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Can dairy deliver healthy product innovation? [Interview]

Article-Can dairy deliver healthy product innovation? [Interview]

With the growing popularity of plant-based products, what are the new market opportunities for dairy?

The versatility of dairy products offers a range of options for food scientists looking to develop new products. From textures and flavours to emulsification solutions, dairy proteins may be an answer to consumers’ clean label and healthy requests, explains Jovian Bunawan, Project Manager at NIZO.

With the growing popularity of plant-based products, what new market opportunities do you foresee for dairy?

“Dairy ingredients will still be popular for high-end, specialized products e.g. specialized nutrition, sport-related and the like. There are components in dairy ingredients which for the moment cannot not be replicated by plant-based material, at least nutritionally, such as phospholipids from milk fat globule membrane or the essential amino acids. The latter can indeed only be achieved by a combination of plant-based material but with consequences for taste or product stability.”

“When we look at the complexity of dairy ingredients and what they offer in terms of functionality, especially when it comes to texture and flavor combination, dairy remains superior for specific product applications such as infant formula. This has been a continuous selling point for dairy products.”


What kind of research are you currently conducting for dairy? Can you give examples of some of the issues product developers ask you to solve?

“Our customers come with various questions related to flavour, texture, processing, and discovering or improving new functionality aspects. At NIZO, we match the knowledge of our own research and development with the (future) trends in the food industry that reflect our values, i.e. for better food & health.”

“Our research covers the whole field of dairy technology. It ranges from the variability of dairy ingredients, the understanding and manipulation of dairy protein structure, utilization of their functionalities to create new textures and flavors of (fermented) food and dairy products, as well as product optimization. As you will understand - and customers appreciate it - NIZO works on a confidential basis with its customers, so we cannot give concrete examples on what we are working on.”

What technological functions can dairy proteins bring to a product? Can dairy ingredients bring solutions for clean label? What can they substitute?

“Due to dairy proteins being so versatile in terms of functionality, there are lots of different functionalities that come with each of it. It may be used as an emulsifier, an encapsulation agent, a texture modifier, a browning/color agent, a flavor/aroma agent, a foaming agent, etc.”  

“The two main dairy proteins, casein and whey, have quite distinctive characteristics. Therefore, understanding their behaviour under varying conditions of the environment (Ph, salt, temperature, water content, presence of other ingredients, etc.) will be the key to understand what kind of technological functions each can bring. Be it on their own or in synergy with certain food products.”

“Dairy proteins can indeed be one of the solutions to achieve clean label. For instance, dairy proteins can be very good emulsifiers, and thus (depending on the system) can eliminate the need for E-numbered emulsifiers. Depending on how they are treated and processed, they can also be very good texture modifiers, hence eliminating for example the need for added hydrocolloids.”


How can we influence texture and flavour of products with dairy ingredients? Can you give examples?

“It depends on which application we are gearing towards. There are lots of dairy ingredients. And they all differ in what they can offer depending on the food system they are in.”

“Therefore, to understand the characteristic of dairy ingredients as well as the system in which they will be applied we need to select the right dairy ingredient to engineer the desired texture and flavor for the product.”

“Dairy protein can, for instance, be used to provide the body and creaminess in low-fat and low-calorie ice cream. This is something that was developed by NIZO.”

What are your predictions for the F&B industry in the next 3-5 years?

“Sustainability will continue to be a major trend in the F&B industry. In addition, less processed raw material will be used; and clean label will be important as well.”

“Proteins will remain a focus ingredient as consumers are more and more aware of their nutritional and health benefits. I believe the use of plant-based proteins in food products will continue to grow.”

“Finally, an increasing number of companies will develop social responsibility strategies to answer the current sustainability appeal. This is mostly driven by consumer demand and social preferences.”