Bringing Culinology to Clean Label Development

Originally Published: July 18, 2014
Last Updated: February 11, 2021
Food science in combination with culinary knowledge can help overcome challenges associated with ingredient functionality issues that may arise when creating clean label foods.

July 18, 2014 – In his presentation, Mark Crowell, Principal Culinologistat at CuliNex, described how specialists, such as himself, are bringing culinology to clean label development: “We  are culinologists, blending the art and science of industrial food production.” He further stated that the products CuliNex creates “must be safe, taste great and meet all specifications and regulatory requirements.”

When discussing clean label products, Crowell maintained that clean label raises the bar, because it requires reliance on fewer ingredients; fewer processing aids; and ancillary category requirements. Products fail, said Crowell, for a few reasons, including poor planning, poor management, poor conception and poor execution.

In the planning stage, it is important to have a good company strategy; built-in competencies; well planned distribution strategies; and good market and investment analysis. Good management includes having clear goals and what Crowell terms “product champions” on staff.

The concept stage of developing a clean label product must take consumer benefit into consideration; timing and positioning are also crucial. Execution involves having a sales plan, good retailer support, advertising, price, timing and a product promise.

Having a “product promise” consists of the product’s taste, texture and appearance—but it also must take packaging and shelflife issues into account. The issues of digestion, energy and satiety are important. This requires culinary creativity, as well as knowledge of natural ingredient functionality and careful commercialization, so one is sure to attract the right audience/consumer.

Culinologist discusses efforts to use natural ingredients to obtain desired colors for clean label products.

Efforts to give bread a plum-purple shade
by using colors derived from natural
anthocyanins proved a challenge; they
have poor heat stability.

For his first case study, Crowell used “creative concepting,” which he called the “first step to successful product manufacturing,” to showcase Koochikoo Cookies. These sugar-free cookies were designed to appeal to kids and moms wanting healthier choices. The concept was for a “cheerful chocolatey chip” cookie that was made with “monk fruit and rich, bittersweet chocolate chips that stud a crispy, brown sugar-flavored, whole-wheat cookie.” By having a defined process for generating ideas, Culinex was able to consider a broad array of creative approaches to the cookie’s flavor, texture, appearance, positioning and formulation.

The second case study showcased how to understand and use clean label ingredients; the item used to demonstrate this was Sunsweet Plum Amazins Bread. With 60%of the U.S. prune market, Sunsweet’s bread is the “first branded bakery initiative for them,” said Crowell. As part of the product’s brand identity, Sunsweet asked Culinex to make the bread a pleasing shade of plum-purple.

Said Crowell: “We determined we could do this using purple wheat and purple corn. However, what we could not seem to do was make it a pleasing purple color. We had purple-gray. This turned out to be a considerable challenge, since all natural purple colors are derived from anthocyanins that have poor heat stability. We were not able to solve this problem until we had a thorough understanding of ingredient functionality and had tested every one of our natural color options through more than 150 experiments. If we knew how hard it was going to be, we would have engaged outside experts sooner and
studied the chemistry more closely.”

In the third case study, Whole Foods’ Salmon Burger, the goal was to “Keep the Gold Standard Gold.” Whole Foods’ management wanted to outsource production of their salmon burger to simplify in-store operations. The existing product, made fresh in each store, was the Gold Standard. It had to be matched by a frozen, manufactured item.

“Our goal was to figure out how to do this while achieving an 8-month frozen shelflife with commercially available ingredients. It took a combination of careful product specifications for the raw materials (including the salmon); a custom seasoning blend; natural colors; carrageenan to improve mouthfeel; and bind-free water and rosemary
extract to aid oxidative stability. The product was very successful and eventually was rolled out to other regions of the country.

Mark Crowell, Principal Culinologist, Culinex, LLC,, +1.206.855.0837,

July 18, 2014, Global Food Forums — The summary above is an excerpt from the “2013 Clean Label Conference Magazine.”