Hydrocolloid focus: Industry leverages seaweed stabilizers, citrus and oat-fibers and cell-cultured gelatin
17 May 2021 --- Hydrocolloids are essential in optimizing the rheology of food and beverages, as they can help ensure stability, flow and texture. Industry’s toolbox has now extended beyond conventional methyl cellulose and carrageenan, as seaweed, oat fiber and cell-cultured gelatin begin to exhibit untapped formulation potential.
FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to key hydrocolloids specialists to track the growth of this dynamic space, showcase alternatives and spotlight the latest in the pipeline for thickening and gelling ingredients.
Last year, the top category of global product launches tracked with hydrocolloids was Bakery (18 percent), according to Innova Market Insights data. Soy lecithin was the leading ingredient among the hydrocolloids tracked (19 percent).
The top positionings of global product launches tracked with hydrocolloids were “No Additives/Preservatives” (15 percent), “Gluten-Free” (14 percent) and “High Source of Protein” (9 percent).
Hydrocolloids gaining momentum
The plant-based movement is a significant driver for new opportunities for food texturizing. “A special grade of methyl cellulose is the ‘go-to’ hydrocolloid for most of the producers of plant-based meats,” notes Dennis Seisun, founder of IMR International, a hydrocolloids consultancy.
“In dairy alternatives, the texturizer of choice used to be carrageenan – for no good technical reason – but has now changed to a combination of gellan gum (suspension) and locust bean gum (mouthfeel and process tolerance).”
Violaine Fauvarque, marketing manager at Alland and Robert, highlights that gum acacia is among the hydrocolloids gaining the most momentum, while citrus and oat fibers are seeing growth potential as ingredients with similar functionalities.
“Their use in plant-based and clean label products is important and growing,” she comments. “Depending on the desired texture, PH-value or processing methods, various hydrocolloids should be used.”
“It is very important for formulators and R&D teams to learn about their functionalities and take them into consideration as one of the formulation tools they have at their disposal.”
Blue is the new green
Seaweed as a value-added, nutritious and sustainable food ingredient has been tipped by sustainable food pioneers this year as a way out of environmental degradation of local land and freshwater sources.
Seaweed extracts such as agar, alginates and carrageenan have been viewed as mature markets for some time, notes Seisun at IMR International.
“Technical developments have allowed for further differentiation and product line extension,” he remarks. “A major driver for future growth in seaweed processing is the extraction of more than hydrocolloids. Many companies are focusing on a range of added value seaweed components.”
“The carbon sink nature of seaweed is lending support to more seaweed cultivation. IMR has long promoted the high employment factor of seaweed-derived hydrocolloids. For example, if one dollar’s worth of xanthan gum sustains one person, the same dollars’ worth of carrageenan would sustain over 120 people according to IMR calculations. Blue is the new green.”
New alternatives to classic gelatin
PB Leiner’s Textura Tempo range goes beyond capabilities of classic gelatin. It is not only soluble in hot water, but also performs well across a broad temperature range.
Marketed as “instant gelatin,” the Textura Tempo range offers texturizing and stabilizing solutions across frozen food, confectionary and bakery industries. The range is marketed as 100 percent natural and gluten-free, and ideal for alcohol, aromas, vitamins and other heat-sensitive ingredients.
“The consumer reception for gelatin has been very positive, whereas for some other hydrocolloids this is quite negative. For example, the bad rep carrageenan has been getting over the last couple of years, especially in the US,” says Cindy Dekeyser, global business intelligence manager at PB Leiner.
With animal protein consumption in the US and Europe forecasted to dip after hitting a “peak meat apex” in 2025, food technicians are beginning to explore new sustainable pathways for producing the ubiquitous pork-based hydrocolloid. “Some companies are using bioreactors to produce gelatin rather than beef hide or pork skin,” details Seisun.
“Other companies are starting to culture cells harvested from animals to produce meat or fish protein. Realistically, the technology is probably a few years off from commercial products, but an animal-free sourced gelatin with the same functionality and properties would be a boon to the industry.”
Last month, Jellatech raised US$2 million in its pre-seed funding round for cell-based, animal-free gelatin for use in gummies, cakes and ice cream among other applications.
One of the most influential market considerations when it comes to choosing a hydrocolloid is having access to a stable supply of consistent quality.
Among the hydrocolloids regularly susceptible to supply shortages is locust bean gum (E410), which acts as a stabilizer and thickener that prevents ice crystal growth and controls meltdown properties in ice cream. (link on supply shortages)
The cyclic nature of hydrocolloid availability and price will remain a constant driver for food companies to seek alternatives, while keeping the same flavor profile and mouthfeel, stresses Seisun.
“The sky high price of locust bean gum has driven users to seek tara gum as a replacement. Now that tara gum is three to four times its traditional price, the search for a tara replacer is on. It is not an easy task.”
More than 700 tara gum-based ice cream products or frozen vegan desserts have been launched over the past five years, according to Innova Market Insights.
Palsgaard recently launched a range of integrated tara gum emulsifier-stabilizer blends, marketed as easy to use, with no pre-mixing with other dry ingredients required. Palsgaard ExtruIce 303/305 and Palsgaard MouldIce 203 are positioned with a number of functional benefits in ice cream, including stable overrun, heat shock protection and storage stability.
Bolstering consumer trust
Sugar reduction is a dominant consumer target across multiple segments, which hydrocolloids can help address. “A simple replacement with a high-intensity sweetener may not provide a similar taste,” says Stefanie Chmura, senior director of marketing excellence at CP Kelco.
“Hydrocolloids such as gellan gum or pectin can help recover some of the body and texture that’s lost when sugar is reduced,” she explains.
CP Kelco’s latest innovation, Nutrava Citrus Fiber, is a nutritional and functional fiber made from sustainably sourced citrus peels, an abundant byproduct of the juice industry. Functioning as a stabilizing and texturizing hydrocolloid alternative, Nutrava Citrus Fiber contains 80 percent dietary fiber at minimum, with an approximately balanced amount of soluble and insoluble fiber.
But hydrocolloids are not well-known among general consumers, and their E-numbers are sometimes detrimental to the way they are perceived, concedes Fauvarque at Alland and Robert.
“Gum acacia is the perfect example: whether it’s labelled E414, Arabic gum or Acacia fiber, it’s the same natural, vegetal and safe hydrocolloid. And yet, those names do not all win the consumers’ trust,” she explains.
“Most people don’t know that beyond the functionalities hydrocolloids bring into food and beverages, hydrocolloids can be used for nutrition,” she continues. “For example, this is the case for soluble fibers such as karaya gum and acacia gum.”
“Education about the safety and origin is key to the success of hydrocolloids.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
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