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Volume 84 Issue 35 | p. 64 | Newscripts
Issue Date: August 28, 2006

Fun-flavored string cheese, please, Funny honey is all the buzz

Department: Newscripts

Fun-flavored string cheese, please

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Credit: Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research
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Credit: Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research

Some people, when they were children, clearly ignored their parents' pleas to stop playing with their food. Good thing, otherwise we might be missing out on innovations such as watermelon cheese.

Researchers at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, located at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, are trying to make calcium-rich cheese more appealing to growing youngsters. John Jaeggi and his colleagues in the Cheese Industry & Applications Program thought flavored string cheese might be the way to go. And not any old flavors like herbs or garlic, mind you, but kid-approved "fun" ones like bubble gum and banana.

Jaeggi's group originally wanted to try strawberry flavoring but ran into some pH troubles. Berries typically have a low pH, and their flavors express well in food products with a similar pH, such as yogurt (about 4.7). However, string cheese has a pH of about 5.2, which "takes away much of the strawberry flavor," says Jaeggi. He points out that the protein concentration in cheese will also often mask flavors. Lowering the pH of the string cheese wasn't an option either. At a pH of 4.7, string cheese would have a very soft and pasty texture, losing its stringy appeal.

So the group abandoned strawberry and moved on to more neutral-pH flavors such as watermelon, cotton candy, bubble gum, green apple, and banana. They used sucralose and artificial flavorings to achieve the desired tastes, but the wild colors are all natural. During trials, kids were able to distinguish the different fun flavors, though they could still taste the cheese itself as well.

The group concluded their research earlier this year, and Jaeggi says they are currently working with an unnamed processed cheese manufacturer to get the flavored string cheese to stores, possibly by next year. The main hurdle now is trying to extend the shelf life of the cheese. Currently, the fun-flavored string cheese can be stored in refrigeration for about four weeks. Jaeggi would like to see the shelf life extended to two or three months.

Funny honey is all the buzz

Honey, while a worthy sweetener, has had trouble overcoming its stickiness reputation. Just ask Winnie the Pooh. The National Honey Board, however, is constantly looking for ways to make honey more popular among the masses.

The organization contracts with various food developers such as Foster City, Calif.-based Mattson & Co. to develop and promote new forms of honey. One potential alternative to honey's traditional golden goo was a granular version, but the end result always stuck to itself. Then came the less sticky, quick-dissolving solid honey wafer.

Charlotte Jordan, project manager for the National Honey Board, explains that honey is naturally composed of about 17% water. To create a solid wafer, honey is heated in a vacuum evaporator, where moisture is vacuumed as it condenses, until nearly all of the water is gone. Mattson contracted California Polytechnic State University's vacuum evaporator to create solid honey samples. About the size of a quarter, the wafer dissolves in hot liquids within 90 seconds.

Primarily meant as a hot beverage sweetener, the wafer could also find use as a candy or throat lozenge. Jordan says a prototype of a throat-soothing version of the wafer is flavored with lemon and menthol.

The Honey Board has other prototypes it would also like to see on the market, such as a honey-based balsamic vinegar. Made from honey instead of grapes or wine, the balsamic vinegar is sweeter than its traditional counterpart and is sulfite-free. Other new honey forms include Heavenly Honey—a shelf-stable whipped honey similar to marshmallow fluff—and honey-based dulce de leche.

The honey wafer received positive responses at food trade shows and on consumer feedback panels, Jordan says, but it still needs to find a manufacturer before sweetening beverages and soothing throats across the world. The future looks sweet, though, for Jordan says a few companies have already expressed interest in the product.

 
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