The yin and yang of emulsifiers

July 5, 2004
Perfectly whole, in the Chinese sense of the word, their dual nature helps reformulate for low-carbohydrate and trans fat-free claims.
Virtually every food company in the U.S. today is trying to meet the twin demands of changing consumer expectations and new federal regulations. Current emphases are on lowering carbohydrates for consumers and meeting imminent government regs on the labeling of trans fats.

Both require reformulation. One of the most important aspects of reformulation of traditional foods is understanding comprehensively the role functionality plays in creating these future foods and beverages. It's kept food processors busy who, in turn, increasingly are turning to their ingredient suppliers for innovation and healthier alternatives to meet market demands.

Emulsifiers are one of the most important tools that allow food developers to push the limits of food science and technology. They are becoming immensely popular with product developers. The have a split personality: one end of the molecule adheres to lipids, the other end adheres to water.  Hence their ability to "emulsify," to bridge and hold together water and oil or other difficult-to-mix liquids. Whoever coined the phrase "oil and water don't mix" wasn't familiar with emulsifiers.

Industrial food manufacturing processes may employ emulsifiers for this simple purpose, the mixing of two otherwise immiscible liquids, or for more advanced functionalities. These functionalities include creating desirable textures, enhancing the shelf life of baked products, modifying organoleptic attributes and by complexing with components like starch and protein to stabilize them.

Emulsification is the mixture of two normally immiscible liquids (e.g., oil and water) in which one is (colloidally) suspended in the other. In other words, one exists as tiny particles within the other.

Most foods and beverages are complex mixtures of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water and air along with a variety of lesser components such as minerals, vitamins, and flavors. Modern food processing subjects these mixtures to a wide range of mechanical actions such as kneading, mixing, pumping, and extruding and exposes them a wide thermal range during baking, boiling, steaming, frying, and freezing to produce the tasty nutritious products that we call processed foods.

Remarkably, many foods have components with properties so distinct they conflict with those of the other components. The proverbial oil and water duo somehow manages to co-exist in many food systems , thanks to the mighty emulsifiers that enhance the compatibility of the contact surfaces of these conflicting materials. Emulsifiers, by acting as an interface, allow for the stable coexistence of mutually exclusive ingredients.

But emulsifiers have many other functional properties in addition to their ability to act as interfaces. These additional properties have helped them become essential components in many food formulations.

Low-carb applications

The low-carbohydrate explosion has done wonders for the emulsifier business. The Atkins Diet and similar ones have forced many mainstream food companies to reformulate familiar products or risk having them completely overlooked by faithful low-carb dieters.

Consumers find it particularly difficult to give up baked goods, pasta and sweet foods when they are on low-carbohydrate diets. As a result, food developers and processors are working harder than ever these days to make low-carbohydrate versions that taste like, look like, and feel like the original product, but which do not add glucose to the blood stream or pounds to the hips.

Lecithin, probably the most prolific of all emulsifiers and derived from soybean processing, is used as a natural emulsifier in its refined liquid form. De-oiling the natural form to produce powdered and granular lecithin has greatly extended its use in a variety of low-carb foods as a dough stabilizer.

Low-carbohydrate bread and cake formulations rely on inert starches and dietary fiber to reduce wheat flour (and thereby carbs). Eggs and egg-based ingredients serve to strengthen this otherwise fragile structure. But as market demand for eggs pushes prices higher, the emulsification properties of powdered lecithin make it an economical and nutritious egg replacer in many low-carbohydrate formulations.

The pizza category was one of the first to proactively reduce the simple carbohydrate content of its product to reduce customer attrition. With the focus on the pizza crust, initial efforts used a number of dietary fibers and inert materials such as resistant starches to help lower the carb count. However, the resulting products resembled soggy cardboard in taste and texture.

Savvy pizza producers reached for ingredients such as FibrOmega, a flaxseed-based stabilized fiber from Bioriginal of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Its combination of soluble and insoluble fibers and emulsification from its omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids yielded a rich-tasting pizza crust that was low in simple carbohydrates and calories.

"The combination of extended shelf-stability of the essential oils and the proper balance of soluble and insoluble fibers in FibrOmega helped retail store bakers to launch tasty low-carb breads and pizza in Canada," according to Cam Kupper, food ingredients sales manager at Bioriginal.
The addition of soy and wheat proteins to create low-carb pasta produced "bucky doughs" that were harder to extrude and required more energy during extrusion. Pasta manufacturers like Foulds Inc.,
Libertyville, Ill., also turned to FibrOmega for additional emulsification, which allowed for easier extrusion of the additional fiber in their Foulds Fiber pasta.
Foulds President Chris Bradley says it wasn't enough to make a reduced-carbohydrate claim on the company's fiber pasta. Foulds wanted to focus on creating products that will survive beyond the low-carbohydrate trend into longer-term demands for nutrient-dense foods with increased fiber. Linda Langdon, founder and president of Low Carb Creations, Vancouver, Wash., engaged a number of natural ingredients including hydrocolloids such as xanthan and guar and almond flour to emulsify and reduce simple carbohydrates. The resulting products were low-calorie and low-carb (and, she claims, tasty) versions of pizza crust, tortillas, cookies and cheesecake. Langdon worked with Dr. Robert Atkins himself to ensure wholesomeness and authenticity in taste of Low Carb Creations cheesecake. Confections and drinksEmulsifiers work beyond flour-based products, of course. Inulin is a fructose polymer fiber extracted from chicory root that provides emulsification functionality in several low-carb and weight-loss nutrition bars. The emulsification and health-promoting properties of inulin and oligofructose are helpful in low-carb chocolate for reducing the cooling effect of polyol sweeteners and for providing a smooth texture.

Some emulsifiers are becoming popular as weighting agents in low-carb beverages. By stabilizing oil-water mixtures and helping to retain cloudiness, they impart desirable attributes for fruit juices and New Age beverages.

Low-carb beverages rely on high-intensity sweeteners and sugar alcohols for replacement of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but they tend to separate during storage. Eastman Chemical Co.,
Kingsport, Tenn. ( created Sustane SAIB, a combination of sucrose acetate isobutyrate and medium-chain triglycerides, to emulsify and prevent the separation of oil-soluble ingredients and water in beverages. The resulting stabilized beverage "cloud" has the natural look consumers desire.

Phytosterol esters marketed under the name CoroWise by Cargill Health & Food Technologies,
Minneapolis (, are proving to be helpful in applications such as Hain Celestial Group's Rice Dream Heart Wise drink. In addition to allowing FDA's approved heart health claim for phytosterols on its label, CoroWise's emulsifier properties enhance the beverage's creamy texture and flavor.
An air of fresh breath Breath fresheners of dissolving strips or films are gaining popularity rapidly. Not only do low-carb dieters avoid sugar-based breath fresheners, those dieters who have achieved ketosis on low-carbohydrate diets tend to be plagued by halitosis (bad breath) from the ketones in their breath.
These strip products designed originally to deliver flavors and breath-refreshment are now being used as a vehicle to deliver vitamins and other nutraceutical components that individuals on weight-loss diets might need. In addition to the active ingredient, these products use hydrocolloids such as pectin, carrageenan, gellan gum and xanthan gum to form the film. Further, they rely on emulsifiers such as polysorbate 80 as the plasticizing agent to ensure proper dissolution rate , essential for product performance. Emulsifiers also are used to help retain polymer hydration and to provide compatibility with any fat-soluble active ingredients.

Fad or movement, low-carbohydrate dieting certainly is the trend of the moment. Whether consumers are demanding the removal of carbohydrates, dietary fat or old-fashionied calories, food processors will continually face the need to reformulate their traditional foods. Whatever the current perception of "healthy" is, consumers will demand healthy product offerings that also look appealing and taste good. Emulsifiers are a key weapon in this unending battle.
Kantha Shelke is a principal at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. The firm helps businesses and professional organizations in the health and wellness sector to focus on what matters most. Contact her at [email protected] or 312-951-5810.SIDEBAR:
Trans fat transition  
The Next Big Thing to hit product developers apparently will be the removal or minimizing of trans fats. The Food and Drug Administration has set a
Jan. 1, 2006 deadline for the appearance of trans fat information on nutritional labels. Media attention already has clued consumers in to the dangers of these ingredients. So food processors are responding by taking out as much trans fat as possible.
Emulsifiers are one of the critical ingredients under review for this next battle.

Although consumers understand that trans fats are unhealthy, they are confused as to which foods (besides French fries) contain trans fats. Some are discovering that butter, once declared a poor choice for health, is now considered safer than margarines laden with hydrogenated oils.

Replacement of trans fats entails extensive evaluation of the processing and handling implications, and the reformulation exercise requires evaluation of shelf life and eating quality characteristics of the finished product.

One of the most difficult aspects of reformulating without trans fats is the identification of ingredients that will cream and aerate like hydrogenated fats and provide structure and body to the finished products. Aeration and creaming , processing functionalities commonly associated with solid or semi-solid fats , are not easily duplicated with liquid fats. Although emulsifiers can help create some of these properties, they cannot replace other essential aspects such as their nutritional contributions and other functionalities , prompting a serious exploration of the emulsification properties of nutritious oils such as flaxseed and macadamia nut oil.
Danish company Danisco recently launched mixtures of emulsifiers with mixtures of non-hydrogenated oil that supposedly offer the same properties as a partially hydrogenated shortening in several food systems. According to David Kappelman, Bakery Technical Manager at Danisco, these mixtures can effectively help create the textural properties that consumers have come to expect in baked goods. SIDEBAR:Designer oils with built-in emulsifiersResearchers at Monsanto Co., St. Louis (, are applying conventional breeding and biotechnology techniques to develop soybeans that will produce oil containing less trans and saturated fats. "Monsanto is exploring ways to enhance soybeans so they are healthier and, also have built-in functionalities that are valued by food processors," according to David Stark, vice president of technical affairs.
Monsanto's breeding techniques have produced a soybean low in linolenic acid, so the resulting oil would have a lower need for hydrogenation and presumably a lower need for emulsifiers. That would reduce and possibly eliminate trans fats in many foods.

This product is being geared up to meet the federal government's 2006 labeling guidelines for trans fat in food products. It's expected to receive a particularly warm reception from fried snack manufacturers, such as Frito-Lay.

Novel emulsifers in the pipelineRecent challenges impacting ingredient manufacturers and food processing companies over the next five years reflect concerns consumers have in relation to religion and culture, health and nutrition, and safety according to a study by Leatherhead Food International, Surrey, England. Here are some emulsifiers just coming out of the labs that answer some of these demandsCanola ProteinsCanola protein is a rising star in the low-carb genre from Burcon of Vancouver, British Columbia. The ingredient company has licensed canola proteins , Puratein and Supertein , to ADM to seek FDA approval. ADM is building on these canola proteins' superior nutritional and functional properties as alternatives to soy and wheat proteins, especially in the low-carb market. Canola protein has been demonstrated as an emulsifying agent to create mayonnaise, and it has the potential to replace whey, gelatin and casein in several applications , offering food processors tremendous cost advantages, since plant-based ingredients are less expensive than animal-derived materials. Vitamin FDutch company Belovo Egg Products recently added F to the alphabet of vitamins. Vitamin F describes a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for health. They include DHA, EPA and GLA. Vitamin F is manufactured as a lipid nano-emulsion , its rapid uptake is ideal for supplementing infant and elderly diets. The emulsified product consists of essential fatty acids encapsulated in egg phospholipid micelles,a formulation designed to mimic as closely as possible the characteristic emulsified state of human milk. AlternanPrice fluctuations with gum arabic compelled USDA/Agricultural Research Service scientists to produce alternan from sugar by using an enzyme called alternansucrase, produced by the Leuconostoc mesenteroides bacterium. Alternan is essentially reassembled fragments of glucose units, and shows excellent emulsification properties, according to Gregory Cote of the Biopolymer Research Unit at the NationalCenter for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Ill.                       

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