If the mainline of your brand is ready-to-eat meals, your food innovation team is likely always on the hunt for ways to bring fresher, faster food to your consumers without compromising taste or safety.
Sous vide may just be the solution you’re looking for.
An excellent method of ensuring both the taste and safety of meat and veggies in easy-to-serve RTE meals, sous vide (a French term meaning “under vacuum”) is one of several innovative food technologies sweeping across the restaurant and food processing industries.
The sous vide cooking method involves placing food sealed in special plastic bags into water that has been heated to a lower than normal cooking temperature, usually no higher than the intended end temperature of the food itself.
By cooking RTE meals evenly in this manner, sous vide guarantees that the interior of foods are adequately cooked and the exterior does not suffer overcooking which means that food retains its natural moisture and flavor without the potential for illness caused by bacteria in undercooked food.
6 Major Benefits of the Sous Vide Cooking Technique
1. Vacuum-packed food that has first been cooked using the sous vide method allows for easy reheating, shortening the amount of time that must be spent preparing a meal— a factor that can do much to improve customer satisfaction whether food is being prepared at home or in a busy restaurant kitchen.
2. Food shrinkage with sous vide is reduced by as much as six percent—compared to 30 percent seen in other methods that cook at higher temperatures.
3. Even cheaper cuts of beef and pork are tenderized through the slow, low-heat process of cooking sous vide.
4. Because flavors are naturally enhanced, sous vide cooking allows you to cut back on sodium, oil, fat and other additives—which means your RTE meals are healthier than the competition.
5. Nutrients are often depleted when cooked at high temperatures. Ready-to-eat meals cooked using sous vide keeps water-soluble antioxidants and vitamins that otherwise would be lost in steam or cooking liquid intact.
6. This kind of indirect cooking extends the shelf life of ready-to-eat meals. As packaged foods have been vacuum sealed prior to cooking, no additional preservatives or are needed for meals that have been cooked sous vide.
Investigating Other Types of Food Preservation Techniques
When most Americans hear the words "food preservation" today, they immediately think of chemicals and additives injected into food prior to or during packaging to prevent the food from spoiling and becoming toxic. From humectants, BHA, BHT, sodium nitrate, sulfites and sodium benzoate— consumers are becoming all too aware of the artificial preservatives and additives (like fillers, synthetic flavor enhancers, and dyes) that are being used in frozen, canned and dried foods to extend shelf life and make them look more appealing to consumers.
Your customers want fresher food with fewer preservatives, and if you don’t have the setup for sous vide, it may be time to revisit traditional food preservation techniques that saw us through the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s: drying, curing (salting), sugaring, pickling and smoking.
Or you could look into other innovative food technologies that major manufacturers and suppliers are using today to great effect like irradiation, modified atmosphere, controlled atmospheric storage and nonthermal plasma.
One interesting new experimental method is a low-temperature alternative to pasteurization called "pulsed electric field electroporation" which processes cells using short pulses of powerful electric fields to treat foods without cooking them. Although a few studies have found that PEF does preserve food nutrients, the effects of this high-tech pasteurization method on the chemical aspects of foods needs to be better understand before PEF can be widely utilized.
Whatever method you choose to explore—whether you’re moving forward with sous vide or recapturing the craftsmanship of yesteryear with smoked and salted foods—you can’t afford to stand still as others innovate around you.