Did you know that there are an estimated 51 million pets in the UK? From Great Danes to Goldfish, we Brits truly are a nation of pet lovers. As any pet owner will know, certain animals – especially cats – can be quite fussy eaters. Getting the right texture, flavour, appearance and aroma is therefore as important to pet food manufacturers as it is for those producing food for humans.
Feeding fussy felines
The UK’s most popular pets are cats and dogs. Whilst there are some vegetarian foods available on the market, they are essentially carnivores. In addition, cats apparently aren’t considered to be able to taste sweetness in carbohydrates, so the focus on meat and savoury flavours in pet foods is important. We’ve all seen cats take one sniff of some food, turn their noses up and walk away. So how can we encourage them to accept and enjoy the food we are offering?
Unsurprisingly it’s all about taste. As humans there are certain foods that we consider delicious or ‘moreish’. More often than not it’s foods that are said to have the ‘umami’ taste. Umami is an invented word, created by Dr Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University in 1908. Its meaning, roughly translated from the Japanese, is ‘yummy deliciousness’ or ‘a pleasant savoury taste.’ It’s neither sweet, salt, sour or bitter.
Umami taste is pleasant to pets
Fussy felines and other meat-eating pets are also particularly attracted to the umami taste. It’s present in products like parmesan cheese, but can be created by cooking meat. The aroma of a steak frying or a burger being grilled might even make you salivate. This is because amino acids are released during the cooking process which makes it smell and taste great. It’s known as the Maillard reaction.
Of course, most pets aren’t fed on steak and burgers. Pet food is generally manufactured from surplus products from the human food chain. The bits we don’t fancy eating, such as chicken feet, udders, brains etc. are still very nutritious. However the challenge is to make these pieces of meat palatable. That’s the job of the flavourist.
Flavours course is ideal for pet food manufacturers
One of the most well-known and respected flavour chemists is Professor David Baines. He has worked to develop flavours with food and ingredients companies all over the world. Together with flavour application specialist Mr Richard Seal, he tutors a specialist flavours course for us here at Verner Wheelock. Entitled Creating Thermal Process Flavours, it is the only course of its kind in the UK to focus mainly on savoury flavours, and this year runs from 29th October to 2nd November in Skipton, North Yorkshire.
The reason I’m mentioning Professor Baines in a blog post about pet food is that he has considerable knowledge in this area. In fact, one of his very first roles was developing savoury flavours in cat and dog foods. As well as attracting flavourists from snack foods, ingredients and convenience food companies, the course has also proved very beneficial to pet food manufacturers.
About Creating Thermal Process Flavours
Creating Thermal Process Flavours gives flavourists a chance to step outside their normal daily activities and really focus on the components and construction of a savoury flavour, and now also covers sweet brown flavours such as caramel and chocolate. It’s lab-based, so delegates undertake experiments with process reaction flavours, enzyme modified flavours and topnotes. These are combined with in-depth lectures and application and evaluation of their creations. Delegates leave with a toolkit to enable them to recreate the flavours in their own working environment.
Food safety and HACCP applies to pet food manufacturers too
Pet food not only needs to be tasty, it also needs to be produced safely. You may not be aware of this, but there are more than 50 items of legislation covering pet food manufacture. There are strict rules governing the ingredients that can be used in pet food. For instance, the levels of pesticides in cereals and residue levels of veterinary products in animal products must be monitored. Also, the EU Feed Hygiene Regulations cover food safety and hygiene, HACCP, storage, personnel, facilities and record-keeping.
Since the methods by which pet food is produced are similar to other food manufacture many of the same rules apply. Personnel still require food safety and HACCP training and need to be ready for audits. Please see our latest training calendar for details of these and other courses we are running throughout the year. Alternatively, why not enquire about our in-house training courses?