Washington: Incorporating ginseng into food has been a challenge because it has a bitter taste, and food processing can eliminate its healthful benefits.
Now, a group of scientists has formulated low-lactose functional milk that maintained beneficial levels of American ginseng after processing. An exploratory study found the product was readily accepted by a niche group of consumers.
“Our goal was to develop low-lactose milk that could be consumed by the elderly to improve cognitive function,” said lead investigator S. Fiszman, PhD, of the Instituto de Agroquimica y Tecnologia de Alimentos (IATA), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), Patema (Valencia), Spain.
“Consumers who were interested in the health benefits of ginseng rated our product quite highly,” they noted.
Because older people frequently have trouble digesting milk products, the researchers developed a low-lactose formula. American ginseng was added, and then the milk was sterilized by ultra-high temperature processing (UHT), which prolongs shelf life. Analysis found that sufficient levels of ginseng remained in the milk after treatment to improve cognitive function as reported in the literature.
To reduce the bitter taste of American ginseng, the investigators developed samples with vanilla extract and sucralose, a zero-calorie artificial sweetener. In a preliminary study, 10 tasters with a good ability to discriminate between flavours compared low lactose UHT milk without any additives (the control) to low lactose milk with ginseng extract, vanilla aroma, and sucralose added before UHT treatment.
Both the presence of ginseng and the thermal treatment affected some sensory properties of the milk. The addition of ginseng significantly increased the perceived light brown colour in the flavoured and unflavoured samples, and was highest in the reduced-lactose milk with ingredients added before the UHT treatment.
The sweet odour was more intense in flavoured samples, but decreased slightly in the samples of milk with ingredients added before UHT treatment. Bitterness was clearly perceived in the samples containing ginseng additives, but was lower in flavoured samples, indicating that the vanilla aroma and sucralose masked, to some extent, the bitter taste caused by ginseng extract.
Consumer responses varied greatly, depending on interest in the product. 78 percent indicated that they would be likely to consume the highly digestible milk, and after tasting the product, 87 percent of them indicated they would buy the sample. 47 percent indicated they were not interested in milk enriched with ginseng, and after tasting, they gave it a low acceptability rating. However, for the 32 percent of consumers who did express an interest in the product, 75 percent declared they would buy it.
“Drinking 150 to 300 mL of this ginseng-enriched milk would provide the amount indicated to be effective for improving cognitive functions. Combined with the low levels of lactose, this makes the drink an appropriate functional beverage for the elderly,” said Dr. Fiszman.
“Among consumers more likely to consume ginseng products, the newly developed milk was well accepted. The addition of more congruent flavors such as chocolate, citrus, or coffee, could be more effective in masking non-milk-related sensory attributes, other alternatives could be investigated,” he added.
The researchers reported their study in the August issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.