Food Science and Technology Class
Hello & Happy Monday!
I thought I would break away from reviews for a minute to share an experience I had my senior year as a nutrition major as it really solidified my initial thoughts on processed foods. In my Food Science and Technology class we discussed food processing as well as the aspects of food testing and how products are created, perfected, and put on the market.
Through this specific lab I was able to gauge how difficult it is to replicate common foods and more importantly, you never really know what is in a product… regardless of what the label says
For our lab assignment we had to select a particular food and replicate the product. Sounds simple, but the type of processing and specificity that is involved in creating a processed food is a HUGE obstacle.. even if it’s salsa!!
Since my group wanted to choose something that was on the healthier side, we chose salsa… and for many reasons.
1. We had to replicate this product multiple times and taste it over and over again!(never get sick of salsa, especially with tortilla chips)
2. We figured fresh ingredients, some herbs, some salt, and boom we have an identical product!! (Nope)
Gold Standard Product Evaluation
For the first lab experiment, our group chose to evaluate different brands of salsa. Thought we LOVED the Xochitl salsa as a whole, with our Effective Test results that ranked various variables of the product. The Green Mountain Gringo Salsa proved to have the highest rating and become our Gold Standard. (the one we would test)
Though this salsa wasn’t my FAVE, it had a nice balance of sweet, sour, and bitter and scored the highest on the affective test in taste, odor, and texture. The texture was not too chunky or thin and watery, resulting in a good mouthfeel. We evaluated the salsa based on the odors of sweet, green pepper, herby, garlic, and spicy. The Green Mountain Gringo salsa had the sweetest odor, as well as the most uniform and attractive color. (color is important)
As we reviewed the ingredients in the Green Mountain Gringo Salsa, its ingredients were stated as ripe tomatoes, fresh onions, fresh tomatillos, fresh jalapeño peppers, fresh pasilla peppers, apple cider vinegar, fresh cilantro, fresh parsley, fresh garlic, sea salt, and spices. Since we are unsure of the quantities of any of these products, we looked into different salsa recipes with similar ingredients and adapted them into a recipe we felt would best reflect the Green Mountain Gringo taste, texture, and flavor.
Sounds like basic ingredients right.. ?!
The first biggest challenge was getting each variable down to a “T”. Things as simple as color are hard to balance especially when working with tomatoes and incorporating enough herbs to exude flavor without overdoing it. Here’s a list of the variables we tested in trying to perfect the right balance with the Gringo Salsa!!
more salt flavor – citric acid
Using fresh garlic versus garlic powder
cook peppers more – Darker colors develop
different tomatoes – fresh tomatoes DID NOT WORK
need darker color – add paste
need thicker/smoother texture – add paste
needs more spice – keep some jalapeno seeds
For our first attempt to recreate our Gold Standard recipe of Green Mountain Gringo Salsa, we chopped up tomatoes, onions, tomatillos, and peppers by hand and cooked them down to release their flavors. This first attempt did not have quite the same flavor, texture, or appearance as the Gold Standard. Our salsa was less acidic, less astringent, weaker in flavor, had a dulled color, and too much texture in comparison to Green Mountain Gringo.
To account for these differences in recipes, next lab we made a few changes to our base recipe.
We used pre-cooked canned tomatoes for color and flavor enrichment (fresh is always better, but there is NO WAY to get that flavor)
Added tomato paste to boost our red color
Food processed our solid ingredients such as our peppers, onions, tomatoes, and tomatillos
We began by cooking the onions separately, since their flavor leached heavily onto the other ingredients giving us a severe oniony flavor.
Reconsidered the amount of apple cider vinegar in the recipe to achieve a more similar astringency and acidic flavor.
After multiple 4 hour labs perfecting the Green Mountain Green Salsa, the final challenge after getting the color and texture just right, was the salt/sweet taste.
I found that to be rather strange, as you would think you could just add salt, perhaps a little bit of sugar, and its a done deal right?!
but the taste was ALWAYS off..
HERE IS THE CREEPIEST PART.
Our professor was assisting with the perfecting of our salsa and recommend trying citric acid. The objective of the lab was to produce a healthier modified version of the salsa, so we of course were opposed to the idea.
As a last resort, we opted for the citric acid to test its effectiveness at producing the same flavor as the Green Mountain Gringo Salsa..
STRANGE ENOUGH, IT WORKED.
Like many others would, I asked myself and the professor how this is possible.. when the ingredients don’t list citric acid anywhere
Always remember, the FDA loosely regulates a lot of foods..
Technically, a company could incorporate ingredients that already have citric acid in them, and by law don’t have to state that on the ingredients label.
Though only citric acid, what if it was something else?!
Sharing this experience is not intended to scare you, but it should influence you to conduct your own research, and remind you, that regardless of how chemical free you think your food is, at the end of the day, you never really know the full extent as to what is in processed foods.
What is Citric Acid?
So why is citric acid used?
“Citric acid, an organic acid found in many fruits, especially limes, lemons and grapefruits…increases the acidity of a microbe’s environment, making it harder for bacteria and mold to survive and reproduce. It can also be used to bind to and neutralize fat-degrading metal ions that get into food via processing machinery.”
How is it Processed?
Citric acid is made synthetically by the fermentation of glucose.
“The ability of the mold Aspergillus niger to produce citric acid as a byproduct of metabolism was discovered by American food chemist James Currie in 1917. The process of cultivating A. niger and allowing it to metabolize sucrose or glucose to yield citric acid proved efficient and inexpensive. Once it was possible to produce a seemingly endless supply of citric acid, companies like Pfizer and Citrique Belge began producing it on an industrial scale. This same technique is used to produce citric acid today.”
Citric acid can potentially be produced with the aid of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). The process of making this citric acid utilizes sugar beets and maize, which are some of the biggest offenders of Genetically Modified foods here in the States. Also, there are some genetically modified strains of A. Niger – but I am not sure to what extent these strains are being used to produce citric acid in our food suppy. But companies aren’t required to label that, even in USDA Organic Label foods. (source)
Citric acid is now a food science, no longer coming from the typical grapefruit, lemon, or lime. Larger companies are now using GM-products to get higher yields since extracting from the actual citrus fruit is more costly.
Sadly, even if you buy organic, the citric acid in that organic food is most likely made with GM-products and processes unless explicitly labeled. If in doubt, call the company that manufactures that food and find out what they use or if you can, make it yourself!
The funniest part about this group project was at the end we got the opportunity to taste all the other groups in a blinded test (lights off). Each group provided a sample of the gold standard (original product) as well as the recreated product.
Students had to guess which was which and then share the results
Our salsa actually won !!
Percentage of panelists correctly Identifying the odd sample and statistical significance:
16 out of 25 panelists, or 64% of panelists were able to correctly identify the odd salsa sample. The statistical significance of this according to the chart indicates a probability of 0.002, or 2 in 1000. This is less than the critical value of 0.05.
Reasons for this?
The reasons for identification of the odd salsa sample included “not as spicy”, “more watery”, “sweet”, “a little more runny”, “something extra”, “sour”, “smells more tomato-y”, “spiciest”, and “saltier”.
What can you conclude from this?
Based on the fact that 9 panelists out of 25 (36%) were unable to discern the odd sample, we concluded that our salsa came relatively close to the gold standard Green Mountain Gringo Salsa. Salt was the ingredient we reduced, so that some panelists felt the gold standard was saltier is unsurprising. The inconsistent opinions on spiciness may be the result of our numerous attempts at adding varying amounts of jalapeno seeds.
Can the product be improved? How?
The product could only be improved by more time and testing. Perhaps changing the types of ingredients used or attempting to prepare the recipe when most of these ingredients are in season would result in a closer match to the Gold Standard. The texture of the salsa could also be improved to more closely match liquid-solid balance of the standard.
What should you/could you have done?
If time permitted, we could’ve chopped all of the ingredients by hand to the desired size instead of using the food processor. Since the food processor does not chop evenly, we had to use our best judgment to decide when the pieces were the most similar to our Gold Standard and stop processing. Choosing the proper tomatoes to match the taste best was also quite difficult, and we may have been able to get closer to the correct taste and color with different tomatoes or cook times.
Here’s a look at the other foods groups selected. All in all this class was a blast!!
For future nutrition majors at NYU I recommend picking a healthy product to recreate, as sweet items can be exhausting after a while lol!!