Creating Consumer-friendly Ingredient Statements

Originally Published: January 8, 2018
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
Consumers are increasingly seeking clean label meat alternatives made from plant-based ingredients.

Creating Consumer-friendly Ingredient Statements
Ronald Visschers, Ph.D., Business Line Manager, TNO food research

Challenged with the need to reformulate products with clean labels, manufacturers have the options to eliminate, modify or replace offending ingredients, said Ronald Visschers of Netherlands-based TNO. Visschers presented a systematic approach to clean label reformulation, accompanied by illustrative case-studies.

Though constantly evolving, clean label products today are characterized by short ingredient lists; consumer familiarity and acceptability of ingredients listed; a lack of chemical-sounding names; and low degrees of processing, said Visschers. To establish a rapid, systematic way of addressing evolving clean label trends, TNO created a “decision tree” approach that begins by looking at the body of regulations affecting ingredient systems.

“We collect all types of regulatory facts regarding the ingredients that we want to use in a clean label formulation,” said Visschers. “In some cases, it may be possible to simply rename ingredients instead of replacing them.”

After that comes alternative ingredient identification and screening. This requires modeling of food systems. “Replacing one ingredient for another is sometimes possible, but one needs to consider functionalities.” This requires the ability to test ingredients variations or natural ingredient alternatives, as well as ingredient interactions.

In order to mimic the texture of meat-based products, many complicated ingredients may end up being used in plant-based ones.

Visschers provided two case studies undertaken by TNO and its industry partners that focused on the textural and other mouthfeel aspects of clean labels. The first was a gelatin-based “wine gummy” candy. “Most consumer concerns regarding gelatin pertain to its animal origin. Especially in Europe, people still remember the BSE scare, and there are also vegetarians to consider: Plant ingredients are more appealing to a growing segment of consumers,” said Visschers.

“Foods are highly complex materials,” he continued. In order to replace gelatin in gummy confections, one needs to translate mouthfeel properties into measurable physical parameters. Gelatin contributes a wide range of properties to gummy candies,
including chewability, flavor release and “longness.” These must be translated into an array of physical measurements, including for stiffness, toughness, tearing, melting and glassy-state transition properties.

Working with a confectionery manufacturer, TNO developed a model “that allows us to understand how gelatins themselves change with aging and composition, and to quickly identify alternative ingredients with the same characteristics.”

The next example given involved meat analogues, which have become increasing popular in the Netherlands. A large number of consumers are “very keen on finding meat look-alikes made from lupine, soy, insect or other proteins,” explained Visschers. “It’s not just vegetarians, but also ‘flexitarians,’ that actively seek out such products.”

Animal proteins contribute a very unique “bite,” so meat analogues often end up with very long and complicated ingredient lists trying to simulate animal protein textures. TNO and its partners again developed a model to predict ingredient interactions in meat analogues: They developed a food “micro” model to study actual ingredient interactions and quantify physical and sensory properties using textural analysis and sensory panel data.

For ham and sausage, chewing consistency is very important. TNO developed a test to simulate chewing using a mechanical plunger. This allowed evaluation of different proteins for textural consistency under simulated chewing conditions. “We found that egg albumin, for example, forms a fine-stranded gel that exhibits a high water-holding capacity under stress, which translates into good chewiness.”

If a protein gel loses water while being chewed, it becomes dry and inedible. The researchers also evaluated the role of different salts on gel characteristics. Shifting from calcium salts to magnesium salts caused soy proteins to aggregate (denature) more readily, affecting chewiness properties. By interplaying the gelation and denaturation characteristics of different proteins and salt adjuncts, chewiness characteristics could be optimized resulting in (for example) improved vegetarian burgers.

In conclusion, said Visschers, creating consumer-friendly ingredient statements via clean label formulation is not a straightforward process, as most ingredients have multifunctional roles in foods. “Development of models that translate important sensory characteristics into physical attributes allows us to systematically identify clean ingredient alternatives.”

“Strategies to Create Consumer-Friendly Ingredient Statements,” Ronald Visschers, Ph.D., TNO,

This presentation was given at the 2017 Clean Label Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to

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