Creating flavoursome BBQ sauce with Steam Infusion

When creating products with high acidity or many added flavours – such as BBQ sauce – the final flavours and aromas are greatly influenced by the cooking method. Chris Brooks, our Steam Infusion Development Chef, explains the science behind creating consistent and fresh-tasting products.

What issues affect these products?

Highly acidic foods, such as sauces like BBQ and ketchup, have a higher risk of changes to their chemical composition due to their low pH. Both acid hydrolysis (decomposition) and the reaction of additives and substitutions are accelerated and dictated by the temperatures that the ingredients are exposed to. The length of time that an ingredient remains at these temperatures for is also a factor.

Typically, these types of products will also contain high levels of sugar-based ingredients to reduce the acidic taste. At high temperatures (typically above 70°C) these ingredients will undergo Maillard reactions and caramelise, contributing to discolouration and undesirable flavours.

In many sauces, it is usual to find high levels of natural and artificial flavours such as in spice blends or smoke flavours. High amounts of flavour compounds (volatile organic compounds or VOCs) like these tend to increase the rate and complexity of VOC generation and loss during cooking. This means that the flavours and aromas are more difficult to get consistent from batch to batch.

How does Steam Infusion help?

The reduced cooking times that Steam Infusion offers means that VOCs present in a product will have less exposure to heat, reducing the decomposition and reactions of the ingredients. Maillard reactions are also greatly reduced, particularly with shorter cooking times, giving a fresher taste and more vibrant colour.

The vacuum that is created by the speed of the steam being injected into the product means that flavours and aromas are retained within the food, rather than being lost to the atmosphere. This helps retain delicate flavours and can increase the diversity of the flavour-aroma notes in a product.

Case study: BBQ Sauce

To understand the effect that the cooking process has on BBQ sauce, aroma profiling was undertaken on a factory-produced sample cooked in a steam jacketed vessel, and two samples cooked using the Steam Infusion process. The first Steam Infusion sample was cooked for 10 minutes, while the second was cooked for 20 minutes.

The graph below shows how the VOC profile changed between the control sample and the Steam Infusion samples:

A high number of peak volatile compounds were generated by these samples, with the factory sample having 61 major peak areas, and the Steam Infusion samples having 77 (10 minutes) and 74 (20 minutes). This shows that the flavours in the Steam Infusion samples are generally stronger and more diverse than in the factory sample.

Analysing the minor peak areas shows that many of the generated compounds were specific to either the factory sample or the Steam Infusion samples. The thermal history (the type, intensity and duration of heat exposure) of the samples will have changed the types and concentrations of the VOCs present, affecting the flavour.

While the factory sample showed compounds that are associated with high-temperature decomposition and transformation, the Steam Infusion samples retained or generated higher levels of compounds related to herbal and floral notes.

Comparing the cumulative peak areas of the three samples shows that the Steam Infusion sample (10 minutes) generally has more flavours contributing to each note than both the factory sample and Steam Infusion (20 minutes) sample. The major difference between the two Steam Infusion samples is the caramel flavour, which was greatly enhanced in the 20-minute sample. This will be due to the extended thermal exposure for this sample.

See for yourself

If you’d like to see first-hand how Steam Infusion can help you create consistent, flavoursome products, join us at our cookery school. Our specialist chefs demonstrate this unique technology and can answer any questions you may have.

Or, spend a day cooking your products with Steam Infusion and our Development Chef at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing, Holbeach by booking a trial day today. Click here for more information and to get in touch. 

Deborah Stokoe