Congee – a rice-based porridge popular in many parts of Asia and South America – can be prepared in a number of ways from slow cooking in the pan or microwaving or adding hot water to dried congee.
However, Nestlé said each method had limitations such as taste, texture or the ability to heat containers and therefore a need remained to develop a palatable product that could be eaten instantaneously.
“…It is desirable to offer new solutions to consumers living a busy lifestyle, who unfortunately do not always have enough spare time to prepare a restoring meal, at various times of the day, such as breakfast or dinner. Hence, a quick, convenient and easy-to-use product which is similar to freshly-made congee would be particularly interesting,” Nestlé wrote in its patent filing.
The food major’s concentrated congee could be made using rice, beans or pseudocereals like barley, buckwheat, maize, millet or oats, among others along with a host of additional ingredients from meat or fish to vegetables and fruits.
The congee was then stored in retorted containers – a form of flexible packaging that ensures in-container sterilization through a saturated steam process – either in pouch form for consumers to pour into a bowl or a harder container that could double-up as a portable bowl. For the pot design, Nestlé included a foldable spoon and seasoning sachets in a separately sealed space inside.
Improved shelf life
Nestlé said the choice to develop concentrated congee was important for shelf life as well as consumer use.
The amount of free water in congee concentrate was considerably lower than regular congee, it explained, which helped improve shelf life alongside the retort packaging and processing.
For consumer use, Nestlé said the lighter weight of the concentrate also made it more portable.
“Yet another advantage is that it is easy to warm the concentrated congee to a consumption temperature, simply by adding hot or boiling water. Therefore, preparing a congee ready for consumption is achieved instantly and the consumer does not need to wait long to obtain a consumable congee.”
Fine formulation balance
The congee, which could be made from blends of rice, beans and cereal, had to predominantly be made up from rice, Nestlé explained – ideally 50-90%.
“…Rice, cereal and bean can be provided intact, as broken pieces, or as flour, or as a mixture thereof. For instance, the carbohydrate ingredient is coarsely milled,” it said.
Both had advantages, Nestlé said - using whole ingredients gave an interesting texture and appearance to the product but flour or coarsely milled pieces meant the product could be heated faster and under less stringent conditions.
In terms of additional ingredients, possibilities were vast, it said, from meat like beef, pork, rabbit and veal to fruits and vegetables including spinach, kale, parsnips, apples or pears.
In one example, the food major said a ‘weaning congee’ for infants could be developed using traditional Chinese ingredients for digestive and cognitive development, such as hawthorn, black sesame and walnut.
Source: WIPO Publication No. WO/2014/195459
Published: December 11, 2014. Filed: June 6, 2014
“Shelf-stable concentrated instant congee and manufacture thereof”
Authors: Nestlé – LH. Peng and L. Chang