The Science

" During the frying process, fat content can increase considerably, sometimes even up to 10 times the original weight. Since consumer trends are moving towards healthier and lower-fat products, the food industries are challenged to create new foods with lower fat content while retaining yield and consumer acceptance.
Four phases of frying  
There are four phases in the frying process. These phases help explain why methylcellulose can function as a barrier. During frying, food is immersed into hot oil for a specified amount of time depending upon the desired sensory and physicochemical characteristics of the end-product.
Initial heating.  During this frying process, the temperature increases and there is little loss of moisture. This phase is called initial heating.
Surface boiling.  The second stage is referred to as surface boiling, which occurs when the heat from the oil changes the surface of the product and the free water on the surface is lost. This starts the process of crust formation.
Falling rate.  The third and the longest phase of frying is the falling rate, which involves greatest change in moisture content and oil uptake.
Bubble end-point.  The final phase is called the bubble end point in which there is no longer any heat transfer and the water loss has decreased.
The role of pressure and moisture migration  
In addition to the phases of frying, it is very important to note that the pressure between the oil and moisture in a chicken nugget is what really defines movement of these two substances. For example, positive pressure within the food product during frying causes an increase in moisture loss whereas negative pressure allows for higher oil uptake due to suction.
Yield is very important in fried foods. Even though the poultry industry is able to add up to 30% breading to make a fried product (greater than 30% are referred to as fritters), there is still considerable yield loss associated with cooking of the product.
Additionally, management of the par-fried and fully-cooked processes can impact yield. During par-frying and deep-fry cooking, moisture migrates from the meat to the outer surface of the product and can be lost in the oil. This migration causes yield loss from the product and can lead to some decrease in consumer acceptance.
Most people believe that oil uptake during the par-frying process counter balances the loss from moisture. However, in the studies we have conducted, there is always a net loss in yield during par-frying, mainly during the moisture flash off from the crust. Therefore, the loss is more than the gain.
Minimizing yield loss  
In order to minimize yield losses in par-frying and fully-cooked operations, proper management of the operation is critical. Some things to consider are batter viscosity, par-fry time and temperature, oil management, and reducing yield loss from steam after par-fry or cooking.
Lower batter viscosity can decrease yield due to lower pickup, and higher batter viscosity can increase pickup as much as 30%. Therefore, checking the viscosity by using a Stein or Zahn cup and reading the manufacturer’s instructions can optimize yield.
For yield concerns with par-frying time and temperature, the general rule is that with increased temperatures, the less oil pick-up and increased moisture loss occurs. The lower the frying temperature, the higher the oil uptake, which can produce an oily product and lead to decreased consumer acceptance. However, it is best to experiment with the set up at each facility to optimize yield and oil uptake.
Oil management  
Oil management can be critical for quality. The quality of the oil in the par-fry system will determine the quality of the product. Considerations for oil management include using filters for organic material, minimizing free fatty acids, minimizing moisture contamination, and knowing the load that each batch of oil can withstand before quality begins to deteriorate.
A final major concern in maintaining yield during par-frying is reducing steam loss after the frying stage. Once fried, the product can continue through a cook stage via oven or deep frying. Another option, in non-fully-cooked operations, is to immediately freeze the product in a spiral or blast freezer to reduce moisture loss from the steam. Even though it may seem that steam is a negligible factor for yield loss it can have a significant effect on overall plant yield when discussing large volumes of product.
Edible coatings  
With all of those good management systems in place – what else can be done to improve yield and quality of par-fried and fully fried foods? A possible answer is the use of edible coatings. Edible coatings are a thin layer of edible material that can be used on a food surface to control mass transfer of moisture, gas, aroma, and/or fats.
Methylcellulose as a coating  
Ingredients such as methylcellulose are being investigated to determine uses in fried products as an edible coating. Methylcellulose is an odorless and tasteless food grade gum, which has very good film-forming characteristics and is resistant to fat and oil transmission as well as oxygen transmission. These properties help to reduce the final oil uptake of fried foods as they form thermally induced gelatinous coatings.
Current research at Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University are exploring methylcellulose uses in other fried food items such as chicken nuggets. The objective of this research was to evaluate the effect of methylcellulose added in the pre-dust on the yield and texture of the chicken nuggets.
Increased pickup of pre-dust, batter and breading  
The results from this study indicate that methylcellulose added in the pre-dust was effective at increasing the percentage of pre-dust, batter and breading pick up by 4% to 5%.
Methylcellulose coated nuggets also had a lower moisture loss and lower fat uptake in both the core (meat only) and crust (batter and breading only) samples.
During the cooking or frying process, methylcellulose coagulates and forms a protective layer or barrier between the batter and breading and the meat. This coagulation effect binds the meat and the batter during frying and can explain the higher percentage of moisture retained in the interior meat sample.
Additionally, methylcellulose has the ability to bind up to 40 times its weight in water. Therefore, this methylcellulose layer helps prevent moisture loss from the meat and helps to prevent excess uptake of the oil.
These are very positive results indicating that methylcellulose, when added to the pre-dust, can improve yield, decrease moisture loss and decrease fat uptake.
Texture analysis  
In addition to the yield studies, texture analyses were also conducted to determine if differences existed with consumer acceptability. Creep compliance is a very sensitive test that determines textural properties of food in their natural cooking process. It measures texture under a slow progressive deformation of the product under stress (cooking).
The creep compliance (µm²/N) for this study was measured using a Dynamic Mechanical Analyzer.
No difference was observed between the texture of the control and the methylcellulose treatments. These results indicate that the chicken nuggets prepared using methylcellulose require a force similar to control to be deformed and, thus, may be associated with similar mechanical properties.
Consumer acceptance  
In addition, both control and methylcellulose samples were highly acceptable to consumers in a taste panel. Consumers did not detect any significant difference between the taste of control and methylcellulose coated nuggets. Therefore, chicken nuggets may be prepared using methylcellulose without disturbing the texture of the product."

From Sharon Gerdes:

By Sharon Gerdes

"There’s just no denying it. Americans love fried foods. From chicken nuggets for kids to breaded calamari for adults, Americans consume incredible amounts of fried foods. And in most cases, the crispier and crunchier the batter or breading that coats the products, the better they taste. In the batter and breading industry, flavors are now bolder, colors are brighter and textures have gone three-dimensional. Even the all-American french fry is no longer just fried; manufacturers first dust them with special coatings to add flavor and crispness.
“The market for batters and breadings is divided into two main categories, foodservice and retail,” says Karen VanDam, manager, texture systems group, Griffith Laboratories, Alsip, IL. The foodservice sector, which includes restaurants and fast-food chains, offers a tremendous variety of battered and breaded items, including fried appetizers, entrées and vegetables. The other side of the market is the retail sector, which primarily includes frozen products that the consumer bakes in their home oven, as well as retail breadings of the Shake ‘n Bake® variety. In the foodservice sector, batter and breading manufacturers are bringing a whole new dimension in taste and texture to fried foods. A secondary challenge is to keep these products crispy and crunchy while they sit under heat lamps waiting to be served. In the retail sector, the food formulator must create a product that tastes and crunches like something out of the fryer even though it is cooked in an oven or microwave. And while baked products can come pretty close to fried products through select modifications of the formula and process, microwave products just don’t turn out the same. With microwave products, the challenge is to create a time-saving product that is acceptable to the consumer, although different from a traditional fried item.

Batter up 
Most batters combine a dry mix and water. The dry mix generally contains 80% to 90% flour and starch. Other ingredients include oils, salts, seasonings and colors. Most batters are leavened, and are referred to as puff, or tempura, batters. These light stand-alone batters are used extensively with shrimp and fish. The industry trend is toward producing a lighter batter through selection of leavening agents and other ingredients. Generally, combining sodium bicarbonate and a leavening acid produces the desired light, open structure.

Conventional adhesion or interface batters almost always are used as a base, and then a breading is added. They act as the “glue” that holds the breading to the substrate. Typically, a dry batter mix is added to water with a lot of agitation, then held at a constant temperature and recirculated during use. “It is important for food manufacturers to maintain a consistent batter viscosity,” says Eric Shinsato, senior manager technical support, Corn Products International, Inc., Bedford Park, IL. The company has focused on developing a corn starch that offers consistent viscosity, resulting in a uniform batter coating on the finished product.

A trail of breadcrumbs

While batters may be similar to glue, breadings are compared to the icing on the cake — more than one customer has eaten the breading and thrown away the drumstick. When it comes to breadings, the crispier and crunchier the better. Fine granulations of cracker or breadcrumb results in a smooth surface; using larger granulations and a mixture of crumb types, develops dynamic open-textured crumbs. Both types are widely used, but the industry trend is definitely towards more textural variety. 

Typical ingredients in flour breaders include wheat flour, modified corn starch, corn flour, salt, coloring agents and seasoning. Flour breaders often serve as a predust or coating, and the coatings also work well on product pieces such as chicken wings. Adding the breader allows them to withstand the longer fry times required in this application without losing any flavor or consistency.

A basic commodity breading can serve as a predust to promote adhesion or as a low-cost outside coating. These generally consist of crackermeal, fine breadcrumb or straight flour, and result in a dense, hard coating.

A more complex system is a crackermeal breader. These dense crumbs result from a cracker-type formulation consisting of flour, sugar, salt and water. The dough may be fermented. It is then extruded and baked to approximately 35% moisture, crumbled and dried to a final moisture of about 8%. Crackermeal breading is sifted to standard mesh sizes. It’s commonly used on fish products, and generally fries up with a hard, crunchy texture. 

A fourth type is American breadcrumbs, or ABC. These crumbs come from fermented dough that is similar to white pan bread. Including the crust provides color highlights. The breading is generally porous and absorbs more oil and moisture than crackermeal. This product creates a crisp texture and is popular on raw-breaded or partially fried products. Again, various mesh sizes are available from fine to coarse.

For shrimp and similar products, manufacturers generally use Japanese breadcrumbs, JBC, also known as 
panko. These are prepared from bread dough baked in a special oven where electric current passes through the dough. This produces a porous crumb with a sliver-like texture and no visible crust color. JBC produces a very light and crispy breader that works well on many substrates, especially shrimp. Though light in texture, JBC crumbs have been improved to be resilient and to stand up well to machining.

Flour and starch
The most typical flour for batters and breadings is wheat flour. However, rice flour, corn flour, soy flour, malted barley flour and potato flour also may be used. A dry batter mix formula generally contains 80% to 90% flour, which is mostly wheat flour. Wheat flour with higher protein levels will increase batter viscosity and produce darker, crisper fried foods. “Most manufacturers are not looking for their flour to provide protein adhesion, so they choose flour with a protein level in the range of 10.5% to 11.2%,” says Harold Ward, manager technical services, ConAgra Grain Processing, Omaha, NE. One exception is in corn-dog batter formulation. This batter resembles a cake-donut formula in that it contains a combination of soft and hard wheat flours. These more closely resemble doughs than chicken breading, which is a simple batter.

“Consistency is very important when selecting flour for batters and breadings,” says Ward. It is important that the flour has a consistent level of water absorption and provides a consistent viscosity to the batter. If there is starch damage, alpha-amylase activity can cause batter thinning and viscosity loss. The falling-number test measures enzyme activity, and low enzyme content is important for consistent batter quality.

Corn flours generally produce a more-yellow color, while potato flours contribute a golden-brown note. Corn flour is added more often for viscosity control as the higher starch level affects the batter’s ability to absorb water. Combining other flours may provide special effects. 
Starches have traditionally been used for adhesion in batters. 
“Starches are generally selected that have a higher amylose content for better film-forming properties,” says Mike Augustine, director of food ingredient applications at A. E. Staley Manufacturing Co., Decatur, IL. They produce a crisper, stronger film, which stays intact through the fryer. Oxidized starches are used for their basic adhesion and coating, while high-amylose starches help reduce fat pickup. Batters typically contain starch levels of 5% to 30% of the dry mixture.

Staley has developed several specialty ingredients for batters and breadings. One new development in the starch line is dextrins, which have superior film-forming properties. These products also can increase shelf life on a foodservice line. Since fried items typically sit for 15 minutes or more under heat lamps, the challenge is to keep them just as crunchy as the minute they came out of the fryer. Special hydrophobic starches with less water affinity also can improve adhesion and crispness.

Quite a variety of starches can be used in batters and breadings, says Shinsato. These include common corn starch, potato starch, wheat starch, tapioca starch and high-amylose corn starch. The amylose portion improves film forming. Waxy corn starch is not used extensively in batters and breadings because of its high amylopectin content. A modified starch also can add freeze/thaw stability to a par-fried product. However, with most frozen battered items, the starch is not cooked until the product is fried, so it has little to no contribution during frozen storage. The proper starch selection also can extend floor time for batter systems.

Color and flavor explosion

A new trend in the breading industry is coating systems with different colored particulates. “Consumers tend to eat with their eyes first,” says Emmet Cook, group manager R&D for batters and breadings, Newly Weds Foods, Chicago. The particulates result from special stable spices that don’t blacken or brown in the fryer. Using colored tortilla chips as part of a breading system also adds visual appeal.

Golden brown always has been the benchmark color for fried foods. But now restaurants are demanding more variety, and colors can be as diverse as autumn leaves. Many brown and toasted colors result from Maillard reactions, and product designers also can add caramel colors to enhance brown notes in baked applications. For a redder note, paprika or oleoresin paprika can be used, and annatto can add yellow or orange notes.

Retail breading mixes frequently contain sugars and maltodextrin to hasten browning. Any reducing sugar, such as dextrose or lactose, is helpful in adding brown notes. These carbohydrates contribute appeal not only with Maillard-reaction browning, but also by adding flavor through caramel notes.

“The latest trend in batters and breadings is big and bold flavors,” says Denise Triunfol, manager product development coating systems, McCormick & Company, Hunt Valley, MD. Product development is less generic and now delivers a bigger “punch” than ever before. 
Previously, tarragon and cardamon were rarely used. Now, requests for ingredients such as these aren’t so uncommon, says Triunfol. 

Breadings frequently contain white, red and black peppers, and cayenne pepper is popular in many Cajun dishes. Salt levels may be fairly high, often in the range of 3% to 12%. Flavors also can be used, but formulators may run into flavor flash-off when the products are exposed to high fryer heat. Encapsulated flavors help to deliver bold notes that carry through the fryer to the finished product.

“Flavors are becoming bolder and there is a lot of emphasis on Latino flavors,” says VanDam. Formulations use many of the same basic flavors, but where there was pepper, now the trend is toward more pepper. 

Improved bite
Textures also are evolving. Breading manufacturers use leavening agents to achieve a light, crunchy texture. “Again, the industry is looking for more diversity in texture, and leavenings can play an important part in creating different textures,” adds Andy Oxley, R&D director for Kerry Inc.’s coatings group, Beloit, WI. Sodium bicarbonate generally is used to leaven batters; it releases leavening gases by reacting with a leavening acid such as monocalcium phosphate or sodium acid pyrophosphate. Most batters use a slower-reacting acid, because if the leavening releases gases too early, the product will have a coarse texture and the coating will absorb excess oil. An exception would again be a corn-dog coating, which uses a fast leavening so that the coating can expand before setting.

Manufacturers often incorporate several different crumb types for more textural interest. A variety of other inclusions can create a three-dimensional look. These include cereal crumbs, tortilla crumbs, potato shreds and bean thread noodles. Each adds unique flavor as well as textural and visual appeal.

Adhesion chemistry
After formulating the perfect breading, a major challenge for food companies is getting that breading to stick to the food. Adhesion is the chemical and physical binding of a coating with itself and the food substrate. A large variety of proteins, starches and gums aid adhesion. At home, mom used eggs or milk. Food formulators, however, can choose from a wide variety of proteins, including fresh or powdered egg whites, whey powders and concentrates, soy flours and nonfat dry milk. Even gelatin is quite effective at improving adhesion.

Proteins might be added at a level of 10% to 15%. Research with protein ingredients shows that products with a higher protein content are generally more effective as binding agents. Eggs are used widely, both as a batter ingredient and as pre-dips. The white’s protein improves adhesion, while the yolk’s phospholipids provide increased emulsification.

Dairy ingredients contribute flavor, adhesion and color. Typical pre-dips include milk, evaporated milk and buttermilk. Chef Emeril Lagasse selects buttermilk for its unique flavor profile in many of his recipes, including his “rock shrimp cones,” “crispy fried chicken” and “fried okra.” For adhesion, food formulators should look at whey protein concentrate, which form heat-induced gels that will assist in adhesion of batters and breadings upon heating.

Kathy Nelson, applications specialist at the Wisconsin center for dairy research, Madison, WI, suggests “a whey protein concentrate (WPC) with 34% or 50% protein for good economy. A WPC with 80% protein will result in a crisper coating.” High-gelling whey protein concentrates also are available. The lactose component of whey acts as a reducing sugar and contributes to Maillard browning. The presence of milk solids in batter significantly darkens the batter and increases redness and decreases yellowness of fried products.

Some gums form a gel upon heating, a process knows as thermal gelation. Some of these gels are heat reversible, and others, such as alginates, are irreversible. Adding gums to the batter in products such as onion rings helps bind together pieces, or to the batter improves bonding. Cold-swelling thickeners, such as guar and carob bean gum, can increase batter viscosity. Some gums also can reduce oil pickup. Gums generally are used at a level below 0.2%. Excessive use of gums can adversely affect the texture, creating a chewy rather than a crisp product, and high gum levels can also negatively affect flavor. Moisture migration from the substrate into the batter is a concern for food manufacturers, especially in seafood. Gums can help this by reducing moisture migration during frozen storage.

One ingredient that improves batter adhesion is methylcellulose. Methylcellulose should not be confused with carboxymethylcellulose, which acts only as a thickener, says Jerry Conklin, food scientist for Dow Chemical Company’s Larkin Laboratory, Midland, MI. Conklin notes that methylcellulose has both thermal-gelling and surface-active properties that help reduce batter blow-off, improve product appearance and help maintain the quality of cooking oils.

“Methylcellulose mimics egg white’s thermal-gelling properties to help the frying batter adhere to the substrate,” says Conklin. Methylcellulose promotes adhesion between the coating material and the substrate as the result of interfacial activity and the thermal-gelling binding property. The customer can select an optimal grade of methylcellulose to obtain the desired viscosity for batter-solids stabilization and coating adhesion. In certain applications, some blistering or fat holdout also may be desired.

Egg whites may create some microbiological issues, according to Conklin, especially if the product sits on a line at a room temperature of 70° to 90°F. Methylcellulose is an alternative with no microbial issues. Methylcellulose gums can be used at a level of 0.05% to 0.40% in fluid batters and 0.25% to 1.00% in a dry mix. 

Food gums, like proteins, require hydration to perform properly. Generally, it takes about four to six minutes of mixing for methylcellulose to hydrate in a cool batter system. Batters for products baked rather than fried generally contain more oil and need an emulsifier to keep the fats from oiling out. Methylcellulose, with its surface-active properties, also acts as an emulsifier in batters and therefore is an efficient multifunctional stabilizer.

Several miscellaneous ingredients also play a factor in batter structure. It has been shown that adding calcium chloride reduces oil absorption and increases batter crispness. However, beyond an optimal level, this benefit ceases.

Water is the ingredient that makes a breading into a batter. It is essential to hydrate flour proteins, and to react chemical leaveners. Generally, a level of 1.5 to 2.0 parts of water to dry mix produces a suitable batter. Most batters are hydrated with cold water, which causes proteins and starches to hydrate more slowly, thus reducing their competition for water. Beer can replace water and it “provides a unique texture in batter-fried products,” adds Triunfol. “The leavening from the CO2 reacts differently than sodium bicarbonate. The end product is a great, yeasty beer flavor and a crispy crunch.”

Make mine a triple
The total system used will depend on the pick-up desired. Again, think of the batter as a glue, “then a breading is added to give the desired texture and appearance,” says Cook. A single-pass system uses one batter and one breader. This will achieve approximately 25% pick-up. When product designers desire a higher pick-up, such as 35% to 40%, a double-pass system is employed. Layers will likely include batter, another batter and then a breading. For fried products, it’s also important not to add ingredients that take on a lot of water. Otherwise, when placed in the fryer, the water can cause a negative exchange of moisture and fat that takes off the coating. This phenomenon is referred to as blowout. Products such as cheese sticks utilize a triple-pass system to eliminate this risk, resulting in an end product that features a very uniform crust with virtually no blowout.

Products can be packaged raw; however, most battered and breaded products first go through a partial or complete cooking process. This may involve frying, baking, or a combination of the two. A par-fried steam-oven system frequently is used, which minimizes steam escape and retains product moisture, generally giving the consumer a better-eating finished product.

Reconstitution is the term used to describe the particular method of final heating. “Generally foodservice or chain-restaurant products are designed for reconstitution in the fryer. This is the easiest system to design,” says Cook. The high temperature creates excellent browning and rapid moisture dissipation, resulting in a crisp texture and appealing color.

“If a product will be fried, it will brown and crisp faster than if baked,” adds Triunfol. This means that a baked product requires different textural ingredients for increased crisping and extra browning agents to achieve the same finished-product color. One adjustment is to use toasted crumbs in a baked system. These provide more brown color and have low moisture, which allows for moisture migration to the outside of the product. Another adjustment is to add a plastic shortening in an oven batter. This melts at oven temperature to add crispness. In formulating baked products, the substrate should not lose too much moisture and dry out, so a film-forming ingredient may be applied to the substrate or batter. A final modification is to add oleoresin paprika or reducing sugars to improve color.

Many retail products are designed for oven or microwave reconstitution — these products are a bit more challenging. “A microwave cooks products from the inside out. This is the opposite of fry cookery,” says Triunfol. Microwavable breadings, therefore, must absorb and trap moisture from the substrate, so an ABC or JBC is recommended. Microwave systems also require increased adhesive functionality and moisture-retaining ingredients. Although many manufacturers list microwave instructions on their packaging, baking is generally the preferred method, and technology still can’t produce a microwaved product with the same crunch as a baked or fried item.

Bring on the substrates
A wide variety of foods, from abalone to zucchini, can be battered and fried. “Each substrate has special characteristics, such as cell structures, size and cooking parameters. Coatings are specialized for each type of food and paired with flavors that marry well with each substrate,” says Triunfol. Coatings should be modified based on the desired finished product. For example, chicken doesn’t contain as much water as fish, so chicken batters need more protein and gluten to bind the batter to the meat or skin. For a fish substrate, more starches are needed to bind extra water.

For meat, a major objective is to retain moisture during frying to increase cook yields and improve processing. Maintaining a high moisture gradient between the inside and the outside helps achieve this goal. Using polyphosphate can increase moisture retention, especially in fish blocks and similar products. It is believed that polyphosphates cause meat proteins to swell and increase their water-binding capacity. High-pH phosphates also can affect the flavor of mild-flavored meats, such as seafood and poultry, so careful selection of polyphosphates will reduce the risk of off-flavors.

The market for battered and breaded chicken pieces exploded in the ’80s. Presently, poultry takes the lion’s share of the market in the United States (in Europe, coated fish has the biggest market share). The fast-food industry continues to capitalize on chicken nuggets and strips, with the trend toward more texture in the coatings. Flavors include honey-battered, buttermilk, savory and spice marinade.

“The second most popular category in the United States is appetizers,” says Oxley. Chicken “drummies,” formed pieces of chicken without bone, are hot items in the appetizer line. The popular jalapeño poppers are also hot in more ways than one. Restaurants are looking for unique signature items, and some companies now offer a line of cold-form extrusion equipment, allowing customers to create distinctive appetizers. The technology coextrudes a sauce or filling on cold-form extrusion equipment. Examples of unique appetizers include breaded chicken with barbecue sauce in the middle and fried beef taco bites with a center of cheese and jalapeño pieces.

Breaded beef products include chicken-fried steak, beef fritters and fingers. These include single whole muscle, shaped whole muscle and patty forms. Similar pork and veal products also are available. Popular varieties include regular, extra crispy and Southwest style. The USDA limits the level of batter and breadings to no more than 30% of the finished product weight on red meat and poultry. Two exceptions are corn dogs and fritters, which can carry up to 65% coating.

When it comes to fish, just about anything that swims can be battered and fried. Battered fillets of cod, haddock and sole are popular entrées, while breaded shrimp, clams and crab cakes round out the appetizer menu. Frozen, raw-breaded shrimp should contain no less than 50% of shrimp flesh, except that product labeled “lightly breaded” should contain no less than 65% of shrimp flesh. Other breaded products, which have no standard of identity, should contain at least 50% fish flesh except that product labeled “lightly breaded” should contain no less than 65% of shrimp flesh. Other breaded products, which have no standard of identity, should contain at least 50% fish flesh.

French fries used to just be cut potatoes that were plopped into hot oil, but new gourmet lines are popular at many fast-food and casual chains. “These fries are dusted with a coating of starch, dextrin and flavors to produce a much crispier product with a different taste. Up to 10% of the formula may be dextrin,” says Shinato. However, too much dextrin can cause excessive stickiness; a cook that forgets to shake the basket while cooking the fries might end up with a loaf of french fries.

There are more than just meat and potatoes. Fried, breaded cheese sticks are popular appetizer items that require special restricted-melt cheeses. Mozzarella is the most popular cheese for frying, but Cheddar and American cheese fillings are also often sandwiched into fried vegetables and entrées. Vegetables make great candidates for breading, but some veggies, such as peppers, eggplant and zucchini, present a unique challenge. Their smooth waxy surfaces create problems in getting the batter to adhere properly. There are not a lot of new substrates, says VanDam, but new items always seem to enter the market. Recent additions to battered and breaded lines include rice balls, risotto and potato balls.

Into the fryer
A discussion on batters and breadings would not be complete without some mention of the frying process and the oils used. Cooking fats and oils vary quite a bit depending on the desired flavor, and texture and health concerns influence cooking-fat selection. Popular frying oils include soybean, cottonseed and coconut oils. Animal fats, such as butter and tallow, add flavor, but may raise issues with lowered smoke points and cholesterol concerns.

Generally, added mono- and diglycerides or other surfactants help products retain water during the cooking process. Antioxidants can help control oxidation and fat breakdown. However, these tend to dissipate over time in the fryer, especially at temperatures as high as 500°F.

The type of breading and the number of layers will affect the total fat pick-up. Typically a food might pick up around 8% fat during frying. But the oil condition and temperature also influences the amount of fat absorbed during frying. Reduced-fat pick-up also can be achieved by formulating batters with ingredients with film-forming properties. “Fat reduction was a concern five to 10 years ago, but now health concerns center around adding healthy components rather than reducing fat,” says Oxley. There has been a lot of interest in adding soy flour, soy protein and textured soy components to breadings and batters. Another possibility is the addition of omega-3 fatty acids, but this objective is not easy to achieve. The bottom line is that most consumers eat battered and breaded foods for the crunch, and not for the nutrition. "

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