Shelf life: Bringing the Best in “Best Before”

Products and processes helping with the shelf-life of bakery products not only ensure sustainability, profitability, and minimize waste, but must also deliver consistent product characteristics, which must be the same in day one as in any of the “best before” dates. It’s a tall order with innovative solutions.

DKSH has announced in July the signing of a distribution agreement with Kemin Food Technologies, a global leader in shelf-life and food safety solutions, to provide its product range in Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Singapore. Under the new agreement, DKSH will provide marketing and sales as well as distribution and logistics for Kemin’s range of both natural and synthetic antioxidants and shelf-life extension solutions. Antioxidants can enhance food products by delaying oxidation, extending shelf life and maintaining freshness, flavor, texture and color quality.

Enzyme Proficiency

Baking is one of the most important industries Novozymes serves; every two out of three breads consumed worldwide have been processed with enzymes from the company. Maintaining product freshness is one of the tasks for which enzymes provide the answer: “In essence, an enzyme is a protein produced from microbial technology, where we have enzymes acting on the starch molecule of the flour, to prevent it from retrogradation,” Teik Chin Tan (TC), Vice President for F&B Business Operations-Asia Pacific, Novozymes, explained for us. Enzymes make starch crystals less prone to re-crystallization (staling), in this case. This supports food sustainability and minimizes food waste.

Importantly, enzymes help to reduce food waste, which is one of the biggest problems that humanity faces today, especially when one-third of all of the food produced in the world is wasted. “Some markets are wasting a lot more at different stages of the value chain: anywhere from 5 to 15% of the food is wasted on the distribution channel itself in some cases, not to mention waste during production and food discarded by consumers themselves,” Rashmi Uppal: marketing manager, also said on behalf of Novozymes. Half of all the food is wasted in consumers’ homes – simply because they are not able to finish it, in general. Enzymes help to reduce the impact on the environment, from this perspective.

And that’s not all; enzymes also bring various benefits that help differentiate products and meet consumer demands for specific claims and trends. “Customers in China are very internet savvy and interested in low E-number products. Enzymes become an innovation tool and also a differentiating tool from a marketing point of view,” highlights TC. On the other hand, “Consumers want health but ultimately health is king and they will not be willing to compromise on taste even if the product has a health halo,” adds Uppal; enzymes will deliver on this too, leaving no mark on the taste and feel of the final good.

Taking bread as an example, we look for different things in it: softness, healthy ingredients, great taste, crisp crust, soft and moist crumb. “I want this experience until my loaf is over, not just when I’ve just returned from the store today. That’s where our enzyme for freshness technology comes in. Enzymes preserve the bread fresh, moist, keep it resilient and elastic until it is finished. We’ve done studies and found that consumers throw away bread when it gets dry or becomes solid; this is what staling is all about. We have a gold standard called Novamin, used for over 25 years in many countries around the world, which prevents the starch in the bread from becoming solid, and it does this in a very unique way: it modifies the starch granules. This amylase does not affect the primary starch structure; it leaves it intact. Instead, it generates a simple sugar such as maltose, which slows down the way the starch behaves. So the crumb continues to be soft, making the crumb stay softer for longer,” explains Uppal.

Depending on the type of finished product, each has different freshness needs. The timeframe of ideal shelf-life can range from 5-60 days, depending on what the specific market prefers for the product itself. Even as consumption patterns have changed and people are snacking in the safety of their homes, they are simply buying products in advance and storing them, especially in China, Novozymes observes. Whether they have that product today or one month later, consumers want to have the same experience, just as they would have in a café or a bakery chain. This is visible in social media timelines.  “No matter where the product is consumed, freshness remains very relevant,” highlights Uppal.

Michael Pruss, Head of Business Development, Deutsche Back, shares the company’s expertise: “Depending on the formulation of the baked product, the mostly enzymatic shelf-life enhancement works differently. While it is easier for bread and low-fat and low-sugar products, enzymes do not work on the same level in an environment of high fat and sugar. It is necessary to review both the formulation and the type of packaging to achieve the most efficient shelf-life improvement.” Side-effects must be considered depending on the product, he adds. Parameters to be checked are for example the anti-staling, the moisture of the product, or even the crusty appearance of the crust.

The Science in Shelf-Life

There is a variety of ingredients available to extend and achieve the desired shelf life of bakery products. Some examples include using potassium sorbate to reduce mold growth, and humectant (e.g. vegetable glycerine) to control free water in your bakery product and maintain moistness and enzymes to preserve softness. Ensuring both eating quality and inhibiting microbial growth are critical and have very different strategies when formulating and making baked goods with extended shelf-life. Eating quality is usually what people think of first and involves using ingredients or packaging that affect organoleptic properties – texture, flavor, aroma, etc. “Inhibiting microbial growth consists of chemistry and microbiology to help with formulation, processing and packaging to minimize exposure to mold and yeast naturally occurring in the environment, adjust pH, lower water activity and minimizing the presence of oxygen,” Dawn Foods’ R&D teams elaborated in an interview.

Moreover, the use of natural or artificial preservatives is commonly used in extended shelf life products to inhibit the growth of microorganisms,. For example, a typical wrapped muffin with no shelf life-extending technology last five days, but by controlling water activity and using the correct ingredients and dosages, shelf life could be increased to 90 days, Dawn’s specialists illustrate.

Dawn’s core categories are donuts, muffins, cakes and brownies. While there are similarities in approach, each type of product can have different challenges and recommendations. Biscuits and cookies by their very nature have lower water activity (e.g. free water in the product) so the approach to extending shelf life is simpler than for a muffin, for example. Cookies may only require an enzyme to maintain softness, but for muffins, a mold inhibitor and humectant would be required at a minimum, along with controlling the water activity. For cakes, the level of sugars, fats and eggs are usually high enough that they already eat very well for several days – especially when decorated or finished with a rich icing. “For brownies, it is common to add a humectant like corn syrup to improve eating quality over shelf life. For donuts, we commonly see the use of emulsifiers or hydrocolloids to improve the shelf life for a few days, and enzymes are becoming more commonly used by formulators to increase shelf life from days to several weeks,” Dawn’s experts tell us.

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer Issue of Asia Pacific Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here.

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