Freeze drying is the process of preserving a perishable material by first freezing it, the reducing the surrounding pressure and heating to the point of sublimation, where the liquid passes straight from solid form to gas.
Chaucer is a major supplier of croutons and fruits for use in soups and breakfast cereals respectively to multinationals. But Ken Smith, managing director of Chaucer France, told FoodNavigator.com: “We believe there will be a similar role for snack foods”.
The company has been developing concepts in its own R&D department which it is presenting to the industry. For instance, freeze dried fruit snacks, and freeze dried ingredients as “creative inclusions” alongside other components.
While Richard Brewer, sales and marketing manager of Chaucer France, admitted “fresh is best”, when it comes to fruit, he added “we think freeze dried is the next best thing”.
“We think the technology is underutilised and that it has a very exciting future.”
Other uses could be in sweet and savoury biscuits; and since no carriers or fillers are needed, the ingredients fit in well with the natural trend.
Brewer explained that the freeze drying process retains the shape, colour and flavour of ingredients, gives a typical shelf life of up to two years, and makes the morsels instantly rehydratable. Transportation costs are considerably reduced, as ingredients are much lighter when their water content has been removed.
Moreover, there is strong evidence that the nutrient content of freeze-dried foodstuffs is unaffected by the process, making it suitable for foods that bring added nutritional benefits.
Conditions before drying takes place also have an impact, such as the ingredients’ origins, growing and harvest conditions, and even the amount of sunlight on a strawberry.
“As much to do with how you control the ingredients as how you control the process”.
Nutritional requests are “ever increasing”, the company says, whereas in the past “it has all been about look and taste”.
Freeze dried fruits have been popular in breakfast cereals for a number of years, and their visual appeal, long shelf-life and instant rehydration on contact with liquid makes them highly suitable for this use.
But Smith said that growth opportunities for cereals lies in the Far East and Eastern Europe, where increasing incomes are opening up more opportunities for packaged products.
Other innovative foodstuffs that Chaucer offers in freeze-dried format include chunks of vegetables such as beetroot, courgettes and peppers.
Freeze dried yoghurt is said to retain its probiotic activity for six to 12 months (tailing off over time); and freeze dried cheese finds uses in products like powdered soup and instant mashed potato.
Chaucer has manufacturing facilities in the UK, France and China, and has an annual turnover in the region of £70m. Its largest country sales are seen in the US, where it has a sales office.