Coating with a culinary twist

by Donna Berry
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almond flour and almonds
coatings were applied prior to frying or baking to create a seal. Today they are flavorful and textural as well as functional.

Breadings, batters and glazes are used on everything from nuggets to schnitzel to wings. These coatings not only add color, flavor and texture, in some instances they boost nutrition and others extend shelf life. They can transform an otherwise simple protein, easily and often economically, into a culinary adventure appealing to today’s consumer who craves excitement.

Critical to that transformation is proper delivery. Coatings must completely cover the product. Batters and breadings must not be soggy; glazes should never be sticky or gummy. If a flavor profile is promised, it better deliver.

A tasteful adventure

Historically, coatings were applied prior to frying or baking to create a seal, locking in juices to prevent the food from drying out. Today, they are just as much functional as flavorful and textural.

“Many flavors have historically been difficult to convey in coatings because of the extreme heat the products are subject to during baking or frying,” says Chris Rodrigues, culinary scientist with LifeSpice Ingredients in Chicago. Instead, flavor was delivered via topical sauce or gravy by the cook, or condiment by the consumer.

“But new heat-stable systems allow for the development of coatings that deliver a punch of flavor,” Rodrigues says.

These systems often supplement the flavor of identifiable particulates – such as dried herbs and pepper granules – that are increasingly being used in coatings for visual appeal. These particulates tend to lose flavor intensity over time. In some cases, it is economically or functionally impossible to achieve the desired flavor using these real ingredients. That’s when heat-stable systems, including flavors and inclusions, can assist.

“We can use flavors that mimic the fresh notes of these ingredients,” says Christopher Warsow, corporate executive chef at Bell Flavors & Fragrances in Northbrook, Ill. “We put these into the pre-dust to protect them as much as possible from hot frying oil. We can also use encapsulated or spray-dried versions of flavors. This protects them during cooking, allowing for their release during eating.”

Formulated inclusions can function as “flavor bursts” in all types of coatings. With such fabricated bits, layers of flavors can be combined into one ingredient – think buffalo wing particulate complete with hot sauce, blue cheese and celery stick flavors. Such a flavored bit can be combined with a whole grain breading and applied to a baked boneless, skinless chicken strip for a better-for-you version of the typical fried wing appetizer.

Such inclusions also contribute to visual appeal, according to David Shen, manager of research and development at Parker Products in Fort Worth, Texas. “Some of our concepts focus on the growing Asian, Indian and Latin flavor profiles,” he says. “We can develop our products to withstand the temperatures and moisture conditions of manufacturing processes and shipping conditions. This can involve encapsulating our products to provide a moisture barrier, or developing products to withstand high-temperature frying.”

Some particulates such as cheese shreds and vegetable pieces have a tendency to discolor during baking or frying. Again, this is where inclusions are useful.

“We have experience designing inclusions that deliver texture and maintain color, like those associated with savory ingredients such as cheese, bacon or various peppers,” says Tracy Schrepfer, lab manager at QualiTech Co. in Chaska, Minn. For on-the-go convenience foods, breading inclusions can be formulated to incorporate condiment flavors such as ketchup, soy sauce and even sriracha.

The flavors of beer, wine and spirits are making their way into coatings. The challenge in working with real alcohol is that along with alcohol content, flavor volatiles are lost with exposure to heat.

Beer-battered proteins, particularly those that are craft beer battered, are big right now, according to Garth Vdoviak, product development manager for Mizkan Americas in Mount Prospect, Ill. Using real beer in the batter has some advantages.

“Using beer as the main liquid in a batter helps the outside batter stay crisp and the protein inside stay juicy,” he says. “Beer as a base adds foaming agents, carbon dioxide and alcohol. The foaming agents create insulation against the heat, so when the battered proteins go into hot oil, the batter cooks quickly while protecting the protein inside.”

Using real beer in batter may provide functional benefits; however, to achieve the desired intensity of beer, flavor extracts or concentrates need to be added. The same is true with other alcohols, for example, a bourbon whisky kebob glaze.

These ingredients often come in the form of alcohol reductions, which are prepared using heat to cook off the alcohol and most of the water, all while retaining volatiles. The reduction has an extremely concentrated flavor profile, rendering it a very cost-effective ingredient, especially in a glaze.

Going for the grain

beer-battered fish
Pulse flours used as breading can provide added nutrition. (Photo: Blue Diamond)

The grains used in batters and breadings can also provide culinary excitement, with many adding nutritional value. “Flours made from ancient and sprouted grains are trending because they have more flavor than typical white flour,” says Zack Sanders, marketing director with Ardent Mills in Denver. “Depending on the grains, it is possible to offer an impressive range of nutritional benefits and distinctive flavor profiles, from rich molasses-like sweetness to roasted popcorn notes.

“A blend of ancient grain flours with seed inclusions can be added to batters or as a topical finish for a granular appearance and uneven, crunchy texture, which brings a little more visual interest to the exterior,” Sanders says. “Sprouted whole wheat flour has a slightly sweet undertone, which may be hard to detect with high-heat frying but adds a subtle difference to coated and baked products.”

Nathan Holleman, vice president of marketing and sales with Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients in Nashville, NC, says, “Sweet potato breading adds a mild sweetness and a pleasing roasted note to meat and poultry. Breadings with dehydrated sweet potato granules are particularly appropriate for products with Latin, African or Filipino flavor profiles, as all these cuisines employ the sweet potato.” And there’s an added bonus, sweet potato flour and granules are gluten free.

Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill., offers a portfolio of pulse flours and proteins that can be used to replace wheat flour in coatings. “Pulses include lentils, peas, faba beans and chickpeas,” says Callen Sistrunk, business scientist for batters, breading and meat applications. “They are non-GMO, gluten-free, low allergen and a major source of protein and fiber. Pulses can be combined with other ingredients, such as starches and non-gluten flours, to replicate the functionality and characteristic texture of wheat flour-based batters and breadings.”

The extra nutrition that pulse flours provide makes battered and breaded proteins more appealing to health-conscious consumers. The inherent flavor of many pulses also complements the taste profile of many ethnic cuisines, most notably Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, adding authentic flair to the recipe while also improving the nutrition profile.

“Traditionally soy protein was used to increase the protein content of breaded patties and nuggets, especially in products designed for child nutrition,” Sistrunk says. Ingredient application work shows that pulse flour-based breadings can deliver more than double the protein content than that found in wheat flour formulations.

“These gluten-free batter systems contain a blend of pulse flours and pulse proteins, such as yellow pea semolina flour and faba bean protein,” he says. “In a battered and breaded chicken portion, the overall protein content is increased by 40 percent.”

Nut flours are also increasingly being used in coatings, as they provide unique flavor profiles as well as nutrition, while also being gluten free. “For example, finer granulated almond flour works perfectly in light breading that can be found on schnitzel and breaded chicken. It can even be used in batters,” says Angie Raimondi, product marketing manager for Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division in Sacramento, Calif. “Almond flour with courser granulation functions like larger-sized breadcrumbs such as panko. Optimal applications are for fried chicken and chicken parmesan. Almond flour with courser granulation is also surprisingly crunchy when fried and, unlike traditional breadcrumbs, will not get soggy after sitting for a while.”

Including rice bran, which is also gluten free, in coating systems can provide a number of benefits to the finished product. According to studies conducted by RiceBran Technologies in Scottsdale, Ariz., rice bran can assist with reducing oil pickup, which helps lower fat calories, and reduces off-flavor development from fat oxidation in longer shelf life heat-and-eat products.

Glazes galore

glazed ham
A glaze can be useful to introduce consumers to new cuisines.

Granulated grains, nuts and tubers might define batters and breadings, but they are typically not part of a glaze, which is a viscous coating applied during cooking.

“Glazes are basically edible films that act as a protective barrier against meat dehydration,” says Liming Cai, applications and research scientist at MGP Ingredients Inc. in Atchison, Kan. They deliver a glossy finish with enhanced flavor and color.

“Most Asian cultures have some form of sweet and spicy glaze that is applied during cooking,” Warsow says. “My favorite example is crab that has been cooked Vietnamese style, Cua Rang Me.”

The glaze used in the Cua Rang Me recipe is a mixture of fragrant herbs, including Thai basil and kaffir lime leaf, along with tamarind, garlic and sweet chilies. “It has a typical Thai profile that balances sweet, sour and heat,” Warsow says. “The crab is cooked with the glaze until it is crunchy and set. This glaze could easily be applied to pork or chicken that has been par-fried.”

A glaze can be a useful tool to introduce consumers to new cuisines. For example, though increasing in popularity, Indian cuisine remains an acquired taste for many traditional American palates. “Some authentic Indian preparations can frighten the uninitiated, but we can take the main flavor drivers of Indian cuisine and apply them to proteins via a glaze,” Warsow says. For example, think Tandoori chicken glaze.

Regardless of the coating – batter, breading or glaze – it’s imperative that the coating adhere to the protein. This can be challenging as processors explore the use of new flours and flavoring systems, as these ingredients can influence pH, moisture and other variables, which all impact coating adhesion, according to Jim Anderson, business development manager for the Americas-meat, poultry, seafood with ICL Food Specialties in St. Louis. Cooking styles and even packaging can impact coating adhesion.

“Today’s processing industry is very different than just a decade ago as a result of changes in animal husbandry, cook temperatures, and product handling and distribution,” Anderson says. “Careful consideration must be utilized when selecting functional ingredients for optimum coating performance.”

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