Back in the 1950s, young graduate Margaret Thatcher was part of a chemical research team that discovered a method of doubling the amount of air or "overrun" in ice cream. This new foamy ice cream was popular among those consumers who preferred the lighter texture.

And manufacturers were happy too the new process used fewer ingredients, thereby reducing costs. The discovery paved the way to innovations, such as Mr Whippy cones, and a whole new era of ice creams. Mrs Thatcher’s subsequent polices were not always as pleasurable for all concerned, but with this breakthrough she showed that the marriage of science and food can be a very happy one.

Sixty years on, not everyone is persuaded. Many bakers remain concerned that adopting alternative cream or egg ingredients will negatively affect the taste of the finished product, eye the product formulations with suspicion or even consider these sort of short cuts as "cheating".

But perhaps it is time to look again at the various options. That, at least, is the message from cream and egg alternative ingredients suppliers.

Probably the UK’s oldest cream alternatives supplier is Scottish ingredients company Macphie, which launched its first cream alternative product in the 1970s. Macphie explains that its Mactop branded dairy cream alternatives have numerous technical benefits over the real thing: they whip up to three or four times their original volume that’s 50% more than dairy cream; they also remain stable and hold their shape with the addition of colour, flavours and alcohol; and the creams have less fat than double or whipping cream.

Healthy trend

Macphie says bakers are finding themselves under increasing pressure to offer healthier options that do not contain hydrogenated fats, as well as reduced levels of salt, fat and additives. It recently launched a range of non-hydrogenated cream alternatives, free from artificial colours and containing less than half the fat of dairy cream when whipped. Paula Cormack, head of marketing, says: "Over the past few years, our development team has been tackling the issue of removing hydrogenated fat from our branded food ingredients, and the cream alternatives were the most challenging."

Macphie also offers liquid glazes, designed to give a long-lasting shine. It says these are quick and easy to apply and overcome all the inconsistencies and price fluctuations of using fresh eggs. They also have a long unopened shelf-life, which frees up fridge space.

One of Macphie’s main rivals in the creams sector is Pritchitts, a division of the Irish dairy co-operative Lakeland Dairies. Pritchitts distributes through wholesalers, including Bako and BFP, as well as supplying industrial and foodservice customers. Business development manager Rob Little says Pritchitts’ cream alternatives are all dairy-based, but offer technical advantages over standard dairy products to the baker. Benefits include improved volume and stability, shorter defrost times, reduction in waste and better ease of use.

Pritchitts’ Creative Base combines buttermilk and cream with gelatine, as a stable base for both sweet and savoury recipes. This saves production time, with consistent results and convenience, according to Little. A key advantage, he explains, is that it will not set until refrigerated, unlike a base made the old-fashioned way. "Coffee shops can ring in the changes with cheesecakes and crème brûlées, rather than the same-old same-old," says Little. "This can also be used in sandwiches as an egg-free alternative to mayonnaise."

Pritchitts also offers Millac Gold, a blend of buttermilk, vegetable fat and dairy cream and Roselle Supreme, a slightly sweetened product. These won’t split with the addition of acidic ingredients and whip up to 50% more than the volume of dairy cream.

The waste factor

At Rich Products, marketing manager Gail Lindsay says that waste is affecting the bottom line like never before. Bakers can cut costs, reduce spoilage, accommodate a variety of skill-sets and increase profits by changing to non-dairy alternatives, she says, pointing out that dairy-based toppings and icings are generally harder to work with, due to their temperature-sensitive nature. Cake decorators are forced to work quickly, making it hard for novice decorators to create attractive and detailed cakes.

Rich’s non-dairy versions of toppings and icings, branded Masterblend and Bettercreme, have the same, or even superior, taste and mouthfeel as their dairy counterparts, she claims. They can be taken directly from the freezer and spread or eaten. And they are free from hydrogenated vegetable oil. She adds that dairy-free is becoming more sought-after, both on dietary and lifestyle grounds.

Danish company Streamline Foods is also about to join the cream alternatives mêlée with the launch of a range of products at the Baking Industry Exhibition this month. Foodservice and bakery sales manager Peter Clout says that the range of non-dairy creams, including Danica Cuisine and Danica Sweetwhip, will be unveiled in new packaging. He comments: "It is an established market, but we feel we offer something different our products have a Continental taste, which has been very well-received. We feel that the market is ready for this."

On the egg-alternatives side, Fayrefield Foodtec marketing director Neill Barker says his company supplies a range of egg replacer products under the generic name Geltec. Some customers will replace 100% of the egg in recipes, whether powder or liquid, with the dairy-based Geltec, while for others only a percentage of the egg will be replaced.

Barker comments: "We find new custo-mers who are dissatisfied with the performance of other egg replacement products, which are often soya-based. There is still an education job to be done to help change preconceived ideas about the efficacy of egg replacements in general."

As a cost-saving exercise, the replacement of 100% egg with Geltec can reduce costs by up to 30%. But the reduction in the cost of the finished product will vary, depending on the percentage replacement, he says. And as it only contains dairy protein, it is "free from" all other allergens and additives and suitable for vegetarians and the halal market.

Geltec also offers technical benefits, he explains. It has space-saving and handling advantages it is more concentrated than egg and only requires the addition of water to meet egg recipe quantities. And it has 87% less saturated fat than egg.

So for bakers, there is plenty of food for thought. Many cream and egg alternative products now on the market boast clean-label declarations and claim comparable taste profiles, plus other benefits ranging from sat fat reduction to cost savings, improved versatility and ease of use.

It’s pretty impressive. But just imagine what we might have if Mrs T had stayed in food science.