A Food Scientist’s Approach to Organics

Originally Published: November 21, 2014
Last Updated: February 11, 2021
Consumers associate both organic foods and clean label products with nutrition and health.

November 21, 2014 –  Sharon Herzog, Director of R&D, Country Choice Organics, possesses a unique Product Development Toolbox for organic products addressed regulatory compliance, knowledge of ingredients, and their functionality processing and packaging. Ultimately, this Product Development Toolbox describes a food scientist’s approach to organics.

However, before Herzog addressed the product development side of organic foods, she described the behavior of organic consumers, who show a wide spectrum of attitudes toward organics, noted Herzog. One category, which comprises less than 10% of American organic buyers, is the “true natural:” those with a “faith-based belief system” and who are “committed to organic and prioritizes health and environment over price, convenience or taste.”

A second type, composed of the “health seeker,” encompasses approximately 20-25% of households. These consumers are “faith-based decision makers” who are “committed to personal/family well-being, but are not willing to sacrifice taste or convenience for a health benefit.”

Some of the most prominent drivers of the organic movement include consumer awareness of the link between nutrition and health, and the desire to avoid pesticides, herbicides, GMOs and trans fats. Further drivers include concerns for the environment and an interest in sustainability.

The process of developing organic products is heavily influenced by the percent of organic components in the final product; additional certifications required; any retail requirements; and/or internal company requirements.

For example, which ingredients can be used and what claims can be made depends on whether the finished product contains 100%, 95% or more, at least 70%, or less than 70% organic material in the final product (not counting its water and salt content) (Please see https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic for organic regulations).

Permitted ingredients are also determined by the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (which can change rapidly and for which there is a Sunset Process—all ingredients are reviewed at least every five years); the availability of a non-organic ingredient declaration; an ingredient’s commercial availability; and certain other certification requirements.

Some non-organic, agricultural substances are allowed, because they are not commercially available. Herzog discussed the challenges surrounding ingredient functionality by using emulsifiers as one example. For the conventional emulsifiers mono- and di-glycerides, organic substitutions could be lecithin, rice bran or oat fiber.

When it comes to lecithin, the form is also important. The liquid form must be organic, since it is commercially available. However, non-organic, de-oiled, powdered lecithin is allowed for use in certain organic products—since this form is not considered commercial availability. When a humectant or moisture control is needed, HFCS is a conventional choice, said Herzog. Organic replacements might be brown rice, cane, tapioca or oat syrups.

There are considerations in product scale-up with organic ingredients. For example, organic sugar generally has not had all molasses removed, and clumping can be an issue. In regards to antioxidants, conventional choices include TBHQ/BHA, whereas alternatives for organic products could be tocopherols and/or use of ascorbic acid, nitrogen, high-oleic oils and cinnamon.

Turning to flavors, Herzog noted that natural flavorings can be used, but one must dig deeper than that for their use in organic products. For example, carriers in a flavoring cannot be synthetics (e.g., propylene glycol, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, mono- and di-glycerides or polysorbate 80); and no synthetic preservatives are allowed (benzoic acid, BHT/BHA). During its processing, certain solvents are allowed (e.g., water, natural ethanol, super-critical CO2, essential oils, natural vegetable oils), but not hydrocarbon solvents.

Herzog ended her presentation by noting that at her first natural products show, an organic product retailer said “Sharon, we’ll never have to apologize for what we do” and noted that she does feel really good about the industry.

Sharon Herzog, Director of R&D, Country Choice Organics, www.countrychoiceorganic.com

November 21, 2014, Global Food Forums — The summary above is an excerpt from  “2013 Clean Label Conference Magazine.”