Beyond thickening and texturizing
Consumer and industry demands prompt manufacturers to search for gums and starches that do more than just thicken and texturize formulations. Ingredient suppliers are stepping up to the mixing bowl and developing functional ingredients for gluten-free, clean-label, and nonallergenic, GMO-free and low-calorie products.
Gum and starch producers continue to develop new products and fine-tune existing offerings to help customers—bakers and snack producers—create products that address a variety of existing and emerging consumer food trends.
“Gluten-free has definitely been a driver of new product development,” says Steven Baker, a food scientist at TIC Gums, White Marsh, Md. “We are currently working on stabilizer systems that help provide the structure and volume that often is lacking in gluten-free formulas.”
Mel Festejo, chief operating officer at American Key Food Products (AKFP), Closter, N.J., agrees that gluten-free products remain a top consumer demand. “The gluten-free trend has surprised most industry observers by remaining strong, showing resilient growth in a number of areas,” he says. “Even food manufacturers not known for any specially formulated, gluten-free products have made it a standard practice to label their inherently gluten-free products [potato chips, for instance,] as gluten-free.”
During the past two years, AKFP introduced the Empure line of potato- and pea-based, clean-label, allergen-free starches, developed by Emsland Group in Germany. “Since potatoes are gluten-free, and Emsland uses only nongenetically modified potatoes compliant with [European Union] standards, these clean-label starches are intended for food products that need to be any or all of these: Clean-label; nonGMO; and gluten-free,” Festejo explains.
Empure potato and pea starches come in cook-up and pre-gelatinized versions and can be used as thickeners and texturizers in fruit-filling applications, sauces, gravies and soups. AKFP is also developing new iterations of its gluten-free cassava flour, in which the properties of the tapioca starch content will be tailored for specific baking or extruded applications.
Aida Prenzno, vice president of technology, Gum Technology Corp., Tucson, Ariz., agrees that gluten-free applications continue to be popular. “Gums, fiber and starches are great tools for these products,” she notes. “However, when we talk about gluten-free applications—even if we narrow it down to just gluten-free baked goods—we still are talking about a broad range of [needed] textures and functionalities. For example, the hydrocolloid system that you may choose for gluten-free bread may not be the same [one] that you would use for a gluten-free brownie.”
Gum Technology’s Hydro-Fi product line includes several products for these types of applications, Prenzno says. In addition, its GumPlete product line provides customers with balanced blends of gums and starches.
According to Bryan Scherer, vice president of research and development at Penford Food Ingredients, Denver, gluten-free applications, especially baked products, are an important area where multi-ingredient blends are needed to replace the functionality of a single ingredient. “In gluten-free bread, for example, gluten has distinct functionalities at all stages of production, from workability or flexibility of raw dough to entrapment of air during leavening and reinforcement of the final cell structure in the finished product,” he explains. “Starch, gums and gluten-free flour systems are ideal to compensate for the complex role of gluten in these products.”
Penford offers a customized gluten-free system called PenTech GF that creates gluten-free products equal to or better than their gluten-containing counterparts, Scherer adds.
“Gluten-free is a key trend in the bakery sector,” agrees Nicole Rees, business development manager–flax, Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis. “But these products typically have a crumbly texture and stale quickly. To overcome this, formulators often rely on multiple starches and gums, which can be costly.”
To help bakers address these issues, Glanbia developed OptiSol 3000, a patent-pending combination of whey protein and flax that bakers can often use to replace several ingredients, while improving a product’s texture and shelf life. Glanbia’s latest addition to its OptiSol 5000 series, OptiSol 5300, is a flaxseed-based, all-natural, highly functional hydrocolloid ingredient that can be used for multiple bakery applications, including gluten-free baked goods, flatbreads, bakery mixes, breadings and batters.
According to Rees, the ingredient can replace many gums commonly used in bakery applications, such as xanthan, Arabic and guar. “The OptiSol series can be low-cost alternatives for gums, such as guar gum or xanthan gum,” she says. “They are very clean-label in the sense that they are labeled as ‘flaxseed.’ They are nonallergenic, gluten-free and offer versatility, as they can be used in many different applications to improve shelf life and quality of end products.”
Dietary highs and lows
While it seems that everyone is jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, many consumers are interested in products that are low in calories, fat, sugar, sodium or carbohydrates; trans-fat or allergen-free; high in fiber or protein; or made with recognizable ingredients.
“Consumers are more selective regarding their food options,” says Prenzno. “We all want to eat something that has excellent mouthfeel and taste, without loading our bodies with calories. Therefore, low fat, high fiber and low carbs will continue to be key players on future baked goods and snack product development.”
Gums can help bakers and snack producers address many of the problems that arise when replacing fat and sugars in formulations. “Gums are mainly composed of dietary fiber,” she explains. “They improve texture, help with moisture control and stabilize the system during processing and storage. The synergistic effect of gums with starches allows for the reduction of their usage level in the system. Gums can also be used in conjunction with fibers or resistant starches to achieve the desired effect.”
Trey Muller-Thym, vice president of Thymly Products Inc. in Colora, Md., agrees that today’s consumers are becoming “very health aware.”
They’re paying more attention to the ingredients used in foods and avoiding foods containing ingredients they can’t pronounce or don’t have in their kitchens. “Consumers are looking for the foods they eat to be better for them all across the board,” he contends. “They want food manufacturers to get rid of GMOs, cut back on trans-fats, make sugar and sodium reductions [and] produce more gluten-free products.”
Somerville, N.J.-based Nexira, which supplies natural ingredients and botanical extracts, constantly receives requests related to gluten-free, low-fat and high-fiber products, affirms Teresa Yazbek, vice president Americas. It also receives plenty of ingredients requests pertaining to nonallergenic and high-protein products.
“[High protein] is a huge trend,” she says, adding that the addition of protein can pose some challenges for bakers and snack producers. “Some proteins can be OK in a product. Some need to be stabilized. You normally remove starches when you put in protein, so what do you replace them with? How you do you improve the texture, while replacing those starches? We don’t have all the answers, but we’re working on that with different people and getting good results.”
Nexira recently received good news regarding a petition it filed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to increase the ways in which acacia gum (a natural gum that comes from the acacia tree and comprises a mix of natural carbohydrates and proteins called polysaccharides and glycoproteins), with which the company primarily works, can be used and labeled. As of December, written regulations allow for higher maximum levels of acacia gum in products and for greater use of the ingredient.
Nexira offers two acacia gum lines for use in baked goods and cereal. The Fibregum line provides natural dietary fiber based on 100% acacia gum, and has a guaranteed minimum dietary soluble fiber content of 90%. It can be used to increase fiber in finished products, including baked goods and cereal bars, as well as to reduce breakage in crackers and tortillas, improve pliability in flatbreads and soft tortillas and extend product shelf life, even in frozen products.
Nexira’s Equacia is a co-processed ingredient made from soluble acacia gum fibers and gluten-free insoluble wheat fiber. It acts as a nutritional texturizer, and is designed to mimic fat texture and reduce sugar content, while fortifying food products with fibers. “When you use it in cookies, muffins or cakes, for example, you can replace 50% of the fat, while maintaining the freshness, shelf life and creamy, fatty taste of the product” says Yazbek. “That’s significant.”
Clean-label, allergen-free, low-sugar, low-fat—industry players have adapted to all of these consumer concerns, says Festejo, and continue to seek “new ingredient solutions from suppliers that will be essential to transitioning more of [their] manufactured products to conform to these expectations.”
AKFP plans to introduce a new line of potato flakes to the U.S. market this year. “Clean-label versions of these specially manufactured potato derivatives are ideal for the production of healthy baked snacks and other extruded products that are low in reducing sugars, asparagine and glycoalkaloids,” Festejo explains.
Saying ‘no’ to GMOs
Another consumer trend garnering more interest from consumers and the food industry is the nonGMO movement. Last month, American farmers and representatives from approximately 30 industry and nongovernment organizations announced the formation of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF), and urged Congress to establish standards for the safety and labeling of foods and beverages made with GMOs. Coalition members include the American Bakers Association (ABA), the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the Snack Food Association (SFA).
GMO Free USA, an organization started by a Connecticut mother “to foster consumer rejection of genetically modified organisms, until they are proven safe,” is encouraging consumers to boycott the Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. Post Foods and General Mills recently announced the removal of GMOs from Original Grape Nuts and Original Cheerios, respectively. National grocery chain Whole Foods Market announced last year that all products in its U.S. and Canadian stores must be labeled by 2018 to indicate whether they contain GMOs.
“Emerging trends such as clean label and nonGMO will drive the need for gums and starches that are unmodified and GMO-free,” says Scherer. “Penford offers a full portfolio of nonGMO starches from various botanical sources, such as potato, corn, rice and tapioca.”
In fall 2013, Penford launched several new lines of products based on its PenNovo technology. PenNovo MD, a line of potato-based, nonGMO maltodextrins, is an alternative to conventional corn-based maltodextrins in bakery and snack items. The PenNovo 03 is a series of nonGMO emulsifying starches based on either tapioca or waxy corn starch. PenFibe RO is a series of Type-4 resistant, nonGMO, potato-based starches. It contains both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber and analyzes at at least 56% total dietary fiber. PenFibe RO products are available as a cook-up starch with high viscosity and low gelatinization temperature or as a pre-cooked version low in viscosity, highly soluble and high in binding capacity. Benefits range from fiber enhancement to improving water retention in baked goods and intermediate moisture products.
“There is a preference trend moving in the direction of nonGMO and GMO-free products,” agrees Gum Technology’s Prenzno. “Since most gums are natural products derived from sources that do not have genetically modified varieties, and starches can also be made from sources that are not genetically modified, we have products in our portfolio that can meet the new trend.”
Two of Gum Technology’s recently introductions are made with nonGMO ingredients. Its Coyote Brand GumPlete SH-ER-276 was developed to function as an egg white replacement in meringues, where it promotes and stabilizes aeration. Its Coyote Brand GumPlete SHX-DM-271 can be used to replace egg whites in applications such as waffles and mousse. In addition to promoting and stabilizing aeration, it helps stabilize the emulsions.
TIC Gums, meanwhile, introduced its Add-Here system last year. Add-Here helps particulates such as seeds, nuts and other toppings bind to the surface of baked goods, resulting in fewer particulates dislodging during packaging, shipping and storage. The system includes two nonGMO products: Add-Here 3200 Non-GMO, a blend of hydrocolloids developed for crunchy baked granola bars and reduced sugar crunchy baked granola bars; and Add-Here CSA-NGMO, a blend of nonGMO gums that improves the spice and particulate adhesion.
Consumer demand for baked goods and snacks that are low in fat, gluten-free, GMO-free and so on are driving the development of ingredients, including gums and starches. Production issues such as ingredient availability and cost often do, too.
“Cost consistently drives new functional ingredient development,” says Scherer. “Gums typically cost more per pound compared to starches. However, they are used at very low levels, which makes their cost-in-use acceptable. Striking a balance between cost-in-use and functionality is a key to optimizing the use of starches and gums in product formulations.”
“The cost and availability of ingredients drives our new product development,” confirms Baker. “For example, the price of eggs increased recently. Consequently, we’ve been working on egg replacement/reduction systems that will replace the qualities provided by eggs.”
According to Muller-Thym, an unstable market and guar gum price fluctuations in previous years sent consumers looking for a more reliable, cost-consistent product that they could seamlessly introduce into their current recipes. “Thymly Products was more than happy to step up and offer the food industries a less expensive alternative to guar by manufacturing Alpha Gum,” he says. “[It] is a 1:1 direct replacement for guar at a fraction of the cost of guar [and] without the unstable fluctuations that we have seen with guar.”
Rees concurs: “The volatility of the guar gum market two years ago caused many customers to find alternatives that are less prone to frequent price fluctuations. They hoped the market would gradually return to normal, but to remain competitive, they looked elsewhere for substitute options.”
Although guar gum prices have fallen with increased supply, Rees says this stability may be short-term. “Current falling prices could affect future planting and ongoing demand from the oil and natural gas industries is unpredictable,” she says. “Increased demand has led to many new producers entering the guar market and, as a result, quality has been inconsistent.”
As for acacia gum, Mathieu Dondain, Nexira’s director of communications and marketing, says the ingredient “can sometimes be considered as having supply-chain issues. It has been pretty stable the past few years, more so than most other gums and hydrocolloids.
“Regarding the availability, we are talking about a market of 90,000 metric tons—not as a finished product, but as a raw material. It might actually be even higher than this. This ingredient is produced in 17 countries, which is a huge production area. We are confident that [availability] is not a problem.”
On the horizon
Because consumer trends, raw material availability, costs and a host of other yet-unknown factors will continue to impact the food industry, bakers, snack producers and their ingredients suppliers will continue to work together to develop new gum and starches.
“The current clean-label starches, which notch higher than native starches in performance criteria, still cannot match the functionalities of traditional chemically-modified starches,” says Festejo. “Further research into better clean-label starches will definitely be on the plate of many starch manufacturers.”
Festejo adds that ingredients manufacturers’ renewed interest in rediscovering nontraditional flour and starch sources for their functional properties and potential health benefits is a welcome development. He cites arrowroot as a good example of a flour and starch source that was around for decades, but “faded from the scene as advances in flour and starch technology were achieved with wheat, corn/waxy maize, potato and tapioca. It is making a modest comeback and is gaining new users in the baking industry,” he says.
In addition, Emsland Group recently developed a flour from waxy winter barley to leverage its high beta glucan content together with its fat-binding and emulsifying properties and its freeze-thaw stability. “As it has been the expedient option in gluten-free baking where different flours and starches are blended for more complex applications such as bread-making, there could be similar opportunities to develop blends of different starches in other applications,” he adds.
More functional ingredients for gluten-free products, as well as improvement in the nutritional profile of these products, will continue to evolve in the baking and snack industries, says Scherer. He adds that there are numerous opportunities for functional enhancement in the areas of optimized expansion or puffing of extruded snack and cereal products, fiber enhancement, fat reduction, sugar reduction, moisture management and cost optimization, as advances in starch modification and novel functional hydrocolloids combinations come together.
Baker notes that due to the continuing shift to “more natural” and clean label, gums and starches will continue to evolve to meet bakers’ and snack producers’ needs. “Also, as the food industry continues to identify unwanted raw materials—the most recent being azodicarbonamide—stabilizer systems will be instrumental in retaining the functionality of these missing ingredients,” he adds.
Be it clean-label, gluten-free or nonGMO, there will be more trends influencing the products bakers and snack producers develop for and deliver to consumers. There will also continue to be manufacturing issues such as ingredient costs and availability impacting these food producers. New developments in gums and starches will help bakers and snack manufacturers come up with just the right recipe for balancing all these issues.