"Maximum product uniformity," "more stable flavor," "Builds profits," "Our only real competition is nature," "Create a food based on carbohydrates," "Imparts richer mouth feel," "A new breakfast cereal that changes colors and flavors as you eat it," "Remarkable uniformity," "Virtually indistinguishable from real cheese."
Those were the kinds of slogans being used to sell the latest advances in engineered foods at the 34th annual conference of the Institute of Food Technologists here last week.
The concept that laboratory technology can improve on nature, which took root in the 1950s, pervades this convention of food scientists from the country's leading food companies and those who sell them the component parts. The results are what one would expect if a love for real food is not factored into the finished product. Food that would be recognizable as having come directly off a tree or out of the ground was so rare among the 290 exhibitors that one conventiongoer was prompted to describe a dried fruit and nut display as "an oasis in the desert."
This longtime observer of the IFT meetings said the exhibits usually reflect the problems plaguing the food industry at the time. "This year," she explained, "the emphasis was on the cheap." There were dozens of examples of how to substitute manufactured chocolate for chocolate from a bean; how to make cheap cuts of meat more palatable or completely substitute vegetable protein for meat protein, how to use less sweetener by using a stronger one.
In addition, according to Howard Mattson, public information director for the IFT, more equipment for analysis of engineered foods is being shown because the Food and Drug Administration is looking more closely at both old and new food additives. Mattson said, "The new regulatory atmosphere makes it important to have instrumentation for analysts."
Some of the booths, staffed by white-coated men, did look like chemistry laboratories. Beautifully colored liquids going plop, Plop, fizz, fizz, spinning, twirling, rotating in little test tubes. Computers, calculators and other electronic wizardry to calibrate the composition of a product within parts per billion.
Mattson said there was also greater emphasis on what he called "natural flavors and natural colors" because "consumers are expressing greater and greater interest in them.
"There's a possibility in six, eight, 10 years that there won't be any synthetic dyes," Mattson said.
Synthetic dyes, those made from petrochemicals, have come under increasing fire lately as either potentially hazardous or insufficiently tested. A French company was selling powdered grape skins as a substitute for the now banned Red No. 2 and No. 40 artificial dyes. Others are selling beet extracts.
One of the newest technologies being touted was the "encapsulation" of flavors. Since the oil that carries the flavor is volatile, being able to capture it and keep it is supposed to ensure that the flavor is retained, an exciting concept to a food technologist when viewed as a triumph of science over nature. After all, if flavors and colors can be consistent, the finished product will be consistent. To a company that manufactures food this is preferable to the natural product, which has the bad grace to come in different degrees of color, flavor and even size. It also will be cheaper.
But even with the myriad of flavors being displayed, the overriding taste sensation at the exhibit was sweetness.
It didn't make much difference whether the food was a dessert or main dish. The various products extended, or made solely from textured vegetable proteins, the meats and fish, were sweet. Sweetness is, of course, a great aid in disguising either unpleasant taste or absence of taste. The beef stroganoff made from soy protein by Archer Daniels Midland, one of the largest processors of soybeans, did not taste of sour cream or of beef. It was simply sweet.
The flaked and formed "steaks" and "roasts" made by Griffith Laboratories from a low grade of beef - utility - and extended with vegetable protein were sweet.
Americans have a seemingly insatiable sweet tooth. Experts say they will react positively to things that taste sweet even if they should taste of something else.
To further feed the sweet tooth, there were several exhibitors showing the new high-fructose sweetners. The substance is from 10 to 60 per cent sweeter than sucrose, so less of it is needed to achieve an equal degree of sweetness. It is being promoted as an alternative to saccharin for calorie-reduced foods.
Also in the sweet category were the many different ways of achieving a chocolate-like effect without using chocolate. What consumers see in the stores today in the way of synthetic chocolate is a fraction of what will be coming on the market in the near future. Some of the products had faint chocolate-like tastes; others were merely sweet.
But for a truly bizarre taste, one had only to sample a warm, soft pretzel flavored to taste like a hot dog.
Over at the McCormick & Co. display, tomato extender was being featured. It is used to extend foods in which tomato is the predominant flavor. It contains no tomato.
ITT-Continental is dreaming up new ideas for its alpha cellulose, popularly known as wood pulp. Currently it is being used in the company's Fresh Horizons bread. At the exhibit hall it was being served in a corn snack. One of the people in the ITT booth promoted it as a good way to get fiber in a snack food.
"Bitsyns" is the brand name for Pillsbury's fake walnut, pecan, bacon, chocolate, cheese, onion-garlic and fruit flavor chips. The advantages of the nut substitutes, according to the promotional literature, include a lower costs and the lack of foreign matter such as insect fragments found in real nuts.
Amoco, which ordinarily feeds your car, is now prepared to feed your body with a substance called Torutein. It is a yeast grown as a "pure culture on food grade ethyl alcohol . . ." It "facilitates machinability," covers sorbitol flavor," "mimics fat" and "imparts richer mouth feel."
For those who worry that natural foods may disappear from the face of the earth to be replaced by those that come from a test tube, Tenneco West, a part of the Tenneco conglomerate, had encouraging news: bumper crops of almonds and pistachios are coming up. And according to a company spokesman, "Unless they've repealed the law of supply and demand, prices should come down."
And there was peanut butter being dispensed in toothpaste-like tubes. Tubes are used throughout Europe for many foods but so far only anchovy paste is sold in tubes in this country. The manufacturers want to expand the market.
Anheuser-Busch has found another use for barley - as an extender for coffee.
Frozen yogurt was almost as popular as the fake chocolate. To those who think of yogurt as a natural food, the frozen varieties, with their fillers and artificial flavors, would be a disappointment.
While the 7,000 conventioneers sampled the new products on the exhibition floor, watched a magic show, carted off goodies such as pot holders personalized in Japanese, luggage tags personalized in English, candy bars, ball-point pens, combs and a stack of literature that could rise two feet in the air, a ritual of another sort took place outside the Philadelphia Civic Center.
The Center For Science in the Public Interest awarded its sixth annual Bon Vivant Vichysoisse Memorial torphy, a banged-up old garbage can, to General Foods. The award is given each year to a major food company which, in the words of the center's codirector, Michael Jacobson, "encourages bad eating habits."
Jacobson said the company won the award because it has been "getting schools and PTA's to encourage children to buy Kool-Aid and Post cereals and give the boxtops to the school, which can redeem them for cash or sports equipment.
He said that many of the Post cereals "are loaded with sugar."
Generals Foods did not pick up its award, but later a spokeswoman said: "Dr. Jacobson's timing is bad. He should have done this on April Fool's Day."