The study, published in the journal Food Hydrocolloids, suggests that adding methyl cellulose as an ingredient in the batter could reduce the absorption of fat during frying. The results were consistent across a number of different food matrices, including pork patties, marrow, cheese, and squid.
"This means the process without pre-frying is a suitable alternative to producing a wide variety of good quality healthier battered food with good sensory acceptability," wrote lead author A. Salvador from Instituto de Agroquímica y Tecnología de Alimentos - CSIC.
Methyl cellulose is amongst the most frequently used hydrocolloids by the food industry. Hydrocolloids, a market that has grown signficantly in the past 20 years in parallel to an increasingly complex food processing industry, are used as thickeners, emulsion stabilisers, suspending agents, gelling agents, thickeners, fibre sources, mouthfeel improvers, fat replacers and processing aids.
The food industry's most frequently used hydrocolloids include: agar, alginates, arabic, carrageenan, Carboxy Methyl Cellulose (CMC), gelatin, konjac flour, locust bean gum (LBG), Methyl Cellulose and hydroxypropyl Methyl Cellulose (MC/HPMC), microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), pectin, starch and Xanthan.
The new research looked at the suitability of thermal gelified batters containing methyl cellulose (Methocel A15C, Dow Chemical Co., 0.5 or 1 per cent) to produce fried products. Savador and co-workers also investigated if pre-frying of the foods had an impact on the fat and moisture content, and the sensory acceptability of the product.
The Spanish researchers found that the lowest oil contents were obtained without pre-frying in all of the foods studied.
To test the acceptance of the products in terms of appearance, crispness, oiliness, flavour and overall acceptability, the researchers recruited 50 consumers (age range 18 to 60, 50 per cent female). The consumers evaluated both pre-fried and non-pre-fried samples of the foods and reported that all the battered foods (with or without prefrying) were acceptable.
"[This] showed [that the products had] the same global acceptability as the conventionally prepared items," said the researchers.
"Methyl cellulose performed effectively to reduce the amount of fat absorbed during frying in a wide variety of battered food items (marrow, pork meat, cheese and squid) obtained both by conventional processes and by a process without pre-frying," they concluded.
The research taps into the growing "low and light" market with product sales worth $38bn (€28bn) in the US. UK consumers spent the most on these foods per capita, throwing $164 (€122) per person at these foods, compared to American spending of $125 (€93), and $115 (€86) in Australia.
Low-fat foods were most widely consumed in this category, with sales of $29.7bn (€22.2bn) in 2006, just ahead of reduced-sugar/sugar-free foods and drinks with a market share of $28.7bn (€21.4bn) and low-calorie foods totalling $26.5bn (€19.8bn).
Source: Food Hydrocolloids
Published on-line ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.foodhyd.2007.05.015
"The performance of methyl cellulose in coating batters for fried products"
Authors: A. Salvador, T. Sanz and S.M. Fiszman