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A monk started to prepare his simple lunch of rice, vegetables, and broth. After meditating for hours, he grew hungry and wanted a delicious meal. He looked inside a wooden vat of fermenting miso made from soy beans and wheat that he had prepared the winter before. All that was left were dredges that had seeped through the bottom. Curiously, the monk decided to reach with a wooden spoon. As he raised the utensil to his mouth, the aroma wafted into his nostrils — toasty, caramel, and acidic. He brought the dark liquid to his tongue.
The taste was exquisite.
According to legend, Shinichi Kakushin was a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk who has been credited with introducing soy sauce to Japan in 1254 AD. While both Chinese and Japanese monks had been exchanging recipes for soy sauce across the Sea of Japan since 772 AD, it wasn’t until Kakushin serendipitously discovered a recipe for this particular shoyu soy sauce that the Japanese began their love affair with this universal condiment, whose bold flavor and high quality became revered over the current soy sauces available.
Buddhist practitioners and monastics alike were bound by the tenet of not deliberately harming living creatures, and so meals served in the Buddhist community became largely vegetarian, despite the fact that the Buddha himself prescribed no restrictions on meat intake. Plus, Buddhists were restricted in their consumption of certain herbs like garlic and onion, which led to a demand for a versatile seasoning that could add a punch of flavor to bland vegetarian fare. Kakushin’s discovery coincided with the spread of Zen Buddhism and its acceptance into both the aristocratic and military social circles. With this newfound prestige and wealth, temples were built across the island nation, which came with a great need for soy sauce. Soy sauce met the ticket, and monasteries became the de facto centers for soy sauce production and development.
Kakushin taught his nearby lay community as well as fellow monastics in the small town of Yuasa, Japan. As the popularity of this soy sauce recipe rose together with the widening influence of Buddhism in the country, the sauce became an integral feature of Japanese cuisine for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. Over centuries, the Japanese learned to distinguish the presence of a powerful, ephemeral flavor in soy sauce that had yet to be named — umami.
The Science of Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is traditionally made by inoculating a mash of cooked soy beans and toasted wheat with koji-kin, the hibernating spores of the mold Aspergillus oryzae. During the growth stage of the mold, mycelium spread into the crevices of bean and grain, exuding extracellular enzymes along the way. These enzymes are the key to unlocking flavor in the otherwise bland mash through the breakdown of proteins and carbohydrates. Proteins in both soy and wheat are especially rich in the amino acid glutamic acid, which is released by the mold-driven enzymatic digestion. Glutamic acid is arguablely one of the key flavoring components of soy sauce.
Concentrated salt brine is added to the fermenting mixture after three days, which causes the growing koji mold to burst open, release the remainder of its enzymatic payload, and accelerate the decomposition of proteins. The high salinity brine also protects the mash from undesired bacteria and yeast. The enzymes go to town on the remaining carbohydrates and proteins, and after several weeks, months, or even years, the mash is filtered to give a distinctly brown liquid rich in glutamates and salt. Together, the two make up the basic building block of umami flavor: monosodium glutamate, or MSG. This MSG-laced sauce became an important driver for the expansion of shoyu soy sauce as an essential ingredient for Japanese cooking and would allow its consumers to pick up on the presence of the yet-to-be-named umami in foods steeped in soy sauce and other umami-rich ingredients.
However, while soy sauce has been used in Japanese cuisine for centuries, the realization that MSG was the source of the umami effect was only discovered in the last 100 years. Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese professor of chemistry, began his journey to flavor stardom at the dinner table. Something of an early 20th century foodie, Ikeda was very much interested in the chemistry of taste. One night, after a long day in the laboratory, his wife decided to serve him a particularly delicious broth of miso. After cross-examining her about what she had done differently with the recipe, she explained that she had only added a bit more kombu seaweed, a seaweed traditionally used to flavor Japanese dishes.
The effect of the kombu made a tremendous impact on the Japanese chemist. It occurred to Ikeda that no one had yet identified this essential principle of taste that could transform a modest meal into one fit for a king. Professor Ikeda set to work on capturing that flavoring principle in his wife’s broth and uncovering its chemical secrets.
He began with one pound of high-quality kombu seaweed, which he could procure relatively cheaply from the local food markets and applied the basic steps of chemical discovery: extraction, separation, and purification. Just rinse and repeat, until all that’s left is the essential factor responsible for the desired effect — in this case, enhanced flavor.
After one year of endeavor, Ikeda was eventually able to isolate a few sandy brown crystals, which he quickly identified as monosodium glutamate due to its discovery back in the 1880s by German Nobel laureate and chemist Emil Fischer. Fischer himself only tasted glutamic acid alone and did not notice any enhanced taste perception.
In gustatory anticipation, he added the crystals to a bit of broth and sipped.
He had found the proverbial diamond in the rough, and it was MSG.
Ikeda named the magnifying flavor effect “umami” – a loanword for “pleasant savory flavor”. He went on to find a cheap route to MSG suitable for industrial production by cooking wheat, one of the key sources of glutamate for soy sauce, in concentrated acid. The acidic brew is neutralized with soda ash and the desired MSG recrystallized from the treated broth. He acquired patents in Japan, France, the United States, and the UK for his newly discovered process, which could churn out pounds of MSG in a matter of days.
To commercialize his efforts, Ikeda co-founded the Ajinomoto Company with Sabururosuke Suzuki II in 1908. Ajinomoto would eventually bring the infamous white crystals of umami to every corner of the world and earn billions in the process.
Professor Ikeda’s breakthrough opened the flood gates for a new culinary concept — flavor enhancers. And the discoveries didn’t stop at MSG. Ikeda’s protégé, Shintaro Kodama, found another umami-boosting molecule (this time, from fish flakes), disodium inosinate in 1912. And many decades later, Japanese researcher Dr. Akira Kuninaka of Yamasa Shoyu Research Laboratories (a soy sauce company) isolated the umami enhancer, disodium guanylate, from yeast extract treated with koji enzymes. He also discovered its ability to synergize with MSG and disodium inosinate to greatly enhance the umami effect. This trio of compounds has been harnessed by Ajinomoto and other flavor companies as the basic building blocks of flavor. Broths, sauces, seasonings — really, anything savory under the sun — have been sprinkled with these near-magical compounds to boost up the bland flavors that resulted from the necessary heat treatment processes used by the food industry to extend food product shelf life and keep food microbiologically safe. Not to mention, these same compounds have been used to overcome the poor flavors of low-quality food ingredients as well.
But corporate and academic research into flavor enhancing agents hasn’t stopped. Even within the last decade, the emergence of the ‘kokumi’ taste principle is beginning to take root in the culinary and food industry world, based on Japanese research conducted in the 1980s. Kokumi is something of a mystery, even to flavor scientists, but has been described as ‘heartiness’. If umami is a spike in the taste graph that punches up the strength of sweet, sour, and salty, kokumi extends the enhanced taste effect for longer periods on your tongue. The major natural ingredient that imparts kokumi is glutathione, a compound found abundantly in yeast extracts, and is used to extend the staying power of the three main umami-enhancers to form a long-lasting orchestra of flavor. You can find these very same ingredients all wrapped up beautifully in those aluminum pouches of instant ramen seasoning.
The four horsemen of flavor enhancement (monosodium glutamate, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, and glutathione) have taken the grand stage in modern food ingredient formulation, becoming key players in almost any savory food imaginable. Both lucrative and in high demand, these cherished ingredients have become the de facto taste foundation on which savory foods are designed in the food and flavor industry. When perusing down the grocery aisle and inspecting the ingredients list, you’ll notice the nearly-foreign words ‘monosodium glutamate’, ‘disodium inosinate’, ‘disodium guanylate’, and ‘yeast extract’ in far more food products than expected.
Recent pushback against artificial ingredients by health-conscious consumers today, spearheaded by food advocates and clean eating gurus, has reduced the popularity of these ingredients to some extent. But the truth is that these four are here to stay, primarily because substitutes derived from natural sources just can’t go toe-to-toe with them on strength, intensity, or cost-effectiveness. While the food research community continues to excavate for more powerful flavor enhancers, food and flavor companies will go on including these umami and kokumi-intensifying ingredients in their products. The toolbox of flavor enhancers will simply expand to satiate the hunger of an ever-growing world population.
As a food product developer once told me, “People will say they eat for health. But really, their wallets say they eat for flavor.”
That’s something to chew on while eating a bowl of instant ramen.
It’s often easiest to think of the food industry as being made of two parts: food producers and food sellers. Although this is a simple mental split to make, it doesn’t even begin to capture the true complexity that makes up our food production and retailing ecosystem.
Food Industry Landscape
Let’s draw a rough mental picture of how the food industry is structured. Starting at the top, we have customers and consumers. These are the folks who buy and use food products, respectively. The classic example is the parent – child dynamic. A parent buying baby food is the customer, and their child is the consumer. They can purchase food from two main places: retail establishments (like grocery stores) and food service operations (like restaurants). These places now act as customers and purchase food products from deeper within the supply chain.
Where do they source their products from? It gets a little more complicated from here.
The simple case, and what we often think about, is when a food producer or consumer packaged goods (CPG) company sells a nationally branded product to a retailer. And this situation certainly happens quite often. However, many times there are one or more intermediaries between the producer and retailer who makes the food and who sells the food. There is a diverse world of brokers, distributors, and importers that assist smaller food companies with logistics and business development and will sell products into retailers on behalf of the manufacturer.
Anyone who has worked in the food service or restaurant world will be very familiar with distributors like Sysco or US Foods.
Another flavor of this kind of relationship is how make their way to the shelf, of which I have first-hand experience. Private label products are also known as “store brands” or “generic” goods. They have gained traction the last few years due, in part, to eroding brand loyalty. While national brand icons get notoriety and air time, private label food product sales can easily have over 25% sales penetration for some grocers. It can be close to 100% for retailers like , who specialize in private label products and forgo most national brands. In these cases, food manufacturers (some of which also make the branded item) will sell food into retail establishments, but often at lower cost since there isn’t the normal marketing overhead associated with it.
We can now turn our attention to copackers and co-manufacturers. These businesses will often produce, process, package, and assemble food items on behalf of another company. In fact, there are some big-name food companies in the marketplace that sell iconic brands, who don’t produce those foods themselves. They rely on a copacker to make the food item, but will market and resell the item under their label. Also, a possibility is that a manufacturer who specializes in private label goods will serve as a “back-up” and produce nationally branded items when demand gets high or interruptions in supply occur.
I’ve personally seen this play out with peanut butter, where a large national player will use a private label co-manufacturer when they need extra help fulfilling larger order volumes from retail chains.
Further down the food supply chain we have ingredient suppliers and the agricultural commodities themselves. Just as complex as traditional food manufacturers, there are a variety of companies who specialize in producing certain food inputs. In this case, food manufacturers are the customers who purchase these ingredients and then produce a shelf-ready food product. Examples of ingredient companies could be flavor houses (who specialize in creating flavors, seasonings, and other tasty ingredients), starch/gum suppliers, enzyme producers, etc.
The degree of vertical integration can vary greatly depending on the specific company and/or sub-specialty in the industry. For example, a sausage company could own hog farms, produce sausage casings, grind pork, have an internal flavor house, and produce a nationally branded sausage item (this would be an example of a company that is very vertically integrated). On the other hand, there are companies that do nothing other than market and sell the item.
For example, an egg hatchery could be a separate entity from an egg packing facility, and furthermore the egg company that sells into retail can be an independent company as well.
To see another example of this, read on!
An example of an egg packing line. This company buys eggs from a hatchery, then washes and packs them.
To tie all this together, let’s go through an example scenario (which may or may not be based in reality). We will discuss a package of sliced cheddar cheese sold by a national brand. For simplicity sake, let’s call this company Majora®. We’ll work our way through the supply chain and see how it gets to the shelf!
The ingredient declaration for cheddar cheese is milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, and color:
Milk is produced by dairy farmers. It can get even more complicated if you consider situations like and the like. (A dairy co-op, or cooperative, is a collection of dairy farmers who pool their milk to make dairy products)
Cheese cultures and similar ingredients are produced by firms known as “culture houses”. They grow cultures/bacteria used for cheesemaking. They can also produce the colorants and enzymes used in cheesemaking.
And finally, we need salt, which would be sourced from an ingredient supplier.
Alternatively, all of these could also be sourced from a broker/distributor if the cheese company was too small to hit the order minimums set forth by the culture house/ingredient suppliers.
Now to the actual cheese making! A cheese company would source the ingredients above, and then produce cheese. This cheese can end up in a multitude of places, but for our purposes we are going to consider the scenario I described above. This cheese producer has worked out a detailed specification with Majora® of what this cheddar cheese needs to be. Cheese is produced to this spec and is being made in large 640lb blocks (known as 640s in industry parlance).
Guess what the next step is: it’s shipped to Majora®?
These 640lb blocks are then shipped to a converter. A “converter” is cheese industry jargon for a company that cuts, slices, sheds, and/or packages cheese. These firms don’t technically make cheese – they just specialize in getting it into a retail-ready format.
The majority of the cheese that is sold into supermarkets gets there by way of a converter.
This is especially true for private label cheese, which dominates this category for most retailers. In our case, the converter cuts the 640lb blocks down successively and ultimately ends up with 1lb “shingle packs” of cheddar cheese packaged in Majora® branding. Our company, Majora®, then receives and warehouses this product and ships/sells it into retail establishments where customers can then purchase it.
Something to think about the next time you put a slice of cheese on your sandwich!
Doing research on soy functional foods has led me to become accustomed to that delicious beany flavor of soy ingredients. As I munch on soy pretzels, I find myself thinking about how soy has been portrayed in the media recently. I’m increasingly finding more food products with the label “Soy Free” and more blog posts citing soy as a problem. However, this is not the only soy claim that appears on product packaging.
The CFR states that soy protein may reduce your risk of coronary heart disease1 . In 1999 the Food and Drug Administration approved this health claim for use on food product labeling. This is a big deal because the FDA only approves a small number of health claims that suggest a link between a food or supplement and the risk of disease. In fact, there are only 12 health claims currently approved by the FDA2. Some of them seem obvious, like the positive link between calcium and Vitamin D in prevention of osteoporosis and that between sodium intake and hypertension. These claims must be supported by scientific evidence and agreement among experts2. The soy claim has an extensive history dating back almost 80 years.
One of the first studies about soy protein and health was published in 1941, where researchers fed rabbits copious amounts of soy protein and as a result they found a reduced risk of heart disease3. Of course this was only a small study done in animals, but since then, there have been multiple studies in humans that agreed with this finding4. While the true reason behind the reduced risk of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and, therefore, heart disease, is not yet understood, many researchers have explored the idea that protein, fiber, or phytochemicals known as isoflavones may be the key5.
On the other hand, you may have heard that the FDA proposed to revoke the health claim of soy reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. In 2017, the FDA released a statement saying that current evidence no longer supports the claim6. A final rule has not been issued but studies have followed up on this statement.
The FDA reviewed 46 specific studies to help make a decision on the health claim4. However, the FDA did not perform a meta-analysis, which combines data from multiple studies and analyzes it together. A recent external meta-analysis published this year reviewed those studies that the FDA was considering when the notion of repealing the health claim came about. It found that eating soy protein reduces LDL cholesterol by about 3%, the notion that lead to the initial health claim4.
This reduction in cholesterol is smaller than that initially reported in 1999, but it was highly significant4. In addition to the modest reduction in the risk of heart disease, soy and its components may have other health benefits. There is strong evidence that soy phytochemicals improve hot flashes and arterial health in post-menopausal women and preliminary evidence for reduction of breast and prostate cancer7.
Soy, what’s the problem? Recently, soy has been criminalized in the media with claims of it causing breast cancer, thyroid problems and dementia8. There have also been theories that soy will cause decreases in testosterone or increase feminization9. The shift in attitude stems from the phytochemicals previously mentioned, isoflavones. Isoflavones including genistein and daidzein have a specific structure that resembles estrogen. For this reason, they can bind to estrogen receptors in the body8.
However, binding to estrogen receptors does not necessarily mean there will be a negative health outcome. Think of the isoflavone as a key and estrogen receptors as a lock. The isoflavone key may fit the lock, but not as well as estrogen. This leads to relatively weak estrogen-like activity which could even be beneficial for hormone-dependent conditions such as cancer and menopausal symptoms10. Meta-analysis has shown that soy does not increase breast cancer risk but instead may slightly reduce this risk11. There was also shown to be no changes in thyroid hormones and a slight increase in thyroid stimulating hormone12. Research also shows that soy and its component isoflavones do not have an effect on testosterone in men13.
So, what does this mean for you? Keep on eating your tofu, edamame, and vegan protein shakes. At least for now, there does not appear to be a negative health effect from eating soy. Soy is a good source of high-quality protein, fiber, and B vitamins8. To get more soy in your diet, try adding in tofu, edamame, soy cheese, plant-based burgers, tempeh, miso, or just plain soymilk.
Food and Drug Administration, HHS. Food Labeling: Health Claims; Soy Protein and Coronary Heart Disease. Vol 21 C.F.R.; 1999:57700-57733.
Food and Drug Administration. Authorized Health Claims That Meet the Significant Scientific Agreement (SSA) Standard.
Meeker DR, Kesten HD. Effect of high protein diets on experimental atherosclerosis of rabbits. 1941;31:147-162.
Mejia SB, Messina M, Li SS, et al. A Meta-Analysis of 46 Studies Identified by the FDA Demonstrates that Soy Protein Decreases Circulating LDL and Total Cholesterol Concentrations in Adults. J Nutr. 2019;149(6):968-981.
Potter SM. Soy Protein and Cardiovascular Disease: The Impact of Bioactive Components in Soy. Nutr Rev. 1998;56(8):231-235.
US Food and Drug Administration. Food Labeling: Health Claims; Soy Protein and Coronary Heart Disease. Vol 82.; 2017:50324-50346.
Messina M. Soy and Health Update : Evaluation of the Clinical and Epidemiologic Literature. Nutrients. 2016;8(12). doi:10.3390/nu8120754
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Straight Talk About Soy. The Nutrition Source.
Kadney M. Is Soy Bad For You? Runner’s World.
Vitale DC, Piazza C, Melilli B, Drago F, Salomone S. Isoflavones: estrogenic activity, biological effect and bioavailability. Eur J Drug Metab Pharmacokinet. 2013;38(1):15-25. doi:10.1007/s13318-012-0112-y
Trock BJ, Hilakivi-clarke L, Clarke R. Meta-Analysis of Soy Intake and Breast Cancer Risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2006;98(7):459-471. doi:10.1093/jnci/djj102
Otun J, Sahebkar A, Östlundh L, Atkin SL. Systematic Review and Meta- analysis on the Effect of Soy on Thyroid Function. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1):1-9. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-40647-x
Hooper L, Ryder JJ, Kurzer MS, et al. Effects of soy protein and isoflavones on circulating hormone concentrations in pre- and post-menopausal women : a systematic review and meta-analysis. Hum Reprod Update. 2009;15(4):423-440. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmp010
Food fraud is the deception of customers and final consumers through intentional food (and drink) adulteration.  This manner of tampering is manifested by means of substituting one product for another, misrepresenting labelling requirements (e.g. country of origin, malicious contamination with harmful biological or chemical substances), adding unapproved additives, or counterfeiting.
Fraud can be instigated at any point along the supply chain from farm to fork, be it in raw materials, ingredients, the final product, and even in packaging. Monetary gain is the ultimate goal of intentional food fraud, by increasing its apparent value, reducing production costs, and selling the product for a price far higher than its worth.
Food fraud is not exactly a topic that is frequently discussed in consumer circles, for there is a lack of access to and awareness of information regarding food production processes that happen behind closed doors. Furthermore, the effects of food fraud on the human body are not known or readily apparent . According to the Global Food Safety Initiative, ‘most cases of food fraud are not harmful’, and so instances of adulteration predominantly compromise on food quality and not safety. However, past incidents of food fraud that have exploded into nationwide and regional outbreaks have shown that food fraud can pose actual public health concerns responsible for countless lives, especially when the adulteration involved allergens.
In 1981, a food fraud incident in Spain was closely associated with small scale entrepreneurs and food business operators importing large quantities of rapeseed oil from neighboring countries at extremely low and unregulated prices (Spain only joined the EU in 1986) . These traders sold this cheap rapeseed oil as olive oil, fully aware that the rapeseed oil was industrial-grade (as opposed to food grade) and contained aniline. At the time, public health was deemed to be at stake and investigations continued for years after the incident, but authorities never really established concrete causality on the case, allegedly manipulating data to cover up for failure and shortcomings in determining the root cause. Nevertheless, despite the controversy of the case and whether the fraudulent olive oil directly jeopardized public health , the whole motive of selling cheap rapeseed oil as olive oil for monetary gain stands as food fraud, and perhaps this context further sheds light on how far authorities in power can go to prevent the truth behind food fraud from reaching the public.
In 2007, there was a case originating from China where wheat gluten used in pet food was intentionally adulterated with melamine (rather than by oversight), both to add weight and increase the apparent nitrogen value (and thus the perceived protein content) of the pet food. In fact, melamine is a chemical compound found in ceramic dinnerware that is not approved for consumption by the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius (food standard commission), or by any national food regulatory authority .
A year after the wheat gluten contamination incident, melamine was once again found in milk powder exported from China. This time, it was a major food safety incident, with approximately 300,000 reported cases of resulting illnesses and at least 6 infant deaths.
In 2013, the horse meat scandal in the UK shed light on the fraudulent blending of food products with meats from undeclared species . Although it did not cause any major health issues, the incident highlighted the breakdown in the traceability and biosecurity of the food products in a supply chain of complex nature, and the need for stricter preventative control measures in place, both internally and by external food safety authorities.
The incident made many consumers aware, most likely for the first time, of food fraud, and the fact that most products frequently found to be fraudulent are common household food products – for example, the dilution of olive oil with lower quality oils, dried oregano containing ingredients other than actual oregano, or microparticulate cellulose in parmesan cheese, just to name a few. While cellulose may be rightfully added to grated cheese to prevent clumping, some producers have taken advantage of this aspect and added more than needed, with subsequent mislabeling amounting to food fraud.
Infographics like this one or by the FDA  based on data collected shows that everyday products like milk, honey, tea and coffee are also commonly subjected to food fraud.
Food fraud is a crime that is an emerging risk given the complexity of global food supply chains. As per the infographic above, food fraud is costing the industry tens of billions of dollars per year, with households suffering as well from both financial cost and health risks.
Yet, fighting food fraud is extremely difficult because of the nature of adulteration, which often manifests in such a subtle way as seen in the major cases outlined above. Companies go to great lengths to scheme and design the adulterants to be innocuous and almost undetectable by the senses, hence the need for analytical methods. To better comprehend the impact of food fraud and the extent of harm it can cause, we have to broaden our lenses beyond homogenous products e.g. alcohol, olive oil, juices, milk, meat, honey. If this is predominantly the nature of fraudulent food, imagine the extra challenges to detect such adulterations in composite products as well e.g. granola mixes, pre-packaged sushi, ready-to-eat meals, burgers and pizzas etc. It cannot be negated that potential food fraud to this extent is possible, considering the modern changes in food habits i.e. increased consumer demand for convenience food which requires essentially little cooking before consumption).
At a national level, regulatory bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration, UK Food Standards Agency, and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland have increased research and development in this area and established control systems to combat food fraud.
In the EU, for example, there is the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) . This tool enhances the traceability frameworks in place by speeding up the flow of information to suppliers, customers, and food regulatory authorities when public health risks are detected in the food chain enabling counter measures to be executed quickly and contain the damage. While this may not always be caused directly by food fraud, at least any arising food safety risks revolving around food fraud would be subject to an efficient handling mechanism.
The EU Food Fraud Network was also established as a response to the Horse Meat crisis to help strengthen their approach to food safety and keep it to the highest standards in addition to the existing standards e.g. ISO 22000:2018 – Food Safety Management Systems which also address food defense and food fraud.
Experts suggest the best way to prevent adulteration within an organization is for employees to expose wrong-doing to the appropriate channels. NSF International, a Michigan-based product testing, inspection and certification organization, recommends encouraging whistle–blowing by company employees based on a COSO study indicating that ‘a tip’ was the most successful source of initially detecting occupational fraud .
Generally, companies can prevent food fraud by :
(i) Improving supplier relationships.
(ii)Establishing effective auditing strategies including anti-fraud, malicious activity and espionage measures.
(iii) Ensuring suppliers of raw materials and packaging are certified or not third-party audited.
(iv) Encouraging whistle-blowing.
(v) Collaboration and information sharing between public and private interests.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY
(vi) Investing in and exploring real-time analysis and new technologies to fight food fraud!
The fact that established organizations, with all the sophisticated processes in place and quality assurance checks at their fingertips, can stoop so low as to reap economic gain at the expense of health and safety through manipulating our basic needs reflects how we have perhaps forgotten how to be human amidst all our progress. While it is somewhat ironic that vast fields of research exist because of a problem that humankind created for itself, consumers can take comfort in the fact that the advancement of science and analytical methods only make food fraud more difficult, and the former, hopefully, will eventually stifle the latter.
The onus for food quality is now firmly placed on the food manufacturers and sample testing is a key part of every food preparation protocol. Consequently, there is great demand from the food industry for effective and affordable means for the routine testing of their products.
The following posts in this series will explore how consumers can play a part in fighting food fraud, analytical methods that have emerged in recent times, employed by the food industry to crack down on traceability and fight food fraud.
Stay tuned in and watch this space for our next post on exploring wine fraud with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) fingerprinting!
, Smith, G.C., PhD. (2016). What is Food Fraud?, Available at http://fsns.com/news/what-is-food-fraud, [online]. Accessed 30 May 2019.
, Woffinden, B. (2001). Cover-up – Twenty years ago, 1,000 people died in an epidemic that spread across Spain. Poisoned cooking oil was blamed – an explanation that suited government and giant chemical corporations. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/aug/25/research.highereducation [online]. Accessed 1 June 2019.
 Sharma, K., & Paradakar, M. (2010). The melamine adulteration scandal. Food Security, 2(1), 97–107
 Premanandh, J. (2013). Horse meat scandal – A wake-up call for regulatory authorities. Food Control, 34(2), 568–569.
 White, V. (2017). Food Fraud: a challenge for the food and drink industry. Available at https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/article/22854/food-fraud-an-emerging-risk-for-the-food-and-drink-industry/, [online]. Accessed 1 June 2019.
, Lyons, J. (2018). The rise of food fraud and its impact on food safety. Available at: https://www.rentokil.com/blog/food-fraud-food-safety/#.XP43XIgzbIV [online]. Accessed 31 May 2019.
 Smith, G.C., PhD. (2016). What is Food Fraud? Available at http://fsns.com/news/what-is-food-fraud, [online]. Accessed 30 May 2019.
Since my body reacts poorly to dairy, I’m no stranger to the likes of almond milk. But as much as I try to use it the same way I would with milk in my cereal and in baking, it never amounts to quite the same experience. To understand why these milk substitutes aren’t truly identical, let’s dissect the fundamental components that constitute milk and explore its functions.
What is milk made up of?
Milk is an emulsion, specifically an oil-in-water dispersion. Milks from different animals differ in their compositional ratios but cow’s milk is approximately 87% water, 4.8% lactose, 4% fat, 3.5% protein and 0.29% inorganic salts, primarily calcium and phosphate (1).
Milk fat contains over 400 fatty acids and are found mostly in the form of triglycerides. These triglycerides exist as globules surrounded by other polar phospholipids and proteins to keep them suspended in the water phase since triglycerides themselves are non-polar. With 3 fatty acids on a glycerol backbone, there can be many possible arrangements of fatty acids (400^3) which produces a multitude of triglyceride species (if it really only is 400, that’s 64, 000, 000) making milk fat highly complex (2).
Milk proteins are comprised of relatively small molecules, called caseins, which account for 80% of the total protein, while the remaining 20% are globular whey proteins (1, 3). Casein micelles scatter light which gives milk its opacity and white color (1).
Functions of Milk
Milk is a staple ingredient in many of our favorite food products like cheese, ice cream, chocolate and baked goods, as each of its components lend to a different function.
Liquid is often added in any recipe for baked goods for a couple of reasons. They help suspend the particles of different ingredients for interaction, and provide hydration of starch granules for gelatinization.
Proteins have multiple functions. Upon heat denaturation, the re-association of protein allows for a gel matrix to form, which provides the structure in baked goods. They also act as a stabilizer for foams and emulsions as they are surface-active, reducing surface tension of two phases. When you think of mousses or anything whipped and airy, sodium caseinate, a protein of milk, lends body and texture, and improves its whipping properties (4). And in cheese making, caseins and whey proteins are essential for coagulation, a very important step to get your cheese (1)!
Fats determine the mouthfeel and texture of food depending on its melting and crystallization behavior. Melting points affect the plasticity, while crystallization affects the type of crystals that form – whether it is fine or coarse (5). Milk fat crystallizes in the beta-prime (ß’) form which is uniform and needle-like, lending to a smooth texture. Milk fat is predominantly solid but not entirely, between -5ºC and 5ºC, which makes it the ideal fat for making ice cream (1).
Like all other fats too, milk fat largely contributes to flavor in food applications. In this case, the characteristic flavor of milk is attributed to the volatile lower- and medium-chain fatty acids – C4:0, C6:0, C8:0 and C10:0 (6). The complex nature of milk’s fatty acid profile is also responsible for its unique flavor.
While lactose may provide some sweetness, it is a relatively low sweetness sugar with low solubility, making it the least valuable constituent in milk (7). However, it is an essential carbon source for lactic acid bacteria during fermentation in cheesemaking (3).
Non-dairy milks are the aqueous extracts of plant sources, for example, nuts, legumes, grains or cereals. They are obtained by soaking the plant material in water, blending it – forming a slurry, and then straining it to remove the solid particles. From this process, they are technically not “milks” by definition as they don’t derive from mammary glands.
In today’s market, soy milk is the most common milk substitute and has received the most amount of research, but almond milk has quickly caught up and become popular among consumers (8).
How do milk alternatives fare against cow’s milk?
It probably comes as no surprise that soy milk is the most common, because of the alternative milks, soy milk is reported to be most similar in physicochemical properties to cow’s milk. In a study by Mäkinen and colleagues, the two milks exhibited similarities in flow index, initial pH and volume mean particle diameters. Furthermore, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) images show both their particle sizes are small while oat, quinoa and rice milk had larger aggregates (9).
Soy milk is also closest in protein content (2.95%) to cow’s milk. Other plant milks varied greatly, with almond milk being higher than cow’s at 4.3% and rice milk having as low as 0.07% protein. Lower protein can lead to a weaker gel formation, which poses a problem for structure stability. Despite soymilk having a similar protein content to cow’s milk, its gel strength was still found to be weaker, likely due to different protein structure and composition (9). Jeske et al. also cited that the difference in functional properties is due to a larger molecular size and complex quaternary structure (10).
Additionally, while casein and whey are the main proteins in dairy milk, other proteins are present in plant sources. For example, glycinin and ß-conglycinin make up the bulk of soybean protein, and amandin for almonds. Since casein is necessary for cheesemaking, the absence of casein in plant-based milk alternatives will affect the texture of dairy-free cheese analogs. The textural differences found when incorporating more vegetable protein than casein were lower elasticity, a sticky consistency and poor flavor (10). However, analog cheeses in the form of spreads are a way to avoid these textural problems and are reported to come close to dairy cheese.
To put it simply, although these plant-based milk alternatives share enough similar properties with dairy milk to be considered a substitute, every plant source is going to have a different compositional make-up in terms of ratios and types (of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and minerals). This is what causes even the slightest variation in taste, texture and functionality. For example, although soy milk is attributed to be the closest to cow’s milk, what might seem like a small variation on the molecular level will still produce a difference in applications. However, processing methods and additives such as gum thickeners are ways to go around this and improve these properties.
Replacing milk in any recipe may not produce the exact same results; nonetheless, they come close. We should also note that they may work better in certain applications than others, for example, the cheese spread instead of hard cheeses, or denser cakes that don’t require a stronger structure or where a nuttier flavor is sought after.
Distinctions in taste and texture don’t necessarily mean they are bad distinctions. In fact, many of them have high overall acceptability. I mean, there’s a reason why almond milk is becoming so popular! In fact, I prefer the taste of almond milk yogurt over dairy yogurt.
And for those of us who are lactose intolerant or health concerned, plant “milks” are definitely our best bet! They are nutritionally dense with much lower calories. With plenty of novel options emerging – from pistachio milk to walnut milk (my personal favorite) – you’re bound to find one that matches your preferences!
1. Clarke C. “Ice Cream Ingredients”. Science of Ice Cream (2nd Edition), by Clarke C. Royal Society of Chemistry. 2012.
2. Metin S, and Hartel RW. “Milk Fat and Cocoa Butter.” Cocoa Butter and Related Compounds, by Garti N and Widlak NR, AOCS Press, 2012.
3. Kindstedt PS. “The Basics of Cheesemaking.” Cheese and Microbes, by Catherine DW. American Society for Microbiology (ASM). 2014.
4. Ennis MP and Mulvihill DM. “Milk Proteins.” Handbook of Hydrocolloids by Phillips GO and Williams PA. Woodhead Publishing. 2000.
5. Scheeder MRL. “Lipids from land animals”. Modifying Lipids for Use in Food by Gunstone FD. Woodhead Publishing. 2006.
6. Kilara A. “Low fat ice cream”. Food Texture and Design Optimization by Yadunandan Lal D and Joseph ML. John Wiley and Sons. 2014.
7. O’Mahony JA and Fox PF. “Milk: An Overview.” Milk Proteins – From Expression to Food (2nd Edition) by Singh H et al. Elsevier. 2014.
8. Alozie YE and Udofia US. 2015. Nutritional and Sensory Properties of Almond (Prunus amygdalu Var. Dulcis) Seed Milk. World J. Dairy & Food Sci., 10 (2): 117-121. DOI: 10.5829/idosi.wjdfs.2015.10.2.9622
9. Mäkinen OE. et al. 2015. Physicochemical And Acid Gelation Properties Of Commercial UHT-Treated Plant-Based Milk Substitutes And Lactose Free Bovine Milk. Food Chemistry, 168: 630-638. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.07.036.
10. Jeske S et al. 2018. Past, Present And Future: The Strength Of Plant-Based Dairy Substitutes Based On Gluten-Free Raw Materials. Food Research International, 110: 42-51. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2017.03.045
Every morning, I made the hour-long drive through rural Wisconsin to get to my summer job at the cheese plant. I typically woke up with eyes wide shut, groping in the dark to turn off my alarm, and would be on the road by sunrise. I would watch with sleepy interest as the familiar green pastures and red barns passed me by.
My favorite part of the drive was watching the cows lazily chew their breakfast of hay and grass. Some would jump for joy with the fortune of having fresh air and food. Others would lay around in the mud, swatting away the swarming flies and waiting for mid-morning to come.
I would be humbled by the fact that simultaneously, this very scene was being replicated across the state of Wisconsin, with nearly 1.3 million cows being fed in that very same way every morning .
After their morning meal, these cows would be milked and their fresh milk shipped out in insulated cold trucks headed for producers of all things related to milk — butter, cream, dry milk, yogurt, and what have you.
But let’s not forget what Wisconsin is really all about — cheese.
And one of the big markets for cheese?
As I drove into the parking lot, I would see the looming milk silos attached to the cheese plant. Three times each day, thousands of gallons of milk would be pumped into these silos. And every day, thousands of pounds of low-moisture grade-A mozzarella would be freshly made from that same milk around the clock, destined for pizza ovens across the nation.
All of the basic steps of cheese-making are still evident . Milk is pasteurized, mixed with rennet — a bovine digestive enzyme used to coagulate milk proteins — and other proprietary ingredients, cooked until fully gelled, cut, salted, compressed into molds, and allowed to soak in ice-cold salt brine for days. The newly formed blocks are packaged and allowed to sit in refrigerated storage facilities until they’re ready to ship to downstream cheese processors and corporate customers.
The cheese plant is surprisingly modern and more akin to a chemical refinery than a food production facility. Stainless steel piping and equipment line every room. Automation can be found at every juncture, pump, and pipe joint.
Computer screens dot the corners of each operation, allowing operators and supervisors to survey and control every stage of the process, without ever moving from their seat. At a minimum, the entire operation of cheese production requires seven operators. A few decades ago, it would have taken 20 to 30 workers to do the same job.
The operators who run these positions have been here for decades. Many of them have seen the relatively rapid transition from manual to automated systems. The change has been mostly welcomed, as it has saved thousands of human-hours of backbreaking labor that includes ingredient adding, mixing, and sanitation steps.
Tasks can be performed from different parts of the plant, allowing the operator to take on auxiliary duties while maintaining their eye on their niche operations. But cheese-making has suddenly become a process of pushing touchscreens and reading digital graphs, tasks more in line with our younger, iPhone-wielding generation.
And while a good number of the older operators have their cheese-making license , hard-earned with years of study, their younger co-workers are no longer required to acquire such a license. Ask them how cheese is made, and they’ll stare at you with blank looks. The seasoned cheese veterans may look forward to their impending retirement, but it’s clear there’s a nostalgia about the way cheese used to be made, knowledge that’ll be lost when they move on.
With market prices for commodity pizza cheese hovering around $1 per pound , every effort to cut costs becomes a necessity. This is mainly ensured by maintaining precise levels of proteins and moisture in the cheese — water is essentially free, while milk protein always costs money.
Commodity cheese plants face the harsh economic realities of production in a manner no different from the myth of Icarus. Bring the moisture levels too low, and the plant risks tanking into bankruptcy with the fluctuating cost (and protein quality) of milk. Fly too close to the upper legal limit for moisture , and their cheese will simply vaporize into oblivion in the fiery hot pizza ovens operated by their clients.
These kinds of realities drive the need for constant monitoring and readjustment. Endless reams of data are generated by computers and humans alike and pored over daily to ensure maximum productivity. Modern cheese-making requires a degree of statistical precision that simply isn’t in the human toolbox of skills.
And so automation will continue to make gains in the market place over human labor in the cheese industry. The role of the manager will remain, but with increasing focus on automated systems optimization. Already, a significant bulk of the work done by managing supervisors is to put out fires set by faulty computer programming or improve yield efficiency by tweaking production inputs through touch-screens.
Ironically, a shortage of good, steady labor is another issue that cropped up in discussions around the water cooler . Few young workers want to make a lifelong career out of their positions at the cheese plant. These workers see their elder co-workers who suffer from repetitive stress injuries, permanent scarring from accidental cuts, and even loss of body parts from lacerations.
The long-term prospects of working at a cheese plant are dim for these fresh workers, and so many are looking for opportunities elsewhere. Some are using their current employment as a short-term springboard for more lucrative work by going to trade or night school. Others simply drift in and out of the labor pool, trying to make in-roads in a hazy world rapidly transitioning into a fully-automated economy and uncertain of the next steps for future employment.
It’s understandable, especially given that their positions could be quickly made obsolete by ongoing improvements in manufacturing robotics and artificial intelligence.
Nonetheless, the cheese-makers, operators, and laborers who remain are still proud of their jobs. Much of the cheese produced at the plant will go on to feed their own families and communities, if only in an indirect way through the Byzantine process of national distribution.
And despite uncertainties in labor demand, a position in cheese production remains one of the best paid and stable jobs in the rural area, where many remain to stay close to family and their community rather move to the “big” cities of Madison or Milwaukee for more potential opportunities.
Some hold onto the aspiration of achieving management positions, with the promise of higher wages, more career mobility, and recognition from their peers. One worker even goes so far as to work 80-hour weeks for double and triple overtime, nearly approaching the coveted six-figure income.
At the end of the day, pizza cheese will continue to be produced to feed the endless swarms of global pizza consumers. The convenience afforded by fast food pizza chains and frozen pizza products, among other cheese-laden foods, will continue to drive the demand for this low-cost mozzarella cheese.
And promising markets in China , whose growing middle class is gaining a penchant for American pizza from the likes of Pizza Hut and Domino’s, will keep these pizza cheese producers in business for decades to come.
 “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.” Accessdata.fda.gov, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 1 Apr. 2018, www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=133.156.
 Lowrey, Annie. “Wages Are Low and Workers Are Scarce. Wait, What?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 6 Feb. 2019, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/09/is-america-facing-a-labor-shortage/570649/.
Many of us have a memory of convincing our parents to take us out for ice cream. We would stand with our face and hands on the glass window case, admiring all the colors and flavors, eventually settling on the bluest ice cream. The ice cream attendant would hand us our cone and we would take it in with awe-struck eyes. Eventually our hands were covered in melted ice cream that was dripping to the floor but we still had a big smile on our face. Or maybe you and your classmates would gather at the nearest Graeter’s after the 8th grade dance lets out like Mackenzie or after every football game like Alex. We all likely have a blissful memory associated with ice cream. You might be a die-hard cookies and cream connoisseur, or swear by mint chocolate chip. Maybe your go-to is the classic vanilla. If you are from Ohio, or at least the Midwest, then your flavor is likely Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip, which leads us to Bob Graeter, a childhood hero. It is Bob’s family (4 generations!) that is behind the majority of those memories that both Alex and I made growing up. Recently, after meeting at an OVIFT Networking Event, we had the privilege to interview him. Bob Graeter is currently the Vice President and Owner of Graeter’s Ice Cream and Manufacturing Co. It is our Midwesterner honor to share Bob Graeter’s perspective on the ice cream industry and his ever-changing role in product development.
History of Graeter’s Ice Cream
The Graeter’s Ice Cream Company was started in 1870 by Louis Graeter in Cincinnati, OH. Louis’ wife, Regina, helped to maintain the ice cream business with sons, Wilmer and Paul. They continued to sell ice cream throughout the Great Depression and World War II, bringing a necessary reprieve from current events. It is believed that Wilmer sneakily poured chocolate into the iconic French pot of ice cream, leading to the invention of Graeter’s signature chocolate chips that is a desired aspect of their ice cream today. As the baby boom era passed, the next generation including Dick, Lou, Jon and Kathy continued the family tradition. Into the 1980’s Graeter’s opened more franchises around the Ohio river valley and began selling pints from the Kroger Co. grocery stores. The 1990’s saw more expansion and Graeter’s began shipping ice cream all over the country. The current and 4th generation of the Graeter family, Bob, Chip and Richard, eventually took over the family business. To this day they balance maintaining the tradition of Graeter’s ice cream while emphasizing innovation. Graeter’s still makes ice cream in two-gallon batches with French Pot freezers that they began with and hand-pack every pint!1
We were lucky enough to speak with Bob about growing up in the family business, his career track, and his ever-changing role as a product developer.
As a child, Bob didn’t have a ‘grand plan’ for his future. But he was always curious and thought of himself has someone that appreciated science. Bob was quick to point out that working hard was central to his family culture. Within his household there was pressure to be a part of the family business from an early age, but he wasn’t too keen on working in the family business when he was young since he preferred to be outside playing with his friends. Before finding himself drawn to his current role in the company, Bob was interested in the world outside of ice cream and enjoyed learning about how things worked, whether it be in science, math or technology. He would try to learn as much about everything as he could, and at the time was not officially introduced to food science. In the 70s, during his college years, there wasn’t much formal education in food science like we know today (product development…etc.). Historically Bob remembers food science being more agriculture driven. He graduated from Wittenberg University with a B.S. in Biology and later pursued a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Michigan. It wasn’t until 2017, after working at Graeter’s for 27 years, that he decided to obtain a Certified Food Scientist credential (CFS) from IFT to broaden his knowledge base and validate the knowledge he has accumulated over the years. Now he asks all the kids, “Why are you not studying food science? Everyone likes to eat – people will always buy food. There is always a job for a food scientist. You can have a guaranteed job – a fun job – a good career.”
Bob agrees there will always be jobs in the food industry but roles in growing companies change a lot over the years. Initially at Graeter’s, each employee was more of a ‘jack-of-all-trades,’ but over time more specialized roles were created:
“Specific manufacturing people, specific processing people, specific quality people, specific people for our distribution, sales, marketing, administration…We’ve grown a lot and filled out our team to make it more sustainable because no one can do everything.”
Bob says he used to do much more general work but now with specialized roles and more employees he can focus on product development and ingredient sourcing only. His primary activities include developing new flavors and working with vendor partners to source ingredients.
How do you get a new flavor in the Graeter’s lineup?
“First, a new flavor needs to work in our system.”
At Graeter’s, they don’t handle the raw main ingredients, like milk fat, solids, and sugar. Instead the main ingredients are received safely pre-processed, as a mix. This ice cream base is what they add things to, like flavor, color, and inclusion pieces (for example, milk chocolate caramel truffle pieces in Chunky Chunky Hippo!). Bob will personally come up with recipes and work with the marketing and retail team to review concepts. Eventually they will run trials of 5-8 flavors for the leadership team in a weekly meeting of owners, and top-level management for sales, marketing and manufacturing, to see what resonates with them and what they suspect works in the market right now. They also consider what other chefs or ice cream companies are doing, as well as what’s trending. If everyone agrees it has potential, they will bring it out as a seasonal or bonus flavor in their retail locations first. If it sells well, then it could become its own pint and move to grocery stores as part of the seasonal or regular lineup.
An interesting point Bob noted was that different flavors cost different amounts to produce depending on the ingredients sourced for the flavor. This might be due to unique inclusions (cookie dough, toffee), however, the cash register is blind to what ice cream you are buying. All scoops are the same price. All pints are the same price – regardless of the flavor. For example, one new flavor introduced in 2016 was Cheese Crown (https://www.cincinnati.com/story/entertainment/dining/2016/03/01/new-graeters-flavor/81118018/). This flavor concept was built from a well-known Cincinnati pastry known as a Cheese Crown and was Graeter’s first flavor to incorporate cheese. But how does Graeter’s know if a flavor will last?
How do you measure success of a new flavor? When do you make the decision to turn it into a pint or full-time flavor?
Graeter’s relies mainly on their retail team feedback – what are customers buying? What are they sampling? More often than not customers buy the new flavor once, but then next time return to their classic.
“In the ice cream business – having variety allows you to generate media buzz and engagement with your customers. It starts a dialogue and a conversation. We have invested in more staff to help engage with our customers on that level.”
Most of their information on success comes from their 55 retail stores. These are their test markets and compliment their grocery store sales. First, they launch a new flavor in the stores, but if it does not sell well in the stores then they pull it before they invest in launching it to the grocery market. This is, unfortunately, the reason Cheese Crown no longer exists (R.I.P.). However, when a new flavor is successful, they will expand and manufacture it in pints. This is actually a relatively inexpensive way for customers to try a different flavor, but for Graeter’s, grocery stores are a more competitive space due to the volume and velocity of product sales required, and for them it is a more costly endeavor to launch a new flavor.
One of the more outstanding aspects of Graeter’s is that they are willing to create a new flavor even if it is not cost efficient, an exceedingly rare quality in a for-profit company. While many companies wouldn’t dare create something that did not have a comfortable profit margin, Bob really emphasized how much they enjoy their industry, saying sometimes the new flavor is just fun. Passion sometimes beats business logic and the flavor is released within retail locations.
“New flavors allow us to engage with our customers. They give us buzz and something to talk about – which essentially is free PR.”
That doesn’t mean the flavor will stay forever but they allow a new fun flavor to excite customers with the intention to eventually stop producing it, much like seasonal varieties of grocery store products (pumpkin spice!).
What are your thoughts on the influx of all the start-up companies with people who do not necessarily have a food science background?
For every company, like Graeter’s, rich in tradition and history, there are countless start-ups that break into the ice cream space without much experience, but many have made big waves.
Halo Top’s success is a notable example – one that has driven a lot of the startup movement within the ice cream sector. It is not real ice cream, though it is sold like ice cream. In reality it’s a protein drink replacement. Halo Top found a tremendously successful niche that allowed them to expand quickly as it was really hot among consumers.
Bob is not surprised or worried about this though. He says, “This really happens a lot in the ice cream space. The barriers in ice cream are really low so it is possible to do it…having long term success is really different. We have our own retail stores – so we are in a sense in control of our own destiny and our long-term success.”
“We are a real small niche business. We’re not apologizing for this creamy, handmade, artisanal ice cream. People will alternate between brands, products, and soft-serve all the time, depending on their mood. Other times you might want really indulgent ice cream. At Graeter’s, we want to be the best of the best quality and appeal to our customers. ”
Graeter’s stays true to their brand, focusing on bringing the best quality to their customers.
Bob goes on to perfectly describe what makes Graeter’s, Graeter’s.
“It’s not just ice cream, it is the experience. Graeter’s stores are a nice place to go and spend time with family, but then we also have great ice cream
“For some customers the flavors bring them to Graeter’s. For others, it might be something else.”
“It is so segmented out – there are so many different choices people are making when they come to a store.”
Bob is the first to admit that Graeter’s is an indulgent ice cream, – “high fat, high sugar, no air – full of all the good stuff.” As they’ve grown over the years, they have scaled up non-differentiating aspects of their process but have kept what makes Graeter’s high quality and unique all the same: hand packing pints using the French Pot method to keep the ice cream famously creamy and chock full of chocolate chips. They are not savory or edgy in terms of flavors like some other chains. But they differentiate well. Though it is a laborious process (hand packing 5 million pints a year!), it is what sets their ice cream apart. At their core, their brand is a hand-made product.
*Want to learn more about the French Pot process? Click here.
What advice do you have for budding food scientists?
Bob was also not short on great advice for younger generation Food Scientists. He emphasized getting real-world experience and learning how to make something from start to finish. His advice truly reflected his innate childhood curiosity in how the world around him worked. He made sure to emphasize that we, as budding Food Scientists, need to “get out of the theoretical and get into the practical.”
“Work in industry making something – see how something is made and put together outside of a lab. How does it flow, how is it distributed, what is the marketplace? Get beyond the science and into the production.”
And in case you were wondering if Bob had any more food interests, he does! Bob is an avid wine collector, a self-proclaimed wine geek. Wine, to Bob, is the embodiment of food and culture. He believes the wine and food of a region are symbiotic with one another. With Bob’s family history, I think it is safe to assume he understands how to appreciate food and culture. Wine and ice cream are also our two favorite food items!
Thank you, Bob, for allowing us to learn about the Graeter’s family history and tradition! It is safe to say that after talking about Graeter’s ice cream that we both made an immediate visit to a retail store to check out some of their new flavors, in the name of research for this blog post of course. The passion for this product is too GRAET to pass up and may everyone keep eating GRAET ice cream (we recommend the black raspberry chip!).
With so many types of yogurt-like products occupying the shelves of supermarkets, it can be overwhelming to select which one to buy. In hopes of helping you narrow your scope of selection, we have divided these products into four general categories: traditional yogurt, Greek-style yogurt, Skyr, and yogurt alternatives. By learning a little about the origin of each one and their manufacturing processes, we can appreciate our selection at the supermarket. Additionally, we want to better understand how differences in manufacturing affect the consumer experience of each product. To do this, we are providing an opinion on some yogurt and yogurt-like products that we taste-tested.
Legend has it that yogurt was created by happenchance in the slopes of Mount Elbrus where microorganisms that love higher temperatures (40-45°C) were combined into a pitcher of milk by a Turkish nomad. To this day, this product is made commercially to satisfy many hungry consumers. The bacteria in this product help to preserve it by lowering the pH, which inhibits the growth of other microorganisms that could be detrimental to the product quality and safety .
Yogurt is created from the fermentation of milk by lactic acid bacteria (Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii spp. Bulgaricus) . These microorganisms convert lactose from the milk into lactic acid, which contributes to the unique tart flavor and thick texture of yogurt by gelation of the milk proteins. Milk is the ideal fermentation substrate for these lactic acid bacteria because it is composed of water, fat, protein, lactose, and minerals as well as enzymes, organic acids, nitrogenous compounds and over 100,000 other compounds because of its biological origin .
Yogurt is typically made commercially as either set type, stirred type, or drinking type. All types are manufactured using the same basic steps. First, the milk is heat-treated in order to make it more accessible to the bacteria. This will also make the milk firmer, and reduce whey separation . Next, the milk is cooled, the starter culture is added, and the mix is incubated. In set type yogurt, the milk is incubated directly into the final packaged cups, whereas in stir type, it is incubated in a tank where additional ingredients can be added before filling into cups. Lastly, drinking type yogurt is homogenized to lower the viscosity .
Greek yogurt or Greek-style yogurt is yogurt made from skim, low-fat, or whole milk that has been strained to remove the whey. In the traditional method, yogurt, which is manufactured in the same way as regular yogurt, is placed in cloth bags and either pressed by hand or hung in a <10°C cooler until a sufficient amount of whey has drained away to achieve the desired total solids . When manufactured commercially, the yogurt is concentrated using centrifugation or membrane filtration.
The whey removed from yogurt is called acid whey because of its low pH of 4.3-4.6 resulting from the yogurt fermentation process. Acid whey is approximately 94% water. Along with water, it also contains water-soluble components of milk including whey proteins, minerals, vitamins, lactose, and lactic acid. Since whey is mostly water, removing it concentrates the yogurt and the nutrients in it. Thus, Greek yogurt has a higher amount of protein per serving and has a creamier, thicker consistency.
Strained yogurt has been a part of traditional cuisine in numerous countries in the Middle East and Europe, probably for centuries. Strained yogurt was introduced to the United States by FAGE, a Greek dairy manufacturer, in 2000. Thus, in the U.S., strained yogurt has been called Greek yogurt, even though strained yogurts are not strictly a Greek food product.
Along with FAGE, Chobani is the other major Greek yogurt manufacturer in the U.S. that spearheaded the introduction of strained yogurt to the U.S. market. Both FAGE and Chobani make Greek yogurts that are strained. However, since the rise in popularity of Greek yogurt in the U.S., many other yogurt manufacturers have come out with Greek-style yogurts, not all of which are strained. Instead, the thicker consistency that is characteristic of strained yogurt can be achieved by adding in more milk solids (milk carbohydrates and proteins) and thickeners, such as pectin or carrageenan.
Skyr originates from Iceland, where it has been made for nearly 1,000 years . Skyr, like Greek yogurt, is a strained fermented dairy product. Although similar to yogurt because both use the same cultures, Skyr is technically a skim-milk cheese because it is made with rennet, an enzyme used to curdle the milk in cheese manufacturing. Along with the traditional yogurt cultures, Skyr is also fermented by yeast. Thus, the flavor profile of Skyr is slightly different than yogurt and consists of lactic acid, acetic acid, diacetyl, acetaldehyde and ethanol . To make Skyr, skim milk is fermented with Skyr cultures at 40°C until a pH of 4.6, then is cooled to 18-20°C and is further fermented until a pH of 4.0 is reached. After fermentation, the Skyr is centrifuged using a clarifier-type separator to remove the whey.
Plant-based yogurt alternatives
The origins of yogurt alternatives are largely based on consumer demands, as consumers are seeking alternatives to dairy products including coconut, soy, oat, flax, hemp, rice and others. Because of consumer trends and dietary demands, the rise in dairy-free products has grown in the market. In 2017, plant-based yogurts increased 56% with a predicted global sale of $10.9 billion in 2019 . In particular, coconut milk, which is the liquid that comes from the coconut meat, functions as a great alternative for fermented products because it contains water, fat, protein, carbohydrates and minerals, much like dairy milk. It is prepared in much the same way as traditional yogurt by pre-heating the milk, adding the bacteria after it has been cooled and then incubating  . Because of the difference in available nutrients between dairy and non-dairy foods, a starter culture that is able to ferment the carbohydrates in the plant must be selected. If the starter culture chosen is not suited to the plant, it may lead to a bad fermentation causing spoilage or even contamination with pathogens. Lactobacillus plantarum is one example of a starter culture that can be selected for fermentation of plant-based products. Additionally, enzymes can be added during the fermentation to increase the available fermentable carbohydrates .
We used the sensory descriptors shown in Figure 1 to guide our evaluation of various yogurt and yogurt-like products that we purchased from the local supermarket. For each product, we covered each attribute: odor, appearance, flavor/taste, mouthfeel, and aftertaste. Lastly, we discussed our overall impressions of the products.
Figure 1. Sensory Descriptors used for characterizing fermented milks and yogurts (from Chandan et al. 2013)
The traditional yogurt was your standard yogurt. Nothing to write home about, but not bad either. A strong yogurt aroma overtook our senses upon opening the package. After smelling that delightful aroma, the next thing we noticed was that the yogurt had a lumpy appearance. As unflattering as that was, it was also watery, shiny and had the semblance of cottage cheese. However, despite its unappealing exterior, the flavor of the yogurt was acceptable. The most notable flavor notes were acid and a nondescript yogurt flavor. The mouthfeel was also not bad, although it was somewhat lumpy and just a tad slimy. Finally, the yogurt left a strong acidic aftertaste. Overall, this yogurt was what you would expect an inexpensive, traditional yogurt to taste like. While it did not specifically offend us in any way, it was certainly not something we would intentionally seek out.
After opening the package, we questioned its freshness due to the sour-milk odor. The appearance was thick, compact, and coarse; we could tell this was going to be a mouthful. The yogurt had no problem sticking to the spoon – making transferring it to our mouths even easier. The taste was creamy and acidic but less “yogurt-y” than the traditional yogurt. We also noticed that this yogurt was quite astringent a.k.a. it was drying our mouths out with each bite. The mouthfeel was very thick and smooth, which contributed to a very pleasant eating experience. As Mary Berry would say (we see you, GBBO fans), it was scrummy.
This yogurt was thickened with tapioca starch and gellan gum. Thickeners can vary between yogurt type based on the function the manufacturer wishes to achieve. The odor of the yogurt was mild, and the curd was very smooth and shiny. But as they say, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Despite its rosy exterior, the interior lacked character. The flavor was also mild (not as acidic as traditional) and lacked distinct yogurt notes. The texture was very light and smooth, but was also slightly gluey and stuck to our mouths as we tried to eat it. If you want to eat a Greek-style yogurt, strained, in our opinion, is definitely the way to go.
To be fair, we need to note that Skyr is not technically a yogurt, but for the sake of this article, we judged it as if it were. It was cheesy; we are from Wisconsin so we know CHEESY. Aroma aside, its appearance was similar to the strained Greek yogurt, making it pleasing to the eye. The flavor of Skyr was very sour, and we mean SOUR! If it weren’t for that, we probably would have actually liked this product. It had a fantastic, smooth and creamy texture, and the finish was refreshing and lemony. Definitely a product you should try, but maybe it’s better not to expect something similar to yogurt when you do.
The aroma of this product was chocolatey, even though it was vanilla flavored. The color was tan and the surface was shiny. The flavor was sickly sweet, but otherwise was similar to almond milk with strong almond and woody flavors. The slight sourness that came through seemed like a failed attempt to mimic real yogurt. Finally, the mouthfeel was extremely light and lacked the complexity of traditional yogurt.
Compared to the almond milk, this yogurt alternative looked more like traditional yogurt. Its aroma was pleasantly sweet with a coconut tone. The appearance could have had some improvement as it had a shiny, translucent halo to it, similar to gravy. Additionally, it was yellowish, smooth, and had low viscosity. However, anything good about this yogurt alternative stops as soon as it enters your mouth. The chalky, floury, and slimy texture was accompanied by a dirty, bitter, and possibly plastic flavor. This “treat” was finished by a bitter, rice aftertaste.
Overall, these plant-based yogurt alternatives have a long way to go before being on the same playing field as yogurt. However, in the case of the almond milk yogurt alternative, we applaud their attempt. These products do hold a place in the market for those who cannot consume dairy and we hope to see more development to imitate yogurt in the future.
We hope that the background given on yogurt processing will help you better understand the options available to you at the supermarket. Furthermore, we hope that rather than taking our word for it, our taste tests encourage you to be adventurous and try some of the many new yogurt-like products that continuously enter the market.
 Anonymous. “What Is Skyr?” Icelandic Provisions, www.icelandicprovisions.com/what-is-skyr/.
 Bylund G (2003) Dairy processing handbook. Tetra Pak Processing Systems AB
 Chandan RC, Kilara A, ebrary, Inc (eds) (2013) Manufacturing yogurt and fermented milks, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester
 FONA International (2018) Non-Dairy Yogurt: 2018 – Trend Insight Report. FONA International
 Luana N, Rossana C, Curiel JA, et al (2014) Manufacture and characterization of a yogurt-like beverage made with oat flakes fermented by selected lactic acid bacteria. International Journal of Food Microbiology 185:17–26. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2014.05.004
 Yaakob H, Ahmed N, Khairunnisa Daud S, et al (2012) Optimization of ingredient and processing levels for the production of coconut yogurt using response surface methodology. Food science and biotechnology 21:933–940. doi: 10.1007/s10068-012-0123-0
Arguably one of the most polarized questions of mankind is this: is caffeine effective on you? Some people swear by it, almost as if needing their morning coffee for sustenance; and others, like me, still fall asleep after a cup. If you find yourself in the former category, this is the culprit to blame:
Caffeine also known as 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione
A methylated derivative of the purine base xanthine found in over 60 plants. While caffeine is commonly associated with coffee, this methylxanthine is also found in tea, cocoa and sodas.
It works as a stimulant by blocking adenosine receptors, primarily two of the four A1, A2A, A2B, and A3 identified, A1 and A2A (1), from adenosine itself which is sleep promoting. Additionally, it promotes the release of the flight-or-fight adrenaline hormone, which increases heart rate, rate of muscle contraction, and the release of free fatty acids for energy (2).
Upon ingestion, caffeine is rapidly absorbed into our circulatory system, distributed to most tissues and organs, and undergoes metabolism in the liver. Now, how we process that individual-to-individual may be very different, based on physiological factors such as gastric evacuation and intestinal absorption (3). And just like with alcohol, gender and age play a role in how we absorb or metabolize these compounds. Older people are more susceptible to sleep disturbances, and males and females experience different cardiovascular responses depending on estradiol levels, which may be attributed to differences in circulating steroid hormones (3, 4). Maybe you’ve also heard that it’s from building a tolerance through habitual consumption. But the diversified responses among your peers on how much caffeine really affects them also depend on genetic factors!
Interestingly, a single nucleotide substitution at a specific location on a gene (known as polymorphism) can determine if you are a slow or fast caffeine metabolizer. During the first phase of drug metabolism which includes caffeine, cytochrome P450 acts as a catalyst for the oxidation reaction, so it’s no surprise that the gene encoding this cytochrome is reported as one of the reasons for variability in caffeine sensitivity (5). In this case, it is an A to C allele substitution at position 163 on the gene. The C allele is related to lower metabolic enzyme activity. Because the caffeine is being converted more slowly, there is longer exposure to internal caffeine levels which can seemingly amplify the effects. Conversely, 163A allele carriers experience less since they are fast metabolizers (6, 7).
Polymorphisms on another gene, ADORA2A, which controls the expression of A2A adenosine receptors, were shown to cause varying severities of caffeine-induced sleep impairment. This was measured by an increase in electroencephalogram (EEG) beta activity. Depending on genotype (C/C, C/T or T/T), EEG patterns of subjects administered caffeine during non-REM sleep could mimic that of insomnia patients. In general, polymorphisms at two locations on this gene are linked to the feeling of wakefulness or anxiety/jitters associated with the effects of caffeine. The C/C majority also considered themselves caffeine sensitive while T/T genotypes reported themselves as insensitive (1). There is an antagonistic interaction between A2A adenosine and D2 dopamine receptors that influences the dopaminergic effects of caffeine (8). Therefore, a polymorphism on DRD2, the gene for dopamine D2 receptors, was also found to affect caffeine-induced anxiety (1, 9).
As much as these factors are key determinants, it isn’t just intrinsic factors we were born with like age, gender or genetic predisposition. Things like tobacco use also reduces sensitivity of caffeine, while on the opposite, pregnancy increases sensitivity. Smokers experience about twice the caffeine metabolism than non-smokers, possibly due to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in cigarettes that increase enzyme activity in the liver. Smoking also accelerates the demethylation of caffeine, causing caffeine to have a shorter half life in the body (3, 7). The effects are thus dampened for smokers. On the other hand, caffeine in pregnant women takes a longer time to metabolize, and stays in the system for longer (3, 10).
Although caffeine may sound like it comes with unfavorable consequences (who would want to lose sleep?), low to moderate dosages can improve alertness, reaction time, attention and physical performance. If that doesn’t sell it for you, sometimes a long drive or boring class is all the reason you need to caffeinate yourself, whether that may take a cup or three, since you know it could come all the way down to the genes!
Ever wonder why your favorite latte from your local coffee store was removed from the menu? Why that burger place on the corner keeps adding new items?
When we think of food trends, it’s easy to think of Unicorn Frappuccinos and Rainbow Bagels – flashy items that have made waves by going viral. But in reality, these big trends are relatively rare. Most cultural shifts in food consumption are subtle (like the gradual rise in popularity of cold brew over iced coffee), so it can be difficult for small businesses to reliably track and take advantage of trends.
Businesses may know when to add or remove menu items due to experience, the news, or listening to their customers. Refining their offerings, however, is hit or miss and can be an expensive endeavor.
The solution may lie in a type of technology already utilized by every small business. Point of sale (POS) technology refers to the systems businesses used to accept payment from goods and services. In the past, a POS system only included a register and cash drawer. Today, POS technology is changing rapidly. New tech such as Square and ApplePay offer superior convenience and security, as well as an even bigger boon to small business – data.
This new technology may help restaurants, bakeries, coffeehouses, and other local food businesses leverage consumer data to stay on top of food trends and adjust their menu offerings accordingly.
Imagine you walk into your local coffeeshop and purchase an almond milk latte. The digital POS system will record your purchase, how much you paid for it, and when you purchased it, among other information. This data could be used on an individual level (think a virtual punch card to give you your tenth latte free), but it could also be aggregated into a report by the coffeeshop to show how many almond milk lattes were sold vs. regular lattes.
In that scenario, one business uses a POS system to get a better handle on their individual data. But these systems also provide the ability to easily pool the anonymized data from many establishments, leading to previously unavailable market insights.
Let’s go back to your local coffeeshop. They’ve heard oat milk is popular, but they have no idea what effect adding oat milk to the menu would have. They already offer almond milk, but will the demand for the two milks be different?
Your local coffeeshop can’t answer this question with their own data. But the data collected from POS systems around the country could answer it – assuming someone collects, aggregates, and interprets all that data.
When it comes to the food industry, trade organizations such as the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) are taking advantage of these data opportunities, partnering with POS tech companies to make the resulting consumer research available to their member businesses. A recent collaboration with POS provider Square resulted in four freely downloadable, fact-loaded infographics detailing consumer coffee trends in the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK.
These infographics just scratch the surface of the data available, but nevertheless offer helpful insights on topics such as latte prices, tipping practices, and the average amount of “add-ons” per coffee order.
This isn’t the only data partnership of its kind. The National Restaurant Association has partnered with American Express to create an overview of restaurant technology trends. While it doesn’t involve a trade organization, UberEATS’s Restaurant Manager Program gives participating restaurants access to actionable data and advice on “specific adjustments to improve their business.” According to UberEATS, many restaurants are using the app to rapidly and cost-effectively test and tweak new menu offerings.
Access to large-scale market research on consumer trends can help food industry small businesses make key decisions about their pricing and product offerings. By combining agglomerated data into easily accessible reports, these businesses can draw on a shared pool of knowledge for these critical choices.
In the example above, an independent coffee shop could use this data to change their cold coffee offering from iced coffee to cold brew, potentially resulting in better product positioning and more sales.
Meanwhile, these tech companies draw in new clients through the value these insights provide. They may also discover new revenue stream by offering more in-depth reports or additional consulting services.
In my opinion, data partnerships with tech companies such as Square or UberEATS offer trade associations a unique opportunity to provide their member businesses with otherwise unattainable market research. As methods for handling big data become increasingly sophisticated, it becomes ever easier to collect data from point of sale systems and other apps and present it in a usable format. While tech companies provide the agglomerated data, trade organizations can provide the industry-specific insight and guidance needed to turn this data into truly valuable reports.
Big data will always have a place in the food industry, especially as it relates to supply chain management and food safety within large corporations, but many exciting applications of big data for small businesses may still be untapped. Strategic data-based partnerships between trade organizations and data-producing companies could provide a win-win for both parties – while expanding small business access to market research and consumer insights research.