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Lauren Kramer: Breading/battering techniques
Health consciousness triggers switch to more natural ingredients
By Lauren Kramer
April 01, 2008
With the trend toward better health, consumers are
increasingly inspecting the ingredient lists and nutritional
facts on seafood products. This health focus has led to change
in the breading and battering of seafood, from a modification
of the coating constituents to the removal of trans fat from
the coating systems.
"There's a demand for the use of more natural ingredients,"
says Paul Ludtke, director of R&D for coatings at Kerry
Ingredients in Beloit, Wis. "What we're doing is trying to get
rid of any ingredients with chemical sounding names and
replacing them with ingredients that are natural or would be
commonly found in their kitchen cupboard.
"Ingredients that are more than minimally processed are
removed and replaced with natural or minimally processed
ingredients," he adds. "For example, modified food starch is
replaced with corn starch; artificial colors and flavors are
replaced with natural ingredients that achieve the same
Kerry Foods supplies batters and breading to many major
seafood processors. In an attempt to differentiate themselves,
several processors have developed products that are encrusted
with ingredients that are different from the traditional wheat-
and corn-based coating systems. Such ingredients, found in both
retail and foodservice, include tortilla chip pieces, coconut,
potato pieces, nuts and soy nuts, dehydrated vegetables and
whole grains such as oats.
"The trend toward healthy products has led us to try to do
more breading and battering without the fat that comes with
it," says Ludtke. "We're working on technologies to make that
possible, but it's still a work in progress."
The entire breading and battering industry is moving in that
direction, according to Art Christianson, VP of operations at
High Liner Foods USA in Portsmouth, N.H.
"We've developed more un-battered and un-breaded products,
and our sauced and glazed products are growing faster than the
breaded and battered," he says. "But for those that are breaded
and battered, we've switched cooking oils to get away from
While the switch to trans fat-free oils has not increased
sales, "it's probably resulted in lost sales avoidance," says
Christianson. "The schools to which we sell are looking at salt
and fat content when they source their products."
Like Kerry Ingredients, High Liner has also seen a trend
toward more natural ingredients in the breading and battering
"With one customer, we switched to a multigrain breading
that has been very well received by the public, and we've
reduced a lot of the salt content," says Christianson. "But
it's still difficult to get an all-natural ingredient
High Liner's shift to the use of a spraying technology
rather than typical batter applicators has resulted in a more
consistent breading process that "allows you to use some of the
more advanced ingredients that restrict or reduce oil intake,"
Despite the switch to all-natural flavorings, Christianson
believes breaded and battered fish will continue to hold their
own in the marketplace.
"Their basic flavors deliver a product that tastes very
good, and people enjoy them," he says. "The issue is the health
aspects and obesity. I see the industry reshaping the breading
and battering process to the extent that in the future, they
won't be as calorie-heavy as they are today."
Good Harbor Fillet in Gloucester, Mass., has distinguished
itself as a leader in this respect with its development of
NutraPure™, a protein system that blocks the absorption of
cooking oil and prevents the escape of moisture in the frying
"We've been able to reduce the fat in our par-fried products
by 50 to 60 percent since our first commercial product run in
2004, without compromising the quality," says Bill Stride,
company president. "Everyone is trying to improve the
nutritionals in their product, but I don't know anyone who's
come up with anything close to ours. We're the only ones to
bring a highly reduced fat, par-fried product to the
Good Harbor has focused its sales of this product to
specific markets like the national school lunch program and the
military. The company has also started to work with more
natural coating systems that contain fewer invasive ingredients
like bleached wheat flour and monosodium glutamate, replacing
the latter with malic acid, and the former with unbleached
"That's been well received," says Stride. "It's allowing us
to market the items as more natural and healthy, and since our
emphasis is on improving the quality of ingredients, we've seen
sales increase, particularly in products we're targeting to the
Good Harbor has entered into a licensing agreement with
Weight Watchers to develop a line of reduced-fat, par-fried
seafood products under the Weight Watchers brand this year.
"That's going to raise the visibility of our technology
significantly," predicts Stride. "With obesity issues being
what they are today, you can't ignore fried foods that have 60
percent less fat while maintaining the quality and integrity of
Stride says NutraPure™ will become the standard for Good
Harbor product packed under its Healthy Catch™ brand and will
be present in the majority of its other branded products, too,
in the future. "It's hard to imagine this process not being
adopted across all product lines, and ultimately across all
proteins," he says.
Alimentario Adin in Italy is another company that has
created a healthier product through its non-frying batter.
Working in collaboration with the Institute of Agriculture
& Food Technology in Valencia, Spain, the company has
patented a non-frying batter called Adinmix that contains
methyl cellulose. The latter helps to lock out the fat during
the final cooking process adopted by the consumer, resulting in
battered food without the fat intake.
Icelandic USA also has focused on removing trans fat from
its coating systems. There has been a demand for ovenable
versus fried products in retail, says Ron Basch, the company's
VP of technical services.
"Converting to ovenable systems versus products intended for
frying has meant ingredient modifications to give the product
more crunch and color," says Basch. "I don't see fried products
disappearing from the marketplace, but ovenable ones are
becoming more popular."
The consumer focus on health has affected many seafood
companies, and Ambos Seafood, a distributor of shrimp, conch
and crab products in Savannah, Ga., is no exception. Since
1998, Drew Ambos, the company's VP and CFO, has seen the demand
for breaded shrimp shrink with every passing year.
"In the past, we did mostly breaded shrimp, but every year
the demand for marinated shrimp has increased until today it
constitutes 80 percent of our business," says Ambos.
Ambos Seafood goes back 150 years to Ambos' grandfather,
Henry F. Ambos, who created a method to bread and freeze
fantail shrimp. His company, Trade Winds, became America's
first to market and widely distribute frozen, pan-ready
"In the beginning the decreasing popularity of breaded
shrimp severely affected our profitability, because shrimp
constitutes 60 percent of our business," says Ambos. "But we
put more money into marketing our marinated shrimp and other
non-breaded products, and we were able to create other sales
pockets with our customers."
Twenty percent of Ambos' breaded shrimp is produced in China
because of the high cost of hand breading in the United
"It's cheaper in China as the raw material is already
there," explains Ambos. "By contrast, marinated or sautéed
shrimp is much more cost effective and can be done
Last year the company switched to trans fat-free oil,
launching a marketing campaign to increase consumer awareness
"I've not seen the success we were hoping to see," he says.
"Nothing has picked up in sales, but before we come out with a
conclusion we'll give this another year or so."
However, it's clear that Americans are increasingly health
conscious, and a company's failure to re-evaluate the
nutritional content of its breaded and battered seafood
products may give the competition an edge.
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in