Four years ago, in the midst of a still struggling recovery, confectionery executives were turning to candy technologists with a simple mandate: Reduce costs but maintain quality. And luckily, starches, which can come from a wide range of plant sources, came to the rescue.

There were two key ways this versatile ingredient has helped candy technologists deal with the ultimatum: First, manufacturers found they could 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 could speed up drying times and improve processing efficiency.

Today, it’s not so much about cost, although that’s always a consideration, it’s more about efficacy. There’s been an increased interest by confectionery as well as pharmaceutical companies to produce candies that deliver specific nutraceutical benefits, be they vitamins, weight control, cold prevention, etc. So where to starches come into play?

Starches can have various roles in these types of candies, says Ricardo Rodriguez, confectionery marketing manager with Ingredion Inc. “They can be used to help deliver or stabilize an active into a stable powder or liquid form; they can be used to reduce sugar/calories while maintaining the same texture profile; and they can extend the shelf life by reducing issues like stickiness and melting in vitamin gummy type products.”

Moreover, there’s no doubt that consumers are increasingly looking for “cleaner” labels. Thus, even traditional and mainstream confectionery manufacturers are turning to their R&D personnel as well as ingredient suppliers for ways to have more appealing ingredient statements. Here, too, starches can help.

Starches are, indeed, playing a larger role in providing confectionery manufacturers with a cleaner ingredient label, confirms Rodriguez.  “Ingredion offers a full range of starches, under the NOVATION brand, which function and process the same as modified starch versions.”

The call for cleaner labels also extends to excluding GMO ingredients from the formulation. Here, too, starches, thanks to their availability in a broad range of plants, come to the rescue.

“We are seeing more requests for non-GMO ingredients and we are committed to meeting the needs of our customers,” affirms Rodriguez.  “Ingredion offers the broadest portfolio of non-GMO ingredients available.  Whether they’re derived from maize, wheat, rice, tapioca, sago or potato, all of these ingredients meet appropriate non-GMO standards and the applicable legislative requirements of the countries in which we operate.”

And within this better-for-you scenario comes a search for sugar-free and/or reduced sugar confections. Lately, non-traditional yet all natural sweetener alternatives, such as stevia or monk fruit, have become popular. Nonetheless, the textural and functional properties of sugar aren’t always replicated through the use of sweeteners, even if the sweetness is. That’s where starches can also help, Rodriguez says. 

“Although starches can’t replace sugar, because they don’t offer the same sweetness level,” he explains, “they are being used to build back the texture profile of reduced-sugar or sugar-free type products.” Ingredion offers a patented DIAL-IN technology that provides a “rapid, robust, data-driven approach that helps customers transform or optimize candy textures, balance sweetness, mouthfeel and flavor when sugar is reduced or removed,” Rodriguez adds.

While starches do and can provide all these new possibilities, let’s not forget they’re still effective when it comes back to reducing costs.  For example in gum and jelly candies, starches can be used as the sole gelling agent.

As Rodriguez points out, “They can be used at lower processing temperatures to become functional and can drastically reduce drying and stoving times of these types of products due to their low hot viscosity and quick setting ability.”

 OK, saved once again by starches.