Demand for low-fat, low-calorie foods is gelling the market for gums and hydrocolloids. They're extracted from plant or animal sources and can be generated in fermentation reactions. Most gums and hydrocolloids are native and modified starches, which account for most of the market (95 percent) by weight. They assist with mouthfeel, shelf stability, viscosity, suspension and adhesive qualities and naturally congeal constituent ingredients.
Gums and hydrocolloids make soups thick and creamy, keep ice crystals out of ice cream and prevent sauces from separating. Though relatively flavorless, gums can impact how flavor is released in a final product. Celebrated restaurant chefs rely on them to create awe-inspiring, delicious and memorable dishes.
"Gums help maintain mouthfeel, texture and stability when an ingredient like fat is removed," says Kevin Johndro, director of research & development at Ingredients Solutions Inc. (www.isi.us.com). "They can also mask some of the taste problems encountered when sugar is replaced by alternate sweeteners."
ISI is expanding its product lines, notes founder Harris "Pete" Bixler. "We're known exclusively as a carrageenan company, but we found we could leverage our food formulation capability by adding alginate (an anionic polysaccharide), xanthan, tara and locust bean gums, pectin and most recently agar, konjac gum and gellan."
Gums and hydrocolloids can be a bit pricey, notes market analysis firm IHS Markit (ihsmarkit.com). Yet prices are affected by various factors, Johndro points out. "Processing technology and availability of raw materials are two examples. Generally, prices stabilize over time, as processing technology improves and raw material supplies level out."
Most hydrocolloids build viscosity, explains Colleen Raven, ISI's lab manager. "So special attention must be paid to processing equipment, pH and temperature conditions. It can be difficult depending on label restrictions, pricing and texture targets, to achieve the right texture and the right shelf life."
Often, a product's physical qualities or appearance can determine shelf life before other product safety defects occur. "Hydrocolloids help maintain product appearance so it remains shelf-stable longer," notes Dan Grazaitis, applications manager at TIC Gums (ticgums.com). "Gums indirectly can enhance product quality through attributes linked to controlling moisture and ultimately extending shelf life until there is a true safety defect."
However, "Challenges can arise when formulating with gums, from reaching the desired texture, to combating natural flavors of certain ingredients," admits Lauren Schleicher, TIC Gums food scientist. "Our goal is to transform this complex process into one that's accessible and navigable."
Some textural attributes in gums can be less favorable to the eating experience than others, Schleicher points out, such as astringency and mouth clearing/coating.
"Astringency can cause a contraction of the taste buds, decreasing the tongue’s ability to receive flavors. If a product clears the mouth too quickly, flavors may not be able to linger as intended. Conversely, if a product remains too long, adverse flavor notes can be unpleasant." GuarNT USA Flavor Free 5000, TIC Gums' flavorless, odorless guar gum, allows desired flavors to come through in delicately flavored products, Schleicher says.
Cut sugar, not its properties
Aside from its sweetness (and calories), sugar provides several facets of functionality. "Sugar plays a critical role in texture, bulking and preservation in some applications," Grazaitis emphasizes. "Since gums and gum blends are excellent texturizers, adding one or more gums in place of sugar can replicate mouthfeel, while minimally impacting the product and consumer experience."
TIC Gums' Simplistica ingredient systems combine ingredients such as, hydrocolloids, protein concentrates and more to optimize products such as baked goods and dairy alternatives in reduced-sugar formats.
Fruit spread, jam and jelly manufacturers choose pectin to reduce sugar because it keeps juices homogenous, preventing them from separating, and helps ensure consistency and predictability batch to batch. Long a gelling agent in home-canned jams, jellies and fruit fillings, pectin is regarded as one of the safest, most acceptable food additives.