This commentary was written by Walter Zuromski, CEC, CCE Practicing Culinologist/Research Chef and Leah Sarris, BS Culinary Nutritionist/Research Chef along with the Research Chefs Association.

In today’s competitive market place we all strive for product and or service differentiation. As we all know business as usual is dead! Both the marketing and operations approaches required in today’s marketplace are very different from what worked just a few short years ago. Food products today, especially in large companies are developed by cross-functional, multi-disciplinary teams. The teams now must train food scientists to have greater culinary expertise and equally it is important to train chefs to have food science competencies.

Redefining the Burger: Brie-Stuffed Turkey Burgers

This recipe makeover has challenged the product developer to prepare an all-natural turkey burger with a twist. This was to be marketed as a delicious, more nutritious, interesting alternative to typical all-beef burgers the American public has become so used to. Starting with a standard approach to creating this burger, we decided to stuff it by creating a pocket filled with soft, oozing brie cheese to create a unique sensory excitement and flavor profile that adds a gourmet twist to the finished product. This product could be sold as a refrigerated fresh or frozen retail item, packaged two or four to a tray.

There were challenges in making this work without the cheese going all over the place and getting the burger to keep its shape. In the gold standard (GS) formula, we used gelatin to hold the patties together to create the pocket. While the flavor was good, there were obvious challenges for manufacturing since in the GS formula, we peeled the rind off the brie and blended it with cream cheese to lower the cost and carry the brie flavor through the center of the burger; definitely not a task for a manufacturer.

Our assignment was to keep it natural and work with multifunctional ingredients that would deliver a great flavor, nutrients, texture, and a stable brie filling that wouldn’t melt out when cooked. So to convert this product we had some functional needs. First, we needed to focus on improving shelf life, nutritional prospects, and binding our patty better as it wasn’t as stable as we needed it to be using gelatin. The brie filling needed to be addressed as it was too runny after cooking. The last recipe issue targeted for ingredient conversion is that we found the burger to be a little dry and lacking the moisture mouth feel we had targeted. So, at this juncture, we had to begin looking at more functional food items that were natural and nutritious.

Creating a Crave-able Recipe

Our first step to creating a plant-friendly turkey burger was simplifying the brie filling. We did this by using a Natural Brie flavor as opposed to fresh brie, as the flavor has 100% usage yield and is easy to disperse. We still used cream cheese as a carrier to make a smooth texture and lower-cost product, but also added a naturally aged cheese flavor enhancer to increase the umami sensation and finished with Carrageenan to bind it and hold its shape.

The next challenge was to create a moist, crave-able, shelf-stable turkey burger. All of this was able to be addressed with one simple ingredient: dried plum puree. Although this functional item has long been known as a fat replacer in baked goods, it’s recently been getting the spotlight as a natural ingredient that has antimicrobial properties, is a natural humectant, has high fiber and nutrient content, and adds an interesting depth of flavor. This is due to the amounts of fiber, mainly pectin, sorbitol, and malic acid. Dried plum puree has also been shown to prevent warmed-over flavor typically associated with meat products. An added benefit, the dried plum helps to increase yield in finished meat products and cuts costs. This multifaceted wonder puree was definitely the way to go for our turkey burgers.

Our next area of research was figuring out how to get our two turkey burgers to stick together around the edges to create a “pocket” of brie filling in the middle. Our answer came in the form of a new ingredient from Ajinomoto, Activa GS, which uses all-natural Transglutaminase to cross-link or “glue” together uncooked proteins. We simply brushed this around the edges of the patties, pressed them together, and chilled them to bind the burger, which worked wonders in this application.

During manufacturing, we automated almost the entire process by grinding the turkey and blending it with the dried plum puree, vegetables and the spice blend in a V-Mac, and extruding this mixture onto an automated conveyor belt. We then pumped the cheese mixture onto the center of every other burger, manually applied the Activa onto the other burger, and pressed the 2 patties together. These were then transferred to the packaging line to be prepared for distribution.

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