According to research published in the journal Food Chemistry, Irish researchers report that honing the free fatty acid content of the enzyme-modified cheese (EMC) flavours can significantly boost consumer acceptance of the reduced or low-fat foods.
"The inclusion of low or medium intensity EMCs in reduced and low-fat imitation cheeses may help these imitation cheese products compete with natural dairy cheese on an increasing scale, especially in an age where low-fat foods are more in demand and considered the norm," wrote lead author Nessa Noronha from the School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine at University College Dublin.
According to Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, enzyme-modified cheeses (EMCs) are concentrated cheese flavours produced enzymatically from cheeses of various ages. They are principally used as an ingredient in processed foods, where they provide a cost-effective alternative to natural cheese.
"One of the main objectives of [our research] was to attempt to produce acceptably flavoured high fibre, reduced and low-fat imitation cheese products," explained the researchers.
In line with this, they used resistant starch to replace the fat component, but found that "these fat-reduced cheeses lacked flavour and it was thought that the incorporation of EMCs might improve the flavour of such products, especially since EMCs are used regularly in the industry to confer cheese flavour on a number of processed foods, including cheese sauces and pies."
Low-fat cheese products are limited by the fact that removal or reduction of fat adversely affecting both texture and flavour. To overcome such obstacles, food scientists have followed several approaches: use of alternative or selective starter cultures, the use of adjunct cultures, or the use of fat replacers. However, reducing fat adversely affects the flavour of the product.
If it looks like cheese and tastes like cheese…
Noronha and co-workers formulated medium- and low-fat imitation cheeses and flavoured them with EMCs with different levels of free fatty acids (16, 28, or 47 per cent). The fat content of the medium fat cheese was 13 per cent fat content, while low fat was two per cent.
A panel of 16 volunteers aged between 25 and 65 years assessed the cheeses, and ranked all medium-fat cheeses similarly irrespective of the pH of the cheese or the composition of the EMC.
On the other hand, the use of the low or medium content EMCs produced the most acceptable imitation low-fat cheeses. Indeed, these cheeses were described as 'well-balanced' and 'cheesy'.
However, these low-fat cheeses were not as preferable overall because of "'very intense' bursts of off-flavours," said the researchers.
This result showed that the fat content of the cheese played an important role in "modifying the flavour perception and cheeses with 13 per cent fat displayed superior flavour release properties to those containing two per cent fat," wrote Noronha and co-workers.
At the two different pH levels tested - 5.5 and 6.0 - the lower pH was found to beneficially impact the strength of the flavours and levels of free fatty acids, and the cheeses were softer.
The study was funded by the Food Institutional Research Measure (FIRM) and administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
Low-fat cheese is growing strongly in popularity as consumers increasingly focus on healthy diets. More than twice as many new low-fat cheeses were introduced in 2007 compared to 2005, according to data supplied by market research firm Mintel to Chr Hansen. In the last quarter of 2007, nearly 90 new low fat cheese products were introduced globally, says Mintel.
Source: Food Chemistry
Volume 110, Issue 4, Pages 973-978
"Flavouring reduced fat high fibre cheese products with enzyme modified cheeses (EMCs)"
Authors: Nessa Noronha, D. Cronin, D. O'Riordan, M. O'Sullivan