The Basic Steps of the Research & Development Process in the Food Industry
March 13, 2013
By: Chef Jody Slater, Culinary Development Chef
A research and development (R&D) department is a crucial part of a food company. They are responsible for creating innovative products to keep companies a step ahead of the competition. R&D also examines methods to improve existing products and procedures. HB’s experienced R&D department works hard to meet consumer demands and helps enable HB to thrive and succeed in the industry.
As research chefs and food scientists we have a basic way to approach the development process. Whether creating a new product or duplicating an existing one, these basic steps will help determine the direction of development.
We will use a basic sweet chili sauce as an example. Pretend like you are in the lab tasting with us. We are going to duplicate a typical sauce that you would buy in your local grocery store. We will use the basic steps below to dissect our control sample.
- Color- typically chili sauces range from a bright orange to a deep red. What is the color of your sweet chili sauce?
- Viscosity- is it a thick sauce or a bit thinner?
- Mouth feel- think about how it slides off your tongue. Is the texture smooth?
- Aroma- does it smell spicy and sweet or just sweet? Does it smell garlicky, or can you pick up some hints of vinegar? Really take the time to close your eyes and think about the aroma.
- Flavor- think about the flavor that you taste first. This will help in the duplication process. What hits first? Second? Third? Also, keep in mind that not every ingredient will be listed on the label so you will need to taste closely and step into the role of a food detective.
- Appearance- does it have particulates? What size? What color?
It is also incredibly helpful to look at the ingredient label. Some people prefer to do this in the very beginning. I like to walk in a little blind and look at the ingredients after I go through the initial process so I don’t have any preconceived notions. However, the ingredient label or declaration as we call it is a crucial piece to the puzzle. It will help us determine the order of ingredients and it also tells us what ingredients we need to use for development. Start out by thinking of the ingredients as a formula that needs to add up to 100%. The first ingredient in the sauce is in the sauce at the highest percentage. The second ingredient is in there at a lower percentage than the first and so on… You will typically need to make several revisions. Just continue to think of the sauce as a formula that needs to add up to 100%. That will help you determine what changes to make each time you reformulate.
Okay, now we are ready to begin. Let’s look at the ingredient declaration below:
Water, Sugar, Thai Chili Puree (Dry Thai Chilies, Water, citric Acid), Distilled Vinegar, Corn Starch, Salt, Garlic and Garlic Extract, Paprika Extract.
So, you can immediately determine that the water is in the sauce at the highest level, sugar falls immediately after the water. The Thai Chili puree has a separate ingredient label so you will need to do some research and source a puree that matches. Next we have distilled vinegar. Since you can tell that most of the ingredients on the label are liquid instead of dry we will need to use liquid vinegar instead of dry vinegar powder. Okay, we are down to the starch. You will want to pick a starch based on the cooking process in the manufacturing company; if the company is able to use a kettle and cook the sauce than you can use a cook up starch. If they are unable to cook the sauce, you will want to choose an instant one. Salt will come in at a lower level than the corn starch but higher than the garlic. Paprika will be the last ingredient and is used for color not flavor. At this point taste and compare to the control. Continue to make any necessary changes until you determine the sauce is a match based on flavor, color, texture, mouth feel, viscosity, aroma and of course the ingredient declaration.