European Union scientists have developed new natural enzymes that claim to improve the texture of high-protein food products, reducing the need for certain product-enhancing ingredients.
The new enzymes are particularly suitable for low-fat, low-calorie products, and can be used in a variety of baking, dairy and meat applications, said the researchers.
The three year CROSSENZ project, conducted between 2002 and 2005, was coordinated by the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), with project partners including experts in enzymology, food science, biochemistry, enzyme production and consumer studies.
The new 'cross-linking' enzymes work by binding together biopolymers, or protein and carbohydrate molecules, a reaction that improves the texture and mouthfeel of products, explained project coordinator Professor Johanna Buchert.
"By using these enzymes, food manufacturers can exploit the intrinsic components in the food matrix to obtain good texture. This means that the amounts of certain ingredients or additives normally used can be reduced," she told FoodNavigator.com.
"The novel enzymes are especially good for use in low-calorie products. It is particularly important for consumers to like these types of products, yet obtaining the right texture is always problematic," she added.
Currently there is only a limited selection of cross-linking enzymes on the market, with microbial transglutaminase being the most widely used enzyme for modifying the structure of food, according to the researchers.
Transglutaminase is currently used for enhancing bread volume and improving the texture of products such as yoghurt, ice cream, tofu and cheese. However, it is not suitable for all applications, and this is where the new enzymes come in, said Buchert.
The oxidative enzymes, obtained from edible plants and natural microbes, can link food biopolymers in a different way to transglutaminase, and as a result "totally new" food textures are obtained.
Efficient production systems for the enzymes have also been developed, said the scientists, adding that large-scale production is "feasible."
However, the enzymes have yet to hit the market, and are unlikely to appear this year. According to Buchert, the CROSSENZ project coordinators are still in negotiations with enzyme companies for the development of the products on a commercial scale. She added that she hopes the enzymes will be available within a few years.
The project also examined consumer attitudes to the enzymes. Tests revealed that consumers, who were generally "neutral" to the use of enzymes in food production, were "clearly positive" towards the developed cross-linking concepts.
"Consumers also developed more positive attitudes towards the use of modern technology in food production and in enzyme production compared to a control group that did not taste the products with improved properties," said the researchers.