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.
"Consumers want healthier low/no-sugar options that don't sacrifice taste and texture," points out Leanne Levy, senior manager, Americas marketing, at CP Kelco (www.cpkelco.com). "It's not easy to deliver the sensory experience of a sugar-sweetened beverage in a low- or no-sugar alternative. Our Genu Pectin can be used at low concentrations to enhance mouthfeel and flavor and curb the aftertaste left by some high intensity sweeteners."
Pectin, too, has been in shorter supply, due to poor harvests of limited raw materials (mainly citrus peel), Levy adds. "We patented a technology and invested in production capabilities to process orange peel for pectin manufacturing. This enables us to ensure the sustainability of the citrus peel raw material for production as well as the Genu pectin supply over the long term."
Shortage of locust bean gum
Dominating the market as a stabilizing agent, xanthan gum also increases viscosity, as well as syneresis control and emulsion stability. It must be fully and effectively diluted in an aqueous solution or gel to function properly, Levy says. Tara, carrageenan and locust bean gums can create a silky ice cream and control the size of ice crystals.
Market reports indicate shortages of locust bean gum will continue into 2018. Many gums and hydrocolloids are extracted from land and water crops, so are subject to the whims of Mother Nature, Bixler says.
Food companies seeking locust bean gum alternatives may want to check out Alland & Robert's (www.allandetrobert.com) recently introduced karaya gum. Derived from the African or Indian Sterculia tree, the gum is gluten- and pesticide-free, non-GMO, vegetarian and high in fiber. Karaya is produced by a flash heating process that assures homogeneity of the temperature within the treated gums. Karaya demonstrates improved texture and may be used as a bulking or texturizing agent alone or in association with other hydrocolloids to develop coatings, fillings, dressings, desserts and emulsified sauces, the company states.
Hydrocolloids are also a factor in the clean label/healthy explosion of plant-based products, adds Jaime Underwood, senior technical service manager at Cargill (www.cargill.com). "They stabilize plant-based beverages, provide texture, make vegan cheese slice-able or crumbly and control syneresis in plant-based spreads. Introducing extra protein to dairy and alternative-dairy beverages can throw off the natural chemistry; hydrocolloids such as carrageenan and pectin can help in these applications."
Carrageenan still organic
Some food manufacturers are being pressured to replace carrageenan − widely used as a thickener and emulsifier − due to research linking it to digestive health issues. In 2016, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) of USDA advised removing the seaweed-derived colloid from the list of ingredients allowed in organic processing. But on April 4, USDA ruled the ingredient can continue to be used in organic foods. Carrageenan itself is not certified organic, but it's the only approved nonsynthetic stabilizer allowed for use in U.S. liquid organic infant formula.
Carrageenan has no wholly natural substitute, the USDA contends. "Carrageenan has specific uses in an array of agricultural products, and public comments reported that potential substitutes do not adequately replicate the functions of carrageenan across the broad scope of use."