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This interview follows a first discussion we had with AGIR on the definition of the clean label concept. The “additive-free” is the very pillar of the clean label trend and generates many challenges in reformulation.
Some acerola extracts may replace ascorbic acid in BVP products (bakery, Viennese pastry, pastry), Rosemary extract may prevent the rancidity of meat products. What are the steps to replace an additive with a natural extract like these?
Mathieu: If we had to summarize the procedure for replacing an additive with a natural extract, it would be:
- Understand the techno-functionality of the additive and anticipate its implementation
- Carry out research projects to identify active molecules
- Check their safety
- Ask for an authorization if necessary
To take your two examples, these are two different molecules under the big umbrella of preservatives, which can be antioxidants, anti-browning agents or antimicrobial preservatives. They are among the many ingredients that have hidden properties and are being discovered.
It is essential for an industrial company that wants to adopt the clean label strategy to understand how and why additives are used. If it is misused, the desired function is lost. Then, it is necessary to reason about the use of additives (is it necessary? can its content be reduced?). Finally, it is then possible to consider new alternative molecules, to understand their functionality and properties.
How and why did we turn to these more natural ingredients when we were more and more critical of additives?
Mathieu et Martine: It must be considered that the consumer is more suspicious and scrutinizes labels. This is probably because of the major food crises that have left their mark on people’s minds. The consumer sees E-codes, chemical names: it scares him. Even if the quantities are limited, the very fact that there is a limitation means that there is a potential risk, and this is also worrisome for the consumer.
However, science and technology have evolved to detect toxicity, and metabolization and assimilation are better understood. It is now possible to refine consumption thresholds and therefore use doses in products not to be exceeded. The safety of these new molecules is verified by a whole control circuit. For additives there are no risks at the used amount, but between an ingredient with an unlimited quantity and an additive that is only allowed in certain products and at maximum levels imposed: the consumer’s preference goes to the ingredient.
In some products claiming to be “clean”, there may be additives, but these are associated with explanations or justifications. For example, on the label of a chocolate mousse: carrageenan is well accepted when accompanied by a marketing argument on the vegetable and natural origin of the additive (an algae). This approach of explaining where the additive comes from and why it is necessary is part of the clear label (more transparency for the consumer).
What do you think of applications like Yuka that help consumers make product choices?
Martine : In general, the question can be raised as to how the rating for the product is calculated: on what scientific basis does it rely? How much of it is subjective? A good tool must be objective, and its calculation key must be based on scientific knowledge.
This is a concern for some companies because these ratings influence consumer choice, such as the Nutriscore, which also has its limitations. For example, a sugar-free syrup containing additives to restore texture, taste and shelf life will be rated higher than a traditional product, which is clean label. It is certainly necessary to restore the balance of consumption to find a better compromise: more rational sugar consumption.
Plant products also seem to be increasingly popular and favoured in reformulations: what are the major technological barriers linked to plant proteins in the pastry and biscuit industry?
Mathieu : I address this crucial subject in training. Protein is not an additive but an ingredient that has very interesting stabilizing and texturing properties in addition to its nutritional value. The problem is that animal and vegetable proteins are different: it is complicated to substitute them directly for each other and ideally a joint contribution from both protein sources is required. It can be noted, for example, that attention must be paid to the level of protein purification as this affects the texture and sensory properties of the product. The tastes linked to vegetable proteins are very particular, it is necessary to apply the right dosage. It is therefore necessary to be careful and really take into account all aspects, including nutritional aspects (amino acid composition, bioavailability, etc.).
To continue to learn more about the challenges in the agri-food sector in relation to the clean label trend, we decided to ask Martine and Mathieu more questions about improving nutritional profiles by focusing on sugar and fat content, but also on implementing a simpler processing process for greater consumer transparency. Read the next part.
An interview with:
AGIR (Agro-Food Innovation Research), located in Talence near Bordeaux at the service of industrialists: For innovation to go hand in hand with solutions…