An ingredient that wears many hats, starches have become even more multi-functional.

Gelatin has long been a necessary gelling ingredient in confectionery items, such as gummies, jellies and other chewy candies.

What makes it especially desirable is its gel strength, elasticity, clarity, melting point and ease of processing, says Cindy Semeijn, marketing manager, the Netherlands-based AVEBE Food.

However, because of its availability, cost and animal origin, many candy manufacturers have turned to starches.

“In general, customers use starches as gelatin replacers to get a better cost for the product,” Semeijn explains. “The traditional starches for confectionery … don’t really look like gelatin because they’re much shorter in texture and also, they’re not very clear. However, if you look to last year’s developments, especially in potato starch, you see that the products have more attributes like gelatin and actually come much closer to gelatin.”

It’s these improvements that allow starches to perform multiple functions in moulding, dusting, binding and texturizing as well as its use as a replacer for gelatin and gum arabic. Moreover, this multi-purpose ingredient isn’t hard to come by. It’s found in many of the things people eat, like maize (corn), rice, potato, wheat and tapioca.

Specializing in potato starches, AVEBE offers native and modified potato starches. Generally speaking, native starches are those that are not chemically modified, although they may be physically modified.

The company’s lines of confectionery starches includePERFECTAGEL, which is used in moulded confectionery applications;AMYLOGUM, which is used in chewable, licorice and panned confectionery applications; and a natural line calledETENIA, for use in moulded confectionery items. Labeled as maltodextrin in the United States, but as starch in Europe, theETENIA line offers a clean label to manufacturers looking to produce a natural, or vegetarian, product.

And as part of an alliance agreement made by AVEBE and Bridgewater, N.J.-based National Starch Food Innovation in July 2007, National Starch has the exclusive right to sell, market and distribute AVEBE’s specialty food potato ingredients in North America, South America and Asia. AVEBE markets its full portfolio of potato starches in Europe and its native and non-food potato starches worldwide.

Aside from AVEBE’s potato starches distributed in the Americas and Asia, National Starch’s main confectionery lines includeFLOJEL thin-boiling corn starches;ELASTIGEL 1000J thin-boiling sago starches;HYLON,HI-SET,SUPERSET andULTRA-SET unmodified and modified high-amylose corn starch-containing products; andNU MOULDmoulding starches.

As mentioned, most manufacturers have turned to starches for gelatin replacement and cost-savings purposes. But starches are never to be underestimated. One of their other primary functions is as a texturizer.

“[Many confectioners] are looking to use starch as a way to modify the texture of a 100% gelatin gummy candy, in order to make it less firm, chewy and elastic, and to make it slightly more tender and soft, with a cleaner-breaking bite,” says Joe Eisley, food technologist, National Starch Food Innovation.

As a solution, National Starch offers a range of starches giving confections soft to jelly-like textures. Additionally, the company has rapid gelling starches,HI-SET,SUPERSET andULTRA-SET, which enable manufacturers to increase their production and yield by reducing stoving times in starch moulded confections.

“These starches and maltodextrins [that act as texturizers] can help to modify the chew characteristics of the candy (i.e. increasing the structure/body, softness, chewiness and elasticity of the candy while reducing ‘toothstick’),” Eisley says. “They also help by inhibiting sugar recrystallization and reducing ‘cold flow.’”

With some starches functioning as moulding mediums and dusting aids in confectionery, others take on different roles, such as replacing certain ingredients.

Eisley adds, “Modified starches and starch hydrolysis products, such as maltodextrins and dextrins, can be used for gum arabic/gum tragacanth replacement in pan coating applications, as well as in hard candies/cough drops/lozenges and compressed tablet confectionery, due to their low hot viscosity at high solids, excellent film-forming, adhesion and binding properties.”

Furthermore, many manufacturers continue to search for natural ingredients to provide their products with a cleaner, simpler label.

“In working with manufacturers, Tate & Lyle is seeing a trend for natural, unmodified starches and starches with improved process stability,” says Sanjiv Avashia, sr. food scientist, Tate & Lyle. “We also are seeing consumers seeking value in their foods, so manufacturers are looking for starches that can help provide functional health benefits.”

Tate & Lyle’s natural starch – MIRA-GEL 463 – is a cold water swelling granular instant starch, which provides a firm texture with a superior surface gloss, Avashia says.

Additionally, the company finds many of its customers requesting starches for gelatin replacement, texture stabilization and fat binding in confections. As a solution, Tate & Lyle offers MIRA-QUIK MGL, which provides gelatin-like texture and excellent clarity under low temperature processing conditions; MAXI-GEL, MIRA-SET 285 and MIRA-CLEER starches, which provide texture stabilization under high temperature processing of caramels; and MIRA-MIST, STA-CAP and STA-MIST starches to bind fat and prevent fat separation in caramels, toffees and nougat types of confections.

“Gelatin replacement is often requested due to religious, kosher and vegetarian preferences,” Avashia says. Therefore, in addition to its MIRA-QUIK MGL starch, Tate & Lyle offers CONFECTIONERS G starch, which is used in gelatin-free jelly candies to provide a soft and chewy texture.

And although gelatin replacement is a very important function of starches, its main role is still as a gelling and texturizing agent in confectionery applications.

“Within these applications, starch offers a broad range of textures, from a gelled texture to a very firm, chewable texture, or a hard gum arabic type of texture (as is needed for pastilles),” says Dana Craig, marketing manager and fruit, beverage and confection category manager, Cargill Texturizing Solutions. “Confectionery starches also offer good acid and salt resistance, perfect end product stability and some starches also offer better clarity.”

Cargill offers thinned starchesCargill Set andCargill Dry Set, along with specialty starchesAccuCoat,AccuFlo,Araset,BatterCrisp,CleanSet,Delitex,EmCap,EmTex,EZ Fill andSalioca.

“Due to the economy, Cargill Texturizing Solutions is continually looking for  innovative ways to help our customers control their overall costs while maintaining their high quality products,” Craig adds.

And starches may be the best vehicle in which to do that. With the ability to substitute other gelling ingredients, starches also feature a low and stable cost and secure and local ingredient supply.

“Due to the diversity of starch, we expect starch innovations to increase as more food manufacturers expand their new product offerings, look for cost saving alternatives and [meet] local ingredient demands without sacrificing taste and texture,” Craig says.

Univar USA, Inc., which provides the full starch and starch derivatives line of Cargill Texturizing Solutions, also expects a bright future for starches.

“Starch will continue to be improved [upon] to match the new requirements of the confectionery industry, [including] longer shelf life, fortification, improved texture, reduced sugar and gelatin free,” says Rick Richard, regional sales manager – food industry, Univar USA.