I couldn’t help smiling at the recent Wall Street Journal article highlighting food companies’ extensive research into developing the "perfect" bubble.
According to the article, Nestlé's food scientists (among others) are feverishly at work in their laboratories to “help perfect the froth of a cappuccino, the fluff of an ice cream or the texture of a skin lotion.” One company even paid for a spot on a space simulation plane to test the stability of the bubbles in a sample of a potential new product.
The company told the Journal that the stability of the bubbles can improve the taste, texture, and shelf life of certain products. And, the newly created bubbles will help the companies “meet the growing demand for healthier products.”
I don’t consider myself a cynic, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the air bubble research isn’t motivated primarily by a driving desire to improve taste, texture, or even the health of food products. Perhaps the interest driving this research is because air bubbles are…well…air.
The air ingredient
A colleague once told me that all commercial food products are comprised primarily of four ingredients. Air was at the top of the list because air is free. The more air in a product, the fewer actual ingredients have to be included. The list continued with water (nearly free), followed by a key ingredient (for marketing purposes), and then a lot of “stuff, stuff, stuff.”
Don’t get me wrong, I have no objection with air in my food products. I enjoy a good frothy head on the cold beer I occasionally sip, and hearth-baked ciabatta wouldn’t taste very good without those big air bubbles in the loaf.
But let’s not tout this research as a drive to create healthier products by replacing sugar and fat with an equal volume of air bubbles. After all, those air bubbles can also displace an equal volume of protein and vitamins.
This new research may create frothier cappuccino and lighter ice cream, but it isn’t quite on the level of research into the human genome.
In fact, let’s call it what it is: Hot air about selling air.
Dave Carter studied journalism at University of Northern Colorado but found his true calling working with farmers and ranchers at the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union for 25 years. He’s now the executive director of the National Bison Association.