"Konjac gum has three unique functionalities," says Allen Freed, president, Gum Technology, Tucson, Ariz. "It forms an extremely viscous solution, has great water binding capabilities, and can form a reversible or a non-thermo-reversible gel." Gum Technology offers Coyote brand konjac gum, a powdered ingredient that is about 90% glucomannans.

Thermo-reversible...Or Not

The powder is capable of absorbing up to 50 times its weight in water and can create a very viscous gel, from 12,000 to 20,000 cp. In food products with an acid or neutral pH, it forms a thermo-reversible gel. However, in some products, developers want stable gels that won't reverse as temperature increases. To create such an ingredient, a weak base, such as potassium carbonate, is added to hydrated konjac gum, and the solution is heated. Raising the pH to 9 or 10 creates a gel that is stable over a range of food temperatures, from freezing to cooking. The gel retains its stability when incorporated into food products with a lower pH.

This stability makes it possible to produce shelf-stable gel desserts and gummy candies with konjac gum. For savory products, such as sausages or soy analogs, the gel can be cut into small particles that mimic the appearance of fat, for a meat-like appearance.

Savory products, such as vegetable burgers, soy analogs, and formed meat products, represent a major application area for konjac gum. It helps these products retain their shape and holds particles together. Konjac has been used for years in surimi, to help bind the shaped fish. Additionally, it binds moisture for a pleasing texture and a fatty mouthfeel, and can help with fat reduction in some applications.

Konjac gum reduces ice crystal formation in some savory frozen products. In ice cream, it joins carrageenan and/or locust bean gum in stabilizer systems. It helps bread products maintain quality and extends shelf life by preventing "freezer burn." Also, in use with other gums, konjac helps prevent tortilla edges from drying and cracking and keeps the sides of the filled tortilla from bursting in an oven or microwave. In foodservice, pasta held in steam tables for an extended time may become too soft and fall apart. Konjac can help pasta retain texture and shape, even under these conditions.

In refrigerated dairy items, konjac reduces water migration (syneresis) and helps suspend particles. In milk-based beverages, such as cappuccino, it suspends cocoa or coffee particles, helps stabilize the system and is effective with aseptic packaging processes.

With other gums, konjac achieves synergies to offer useful functionality. When used with xanthan gum, it can increase viscosity more than three-fold. Its use with carrageenan results in a gel more heat stable than carrageenan alone; this gel is more elastic and less prone to syneresis. Konjac gels are clearer than locust bean gels and can help with cost efficiency when used in place of all or part of locust bean gum.

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