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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 function."

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 trans fat."

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 components.

"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 deck."

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," adds Christianson.

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 process.

"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 market."

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 white flour.

"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 health market."

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 the product."

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 shrimp.

"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 States.

"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 locally."

Last year the company switched to trans fat-free oil, launching a marketing campaign to increase consumer awareness thereof.

"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 British
Columbia

 

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