 100 countries attended. According to IFT, its Food Expo "is the food industry's largest collection of ingredients, equipment, processing, and packaging suppliers under one roof."   I (proudly wearing my press badge) walked my feet off while trying to visit the booths of some 1,150 exhibitors and examine (and eagerly consume) their new products.


However, don't conclude that the Food Expo is the totality of the IFT annual meeting.  There are also more than 100 scientific sessions covering food safety, nutrition, food processing and packaging, ingredient innovations, sustainability, food laws, chemistry, and more. There are also 1,200 poster presentations on a wide range of food-related subjects.


In the food business, innovation seems to be the name of the game. This year the IFT gave 4 innovation awards for accomplishments in the food industry.  These were the winners:


Egg replacer:  The invention of Glanbia Nutritionals, the egg replacement system is comprised of whey protein concentrate and milled flaxseed.  It can be used instead of eggs in baked products such as muffins, cookies, and cornbread.  According to Glanbia, sensory trials have shown no significant difference in taste, appearance, or texture between this product and real eggs.


Sensory technology: Nizo food research has come up with a way to analyze the sounds of the tongue rubbing against food. The information can predict the sensory effects of food innovations, for example, the creaminess or astringency of a new food. The technique, called "sensory tribology," has been demonstrated in detail on dairy products but can be used on any food.


Quick food analysis: PerkinElmer has developed a system that can analyze food samples in a few seconds, without the extensive sample preparation usually needed for these analyses. It can rapidly measure food adulteration, and contamination, as well as the character of a product.


Less salt without taste loss: Tate & Lyle has created Soda-Lo salt microspheres, which can be used to decrease the salt content in foods by 25-50% with no taste loss.  A patent is pending on this technology, which changes ordinary salt crystals into hollow crystalline spheres.  These crystals have a lower density and more surface area relative to their volume, hence they dissolve rapidly and so give the same salt taste with a decreased quantity of salt. Soda-Lo has been used successfully on bread, peanuts, popcorn, chips, fries, and meat. 


For IFT's lengthy list of significant developments featured at the Expo, go to Product Development.  


Now, back to the Food Expo. There weren't many products exhibited that are sold at retail, that is, the kinds of products consumers would find in the supermarket. This was a trade show highlighting food ingredients, such as flavorings, bases, and colors, to interest food manufacturing companies and food service operators in their products. The edible samples allowed nibblers to try foods made with various ingredients they may not have tasted before.  Innovative ingredients that the companies were promoting offer food processors benefits such as these: faster, easier, cheaper, more attractive, or tastier methods to create a better product than competitors.  But, in addition, there was a decided emphasis upon adding (or substituting) ingredients that consumers would view as better for their health. 


Here's just a sampling of some foods and ingredients I tried or saw.  Some tasted fine, some just okay, but I enjoyed the novelty, and the opportunity to ask company representatives questions to find out what my snacks actually contained and why.




The photo at the beginning of this article shows these three candies featured at the Expo:

  • ŸThe fudge is decorated with Watson, Inc.'s Edible Glitter, which comes in many shapes and colors. It can also be used to decorate popcorn, cookies, cakes, drinks, and frozen food products.
  • ŸProtein gummies are 21% Solugel. GPGelatins/PB Leiner claims that these gummies taste like any other gelatin gummy, but they contain 3 times more collagen protein than the traditional gummy.
  • ŸThe white truffle in the photo is honey-flavored, the dark chocolate one was fig-flavored. The candies came in a gold-colored box labeled "dm" (for David Michael & company), a flavor company.

The Naturex booth handed out one of my favorite sweets: a slice of "banoffee cheesecake" made with the company's innovative "fruit impact."   The cake contained blood orange juice granules, canned orange fruit blend, and banana pulp, along with other ingredients. Naturex makes fruit flakes in an original and bigger shape that add a "unique crispy texture" to cereals, crackers, cookies, and cakes plus the health benefits and intense flavor of real fruit.


Frozen Greek yogurt was conspicuous at the Expo. About half the people there were walking around munching on a raspberry-flavored, chocolate-coated frozen Greek yogurt bar.  It was promoted as a "sweet treat with a touch of fiber."  The company promoting the fiber was Fibersol.  Sensus America Inc. offered Fiberlite frozen yogurt, a low-sugar product made with the company's sweet chicory root fiber (Inulin). 


Another product I enjoyed (my sweet tooth never tires of chewing) was Roquette's sugar-free coffee beans with Sweet Pearl (a sweet flavor-enhancer made with maltitol). Its website claims the product has nutritional benefits. When I googled maltitol, I found several articles speaking negatively of the product. Here's a link to one of them: "Maltitol: Just Say No." But I don't mean to be picking on Roquette.   Artificial sweeteners were widespread at the Expo, as a company's main product or as an important ingredient in its flavorings.  Stevia, a sweetener that Wikipedia says is found in about 240 species of herbs and shrubs in the sunflower family, appeared often as part of the ingredients in products shown at the Expo.  Health concerns have long been associated with sugar substitutes in general, so it's good that new ones keep coming along.  Nutrinova (a division of Celanese) has a new sweetener system called Qorus.  It's recommended for non-carbonated beverages, flavored milk, yogurt, and cocktails. 


Here's a novelty at the Expo: a product that's being sold, not for any health benefits, but to "turn a touch of beauty into a pretty profit."  The company--Barry Callebaut--is a chocolate supplier and had a mouth-watering display and a catalog of decorative chocolate items-- everything from curly shavings to molded decorations and chocolate cups.  Yum!




Smoothies with powdered chicken and powdered chicken broth (created by International Dehydrated Foods--IDF):  These tasted fine and nothing like chicken.


Cold-brewed coffee:  S&D Coffee & Tea had cold-brewed iced coffee and a frozen coffee drink. Both tasted great.  The company says that the cold-brew method creates a "rich, smooth, balanced flavor with no bitter aftertaste." 


Instant mocha mix: I took home a sample to try and liked it.  The mix included Fibersol, a product that's supposed to give consumers all the benefits of sufficient fiber in our diets without altering the taste of the product it's added to.  (Fibersol was also added to some caramel-coated popcorn crunch that was handed out.) 


Orange drinks: The choices of orange drinks were many and ran the gamut from Naturex's Zest powder, an instant drink mix with natural botanical extracts. One of its competitors, Allylix, Inc., produces a synthetic orange drink by using the same molecules as are in oranges and grapefruit. I'm impressed by the technology, but my taste buds told me that, in this case, natural is better.


Calcium-fortified beverages: Purac markets Puracal, a product line of soluble calcium sources, "ideal for the fortification of beverages."   




One of the scientific sessions was entitled "Protein--the Next Big Thing?"  From what I saw on the Expo floor, it's already pretty big. The IDF smoothies with powdered chicken, powderd chicken broth, and powdered chicken extract sneak animal protein into a refreshing cold drink.  Many other companies are marketing plant protein that can be added to foods. 


"Who needs all this extra protein?" I asked the worker at one booth.  "Kids and seniors who aren't eating a healthy diet?" 


"Yes," she agreed. "But also athletes and anyone who exercises a lot."


Neither of us mentioned vegetarians, who are also in search of plant-based protein to add to their diets. Many of the exhibiting companies had that to offer.  One example: the Golden Peanut Company produces peanut flours that are 40-50% protein.  Moreover, they're all natural, GMO-free, and gluten-free. There's also an organic version.   For a peanut butter taste in products, peanut flour is better because it's lower in fat, one of the company's representatives explained. 


ConAgra Mills Ancient Grains also stresses high protein (and lack of gluten) as one of the benefits of its grains, which include amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff. 




Many of the Expo's exhibitors are producers of flavorings or condiments to add flavor to foods.  Here are some of them:

  • Tulkoff Food Products, Inc. had a recipe card for their Calvert House Crab Cake Base.
  • Lee Kum Kee Hong Kong had a big flyer on its gluten-free sauce, oyster, plum, satay, gluten-free hoisin sauce, and more.
  • ŸTabasco had a display of 13 bottles of various Tabasco sauce liquid seasonings and a recipe for and sample of buffalo chicken soup that used the Tabasco buffalo style hot sauce. 
  • ŸNorthTaste, a Canadian company, touted its all-natural seafood flavorings for soups, dips, and stuffing.  There was an excellent chowder to sample at that booth.
  • ŸFontana Flavors has developed "an extensive library of innovative and custom developed savory flavors utilizing reaction technology and vacuum pan drying."  The flavors are used in meat, poultry, dairy, and vegetables products.
  • ŸVirginia Dare gave me a bottle of vanilla extract and a flyer about its new facility in Shanghai, China.  Virginia Dare is known for its wine and its flavorings.  The historical figure it's named after was the first child born of English parents in the New World (in Roanoke Colony).




Food colorings have been problematic in many ways. Synthetic dyes are attractive, creating nice bright, deep colors, but they've also been suspected of being unhealthy for various reasons. According to a Chicago Tribune article, the trend is toward natural color, with 30-40% of the nation's food and beverage supply now using natural colors (excluding beta carotene and caramel, which are most commonly used in soda). Sensient, the largest color provider for the food and beverage industries, attended the IFT Food Expo and displayed its natural coloring products.  The Yunnan Tonghai Yang Natural Products Company (from China) gave out samples of some of its colors, including those derived from red cabbage and purple sweet potato.


A touch of humor was introduced into the coloring promotion by LycoRed.  You may recall that last year Starbucks got some bad publicity because it was using a red coloring derived from insects in its strawberry frappuccinos.  Starbucks swiftly switched to a natural fruit-sourced coloring made by LycoRed. At the Expo, LycoRed debuted its funny short video called "Cooking with Carmine," named after the bug-based food coloring.  So what's wrong with bugs, you ask?  (I remember drinking what was called "bug juice" when I was a kid in camp.  I never knew that's what it really was.)  Well, LycoRed points out, in addition to the "yuck" factor, bugs are a no-no for most folks that are kosher, vegetarian, or vegan.  


flat snacksCutting down on food waste:


Ed Hirschberg, CEO  and idea man behind Innovative Foods (and the creator of push-up refrigerated ice cream, raisin paste, and bacon-flavored onions) handed me a packet of 5 flat, squares made from potato skins, pineapple cores, green bean tips, and other parts of produce that would ordinarily be discarded. (He calls what he does "precycling.") I obediently tasted.  Verdict:  I won't be serving them at my next dinner party.  Too dry and, except for the green one, not much taste.  Furthermore, I was reminded of the famous Michael Pollen quote: "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."  These products looked like scouring pads! Still, Mr. Hirschberg is to be commended. Presently the U.S. wastes about 20-25% of its food supply while many people all over the world don't have enough to eat, so recycling food waste into other foods is surely a noble effort.


Healthier foods for kids:


Cargill, the IFT website points out, has developed foods and beverages that supposedly appeal to children but that have less sodium, sugar, and fat and more whole grains, fiber, and protein than the usual versions of kid-popular edibles.  The products they showcased at the Expo included chocolate chip cookies with Truvia (a stevia leaf sweetener); a peanut butter snack bar  and peanut butter spread with chicory root fiber; and  turkey sliders on a whole-grain bun. 




Was there ever a time when all we asked of our food was that it tasted good, filled us up, and gave us the energy we needed?  Not now.  Today, many customers want to know that what they're eating doesn't contain anything that might be harmful in excess (salt, fat, and sugar), does contain the good stuff they need (fiber, protein, and so on), and doesn't violate their dietary limitations for religious or ethical reasons. Clearly, the food industry is responding to consumer demand and even encouraging people to read labels and ask questions about food content. 


At the Food Expo, there were a lot of highly processed food offerings. Many called themselves "natural,"meaning that their ingredients originated in nature. The ingredients are natural, not synthetic, but many customers are turned off by highly processed products that get their flavor from added powders, granules, or liquids rather than the food itself.  I remember the days when my daily breakfast was a smoothie made with milk, a banana, and sugar.  Chicken powder wasn't in my recipe.


Still, we need experimentation and innovation. Our population is struggling with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and other medical problems partially caused by unhealthy diets. So three cheers for those food companies that are producing more healthful foods. 




ift.org  Product Development



about.com "Maltitol: Just Say No"



Chicago Tribune, "Food-dye trend colored by hunger for 'natural'" July 16, 2013.


Note: Quotations describing various products came from IFT online sites or company websites or flyers.



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