KEY INTERVIEW: Unicorn Grain Highlight Texture Needs in Protein Enriched Foods

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15 May 2017 --- On the constant mission to assign the right texture characteristics to each type of savory snack, meal component, bread or batter Unicorn Grain Specialties B.V. has gathered a deep understanding of texture. The highly innovative company produces ‘tailor-made-textures’ out of natural grains, seeds and pulses for the health and traditional food markets.

FoodIngredientsFirst caught up with Unicorn’s commercial director René Coenen at the Headquarters of Unicorn Grain Specialties B.V. based in the Netherlands. Coenen explained the arrival of interesting new product developments, the company’s investment in the BiTex Development Center as well as Unicorn Grain’s unique language of texture used in its “Texture Map”. This map shows 20 different definitions of how a product delights the senses of the mouth, posing questions like “Is it sticky or crunchy? “Does it melt quickly?” Is it easy to eat?” and many more. 

Unicorn Grain is also a leading expert in naturally processed grains with its Presco Food range including a uniquely broad portfolio of puffed grains with a very high level of uniformity. This has many applications to enrich the likes of cereals, breads and pastries, granola bars and meal components.

“We see trends in the market such as natural, clean label, health & wellness, protein fortification, and of course the rising demand for protein enriched foods like snacks for example,” says Coenen, who has been with the company since 2014.

“We have a BiTex production line here that is based on the protein enriched process, and we are currently working on a wider program of heat treated pulse flour,” he adds. The BiTex line is relatively new, with Unicorn starting to use the trademark name for its functional flour at the beginning of 2017. 

Coenen notes: “It can be either heat treated or extruded and flour can come from grains or pulses. It can be used in applications such as bakery, snacks and breakfast cereals. In terms of functional flours, there is a focus in bakery, snacks and fine bakery alongside applications for batters, soups and sauces. ”

Mapping Out Texture
Recently, Unicorn Grain also commissioned a new texture analyzer; a viscosity analyzer and volume measuring equipment. The result is that Unicorn Grain has summarized its own unique language of texture in a three-dimensional texture map with 20 different definitions of what a product does to the mouth, which goes beyond taste alone.

The company has the texture map as a source of inspiration for conversations about texture, characteristics and differences, as well as wishes and ideas. The idea is to achieve the type of texture clients are looking for. Co-creation is “key” to this success. 

Unicorn Grain believes that through the power of collaborative thinking and working, identifying the right texture is a decisive factor in the success of any food product and it’s vital to be able to discuss texture.

According to Coenen, the texture map helps to achieve this. Coenen describes some of the terminology that is used under headings including “roughness”, “smoothness”, “fragileness”, “first bite”,” crispness”, airiness” and many more. 

Presco Food Range
An additional type of production is where Unicorn “puffs grains” for use in breakfast cereals, meal components, bread and granola bars to name a few. This is the company’s Presco Food Range. 

“The kind of grains that we puff here are usually the ancient types of grains, such as quinoa, millet and spelt, for example. All these different types of trendy grains are perceived to be very healthy or a ‘superfood’,” he says.

Thanks to the increasing use by celebrity chefs and foodie trendsetters, the market for ancient grains in general is picking up driven by a definitive rise in consumer interest. 

Coenen goes onto explain the advantages of using “puffed grains” and how they impact texture: “It gives it more volume; texture is the most appealing thing with puffed grains. If it is not puffed, the grains can be very hard to consume and digest. If you puff it the carbohydrates are easily digested,” he says. 

“In terms of technology, we have our special Presco production line for this, and Presco is basically pressure cooking the grains. It’s based in the Netherlands and it’s our own design process, however there are other companies that are using similar technology,” notes Coenen. 

“We claim to be the producer with the best quality. We talk about particle science solutions; we have the widest offering of different of grains. You can use these in rice mixtures. For example if the rice needs to be cooked in eight or nine minutes, we are able to give the puffed grains the right density to be optimized in the cooking process of eight or nine minutes with the rice,” he adds.

Coenen emphasizes that no additives are used, all grains are 100% natural, and even the processes the company utilizes is all natural: there is no usage of chemicals or additives on site.

Rise in Demand for Protein-Rich Food
Unicorn Grain is currently witnessing a rise in the demand for protein-enriched food, particularly in the snacking food sector. Their portfolio of products within the BiTex product line are based on protein rich pulses - and the company is currently working on a wide program of heat treated pulse flour and later this year plans to launch BiTex Nuprotein.

However, before that, there’s the launch of a new product: BiTex Tenderness, a clean label solution that is completely natural and improves the initial freshness of toast bread by up to 15 per cent. Due to its improved water consumption (on the dough), it becomes a cost efficient solution to create freshness and extend the shelf life of toast bread and has very good compatibility with commonly used enzymes. According to Coenen, Unicorn Grain also plans to work on other applications for BiTex Tenderness including muffins and bakery items.

When asked where the company sees most potential for growth, Coenen replied: “Protein enrichment is an area where we see great potential. People in the market tend to start buying products with at least 20 per cent protein inside. We are always looking into different kinds of pulses because it is known that they have higher protein content and if we can give them a heat treatment, then it can be used in any kind of application.”

“The BiTex functional flour line is our newest innovation,” he continues, “And we make the combinations of different flours, to see how we can come up with some new innovative viscosity profiles. That is one area that we are working towards. It’s a daily activity and occurrence for us to find new novel types of grains. And the most exciting part is finding out what role they can play in our various applications.”

In terms of expansion and development plans, Coenen explains the company has plans to upgrade its production capacity as well as expand its BiTex development center as an application knowledge center.
 
“Very recently we invested in new application and measuring equipment so we look forward to expanding this even further, however, there are no official goals yet to do so just yet. For the time being it’s still early days but we certainly hope to see some development next year,” he finalizes. 

by Gaynor Selby and Elizabeth Green

Unicorn Grain Specialties B.V.

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At Unicorn, young and experienced staff work cooperatively in the chain creating healthy ingredients for various applications. We feed more than 150 million people worldwide; in doing so, Unicorn contributes to producing sustainable and healthy food. For more than 100 years we have been working passionately at creating ingredients for the Food-, Feed- and Petfood industry.

When it comes to the functional application of grains, seeds and legumes, Unicorn is a specialist in many different fields. We are experts on two fields in particular – if we do say so ourselves – these being texture and nutritional value.

UNDERSTANDING TEXTURE
We have developed a language comprised of terms that accurately describe the effect that texture has on food experience. Using this texture language, you will instantly understand what a new or existing product does and recognize its added value. Understanding texture means speaking and thinking in texture.

ENHANCING NUTRITION
Unicorn has carried out nutritional studies for its customers for many years that exactly describe the effect of the nutritional value of its products. This experience and know-how enables you to immediately understand what a new product does, and its added value is instantly clear. Understanding food means thinking and talking in terms of nutrition.

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