To determine whether ethyl cellulose gels could produce similar textures in frankfurters, the researchers made their own from scratch. In large food processors, they mixed chopped meat and spices. To some batches, they added the usual beef fat, which is leftover from slaughtering processes. In other batches, they mixed in an equivalent amount of the ethyl cellulose and canola oil gel. Then they ground the ingredients together and extruded the batter into hot dog casings, and cooked them.
The team subjectively compared the frankfurters' textures using a jawlike machine that compresses food between two plates. As the device squishes a sample, its resistance indicates how chewy it is—a property based on hardness, cohesiveness and springiness. When saturated fats were replaced with canola oil alone, the frankfurters were 30 percent harder and twice as chewy as regular franks. In contrast, when the canola oil was gelled with ethyl cellulose, it could replace saturated fats in the frankfurter without significantly impacting hardness and chewiness. Marangoni said he has reproduced these results in sausage.
Because beef fat makes up roughly one third of a sausage, Marangoni doesn't think his team will be able to remove all of the beef fat, yet still maintain a desirable taste. But he does think that he could halve the saturated fat content. And because one Oscar Mayer beef frank contains seven grams of saturated fat (or 36 percent of an adult's daily recommended intake), this reduction is significant. The tinkering comes with a slight increase in cost, but for people with high cholesterol, it might be a small price to pay in order to eat sausage once in awhile, Marangoni says.
Flöter says that ethyl cellulose gels may not be able to replace saturated fats in softer foods such as ice cream, but he adds: "I think they have cracked the nut for frankfurters. Ethyl cellulose is a very good tool to have in our toolbox."
The U.K. branch of candy bar–maker Mars recently bought the patent for ethyl cellulose gel. Several other British companies are exploring the gel's use in meat products, Marangoni says, which could come on the market within a year.