New Formulation Mimics Buttery Flavor of Higher-Fat Cheese
Health-conscious cheese fanciers may soon find it difficult to resist low-fat cheddars. A new formulation offers comparable flavor to varieties higher in fat, according to a study in the current issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
The monthly peer-reviewed journal is published by the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
Developed by scientists at the University of Minnesota, the low-fat cheddar is derived from a blend of three bacterial starter cultures. The combination delivers several taste-enhancing compounds that mimic the clean, buttery, “young cheese” flavors that consumers tend to prefer.
“Most of the existing low-fat cheeses tend to be bitter, without many buttery notes,” says Howard Morris, Ph.D., professor emeritus of food science and nutrition at the university and one of the lead researchers for the study. “From our experience we picked the three cultures that we believed would synergistically work together, and whose metabolic functions would generate the desired flavors in a reduced-fat cheese.”
The researchers’ goal: Find out how to mask bitterness without using fat to add taste. Scientists believe that, in regular cheeses, fat absorbs and then masks compounds responsible for “off-flavor” taste. In low-fat cheeses, fewer fat globules are available to interact with or mask such compounds. While their prevalence is roughly the same as in higher-fat varieties, the tongue perceives off-flavors more readily because the masking effect is reduced.
That problem has been solved in this latest study. Morris credits a complex interplay of microbial biochemistry within the starter cultures with providing the flavor improvements to his group’s low-fat cheddar. The metabolic byproducts of the bacterial micro-organisms, and the way they interact during cooking, release certain enzymes that appear to degrade or destroy substances that your taste buds find less savory.
For example, bitterness, a common off-flavor in reduced-fat cheese, was eliminated by using cultures with specific enzymes — ones that either don’t release the bitter substances at all or break them down.
“The industry has struggled with low-fat formulations,” said Joe Warthesen, a professor at the University of Minnesota and head of the school’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition. He also is director of the Minnesota-South Dakota Dairy Foods Research Center.
“Previous (low-fat) versions haven’t had the texture, flavor and consistency of regular-fat cheeses,” notes Warthesen. “For cheese lovers, this variety is a good option. It restores the flavor.”
Twenty-four 200-pound vats of cheese were formulated at the school during the study.
Nine trained tasters sampled the results, evaluating the different varieties that resulted from various starter-culture mixtures. Ripening cheeses were evaluated at 30, 90 and 150 days for such attributes as overall flavor intensity, firmness, chewiness, tartness, bitterness, saltiness, sourness and milkiness. Tasters used sharp, full-fat cheddars as benchmark comparisons.
“The results of this research can be immediately applied to the cheese vat,” Warthesen said. “Cheese manufacturers can adopt this without fanfare or any major new investment. We’ve had positive feedback from the industry. Producers say this makes a good cheese.”
The project was funded by Dairy Management Inc., a nationwide association of dairy farmers.
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