Long recognized for its versatility, functionality and economy, starch continues to expand its role in confectionery formulations as manufacturers seek even greater cost savings to remain competitive.

Tough economic times, coupled with higher or unpredictable raw material costs, typically trigger an ultimatum from executives to candy technologists: Reduce costs but maintain quality.

Thus, confectionery research and development teams continuously look for ways to shave cents from the product process, cognizant any changes cannot sacrifice a product’s quality or jeopardize its hard-earned brand loyalty.

During the last year and a half, consumers have learned to operate with less disposable income as a result of the downturn. In doing so, they’ve remained focused on value spending.

As Joe Eisley, food technologist at National Starch Food Innovation, points out, “This poses a challenge to manufacturers, who must both create innovative new products that will succeed in the marketplace, but also do so in a very affordable way.”

Luckily, starch remains a tool manufacturers can use to create new products with new and interesting textures while still keeping costs down. There are two areas whereby starch can offer confectionery manufacturers opportunities to save: First, manufacturers can switch from more expensive hydrocolloid ingredients (such as gelatin, gum Arabic, and pectin) to starch-based alternatives. Second, by using specialty high-amylose corn starch products, manufacturers can speed up drying times and improve processing efficiency.

“Gelatin replacement continues to be a high priority for confectionery manufacturers, due to the high cost of gelatin (especially kosher gelatin) and, in some cases, to satisfy vegetarian, kosher and halal label requirements: Eisley explains.

Sanjiv Avashia, senior food scientist for Tate & Lyle, concurs: “We’ve received many inquiries about producing jelly candies that meet vegetarian requirements. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that replacing gelatin with a starch will change the texture of the product. It can be quite different.”

Because each starch - depending upon where it’s sourced - has different properties, a multitude of different textures can be achieved by selecting different starches and combining them with other hydrocolloids, such as gelatin and pectin, to create a novel eating experience.

“For example, combining gelatin with a modified potato starch or a modified sago starch could give you a much different product texturally and appearance-wise from, say, a combination of gelatin and modified corn starch,” Eisley says. “In this way, starches, either by themselves or in combination with other hydrocolloids, create a sort of  ‘texture palette,’ from which many differentiated and unique products can be created.”

In the past, clarity also was an issue, as traditionally, conventional confectionery starches produced more opaque gels. However, recent advances in the area of starch technology have produced starch-based offerings that can more closely approximate gelatin’s hard-to-replace properties of clarity and elasticity in gummy-type candies.

A modified potato starch calledPerfectagel MPT, which is made by Netherlands-based Avebe Food, an alliance partner of National Starch, can be used to replace all of the gelatin in the formulation, but the resulting candy will have a slightly softer texture versus a 100% gelatin product, Eisley says.

Manufacturers looking for minimal loss of clarity and elasticity can opt to replace 30-50% of the gelatin in the formulation withPerfectagel MPT, he adds.

The other alternative offered by Avebe isEtenia, also a potato-based starch. While labeled “maltodextrin” is the United States, it can be labeled merely as “potato starch” in Europe and therefore offers a clean label solution to manufacturers looking to replace all-natural gelatin in vegetarian, kosher or halal gummy products, Eisley says.Eteniacan be used at a lower level thanPerfectagel MGTand also can be cooked out at lower processing temperatures.

“This clean-label offering is a breakthrough in the area of starch, since traditionally, starches have needed to be modified by acid thinning to achieve the low hot viscosity required to deposit high-solids confectionery without tailing,” Eisley explains. “These so-called ‘thin-boiling’ starches, while highly functional as gelling agents, have always come with a ‘modified food starch’ tag, which is not always desirable, especially with consumers now demanding clean-label and all-natural products.”

National Starch does offer a line of clean-label functional native starches under the brand nameNovation. These are labeled by their respective base starches (waxy corn/maize, tapioca, waxy rice, and potato). In addition to being all-natural, some of the waxy maize and tapioca offerings also are organically certified. However, since theNovationstarches are not modified by acid-thinning, they can only be used in confectionery applications that can tolerate a relatively high hot viscosity.

In addition, starch products can be used to replace all of the gelatin or gum Arabic in chewy candy. Modified potato starches from AVEBE, such as thePerfectagel MPT,Amylogum EST andAmylogum CLS, can be used as cost-effective replacements for these more expensive hydrocolloids. Eisley says.

As mentioned earlier, in addition to driving down ingredient costs, starches also can help drive down manufacturing costs. For example, Tate & Lyle’sMirastart 285, a high-amylase corn starc,h can be used to reduce cooking from 330°to 340° F to 285° F. Not only does this starch have a shorter cooking time, thus reducing energy needs, but it also sets up faster, Avashia explains.

National Starch’s line of specialty high-amylose-corn based starches -Hi-Set 322,Hi-Set 377,Superset LVandUltra-Set LT- also can help speed-up drying and turnaround time due to the rapid gelling profile of these starches.

Another new technology involving starches focuses on cold process technology. By using granular instant starches such asImar 463andMerizet 468, confectioners can realize a jell set in a high sweet solids formulation.

“There’s no heating involved,” says Avashia. “We’ve successfully produced prototypes using this process.”

The implications are significant since the process doesn’t require all the cooking equipment typically used to produce gummies and jellies, thereby reducing large capital investments. Avashia believes this technology will have significant implications in new product development down the road.