Top 3 ways to reduce fat and salt in soups, sauces and ready meals

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Reducing fat and salt is essential to engage health conscious retailers and consumers. With government legislation and targets demanding further reductions, Chris Brooks, Development Chef at OAL explains 3 options food manufacturers can take to cutting salt and fat by product reformulation. Chris has over 25 years’ experience working in the food industry for household names such as Premier Foods and Whitworths and recently completed a two-year research project into fat and salt reduction as part of an Innovate UK project into Steam Infusion cooking with the University of Lincoln. These are his three approaches to reducing the fat and salt in soups, sauces or ready meals?

1. Recipe Reformulation

The first place to start for any NPD team would be to reformulate the recipe. It’s the quickest, simplest and most cost-effective solution that typically involves tweaking product formulations to the finest degree.

Recipe reformulation works well for newly developed recipes, where there are often quick wins and the consumer is unlikely to notice. It becomes increasingly risky as changes begin to make a bigger impact on taste, texture and flavour. The big fear for brands is consumers not liking the new product which can be both costly and bad for their reputation.

The reformulation too far that sticks out in my mind was working on reducing the fat in a pie sauce. We were trying to cut fat by exciting the amount of butter used to fry the onions. Unfortunately, we ended up boiling the onions instead and lost all the lovely caramelised flavours.

2. Ingredient Substitution

Substituting ingredients can quickly transform the decks (back of pack declarations) of a product but are often limited by the quality and welfare claims of a brand. For instance, a clean deck manufacturer can’t introduce modified ingredients for a quick fat reduction.

For me, manufacturers need to watch out for the unintended consequences when switching out ingredients. A memorable example of these unintended consequences is the decision manufacturers took when replacing butter with margarine to reduce fat and material costs. While the decks looked good, research has since shown the problems associated with the hydrogenated fats in oil blended margarine, resulting in consumer distrust of so-called “healthy” products.

3. Technological Reformulation

Technological reformulation is a medium to long-term approach for reducing salt and fat. It takes time but can provide sustainable competitive advantages when executed well. Novel processing technologies can unlock new areas for product developers to explore, and in combination with new recipes and ingredients, you can create unique food products.

The most satisfying work I do with our Steam Infusion cooking process is when we’re creating these unique food products. This could be new concepts to market like porridge to go or the work on using technology to lead salt and fat reduction.

In our Innovate UK project, we took a scientific approach to understanding the effect of the disruptive Steam Infusion cooking process on ingredients and products. While these can't be implemented overnight, long term we showed how you could reduce fat, preserve vitamins and increase flavour.

Novel Cryogenic Cooling

Chris is currently working on an Innovate UK project linking Steam Infusion cooking with rapid cryogenic cooling presenting interesting opportunities for new product development and reformulation. Work is being undertaken at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing and food manufacturers can now trial products for themselves.

We believe that by combining fast heating with rapid cooling, we will be able to achieve a step change in quality because of a significantly higher degree of thermal control. For particulate products especially, both the Steam Infusion Vaction unit and cryogenic cooler, have an uninhibited bore so that particulates can pass through undamaged.

If you’re interested in discussing product reformulation or cryogenic cooling trials, give us a call on +44 1733 394 700 or contact us here.