Taco Bell, trehalose and the trend of transparency

by Monica Watrous
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MINNEAPOLIS — As consumers clamor for cleaner labels, more food and beverage companies are sating the demand for ingredient transparency. Taco Bell, a division of Yum! Brands, recently launched a page on its web site explaining the difficult-to-pronounce ingredients in its ground beef.

According to the Mexican fast-food chain, the product contains 88 percent beef. The remaining 12 percent consists of ingredients approved by the Food and Drug Administration that includes soy lecithin, sodium phosphates, torula yeast and trehalose.

“Taco Bell was very proactive in their approach,” said Deborah Schulz, product manager for Cargill Health & Nutrition. “This may spur other companies to do the same. They are likely monitoring social media to see how it is getting shared to help inform company strategies.”

Consumers may be avoiding ingredients they do not recognize, even if they are naturally occurring or approved for use in food and beverage products, Schulz said.

“Oftentimes consumers that are most opposed often have the loudest voice,” she said. “That’s one reason why we think that Taco Bell’s move with transparency will go a long way.”

Trehalose, a naturally occurring disaccharide, is used in Taco Bell’s beef to improve the taste, the chain said. The ingredient, which is supplied by Cargill under the name TREHA, helps maintain juiciness, reduce drip loss, round out the flavor and reduce sodium, Schulz said. Commercially, trehalose is manufactured from starch through a proprietary process.

“Trehalose has many unique functional benefits and is useful in a broad range of food categories, including bakery, beverage, snacks and more,” she said.

The ingredient may be used to enhance shelf life and quality for bakery, confectionery, frozen food, vegetable and fruit products.

“Specifically, trehalose can increase the shelf life and improve the texture of baked goods through inhibiting starch retrogradation and controlling moisture migration, improve texture and juiciness in protein-containing products by stabilizing proteins, reduce freeze-thaw damage resulting in higher quality meats, sauces and frozen desserts, and improving flavor and aroma in a variety of food and beverage products,” Schulz said.

The ingredient has been recognized as safe for use in food and beverages by major regulatory agencies.
Educating consumers about the safety and source of ingredients is a trend Schulz expects will continue.
“Being transparent is important,” she said. “Consumers are willing to dig for the information so it is better that companies have their own message and the truth out there on their own terms.”
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