As consumers seek healthier options and greater convenience in prepared and packaged foods, gums and fibers are receiving new recognition as important ingredients for health and biological functions as well as stability and texture. Fibers and gums often provide added health benefits — including improvements in blood sugar regulation, weight loss, and gut health — while lending texture and structure to foods and beverages.
Hydrocolloids are one of the most common of these “dual-purpose” actors, and they typically are derived from plants, seaweed, animals, and microbial sources. They offer food formulators options for thickening, emulsifying, and water retention. Plant hydrocolloids are highly valued for their prebiotic dietary fiber properties.
One of the most versatile hydrocolloids is partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG), a variation on standard guar gum that is clear and colorless. A legume rich in the prebiotic polysaccharide galactomannan, guar gum as PHGG is comprised of approximately 80% healthful dietary fiber and has a low viscosity, which allows it to be used at concentrations that have a noticeable biological dietary fiber effect.
Research shows that the properties of guar are beneficial to regular digestive function. A study of healthy volunteers shows that PHGG supplementation significantly increased the proliferation of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilla, known to modify gut microflora and provided relief from pain and abdominal swelling in individuals with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
The keto diet trend is predicted to continue growing. In general, keto diets are rich in lipids, with moderate protein and carbohydrate intake. Lipids, bulk fibers, and sugar alcohols are essential ingredients to reach the polar extremes of the high fat/low carbohydrate/no sugar keto diet. This can be challenging for a formulator.
Hydrocolloids are in the sweet spot to address this challenge because they contribute texture and stability, while not significantly affecting carbohydrate levels. Hydrocolloids emulsify the high fat content and retain the structure that is lost when removing sugar and replacing it with sugar alcohols.
Mucilages are a type of thick and viscous gum in plant roots and seeds. Typical food sources are guar bean, locust bean (carob), tamarind, and seaweed (agar and carrageenan). They also are available from fenugreek, aloe vera, cactus, and flax. A recently discovered source is seeds of the plantain family. As soluble polysaccharides, mucilages typically have high water-holding capacity, making them suitable replacements for xanthan gum in a number of formulations.
Depending on the source, mucilages carry health benefits and can be used as replacements for other gum fibers with nominal nutritional attributes. Another source beginning to enjoy greater use is yellow mustard seed bran. Yellow mustard bran contains about 5.5% mucilage and has unique functional properties as a stabilizer, emulsifier, and binding agent for water and fat. It also has shear-thinning properties similar to xanthan gum and exhibits good freeze/thaw stability when compared to gum Arabic and citrus pectin.
Yellow mustard mucilage is a heterogeneous polysaccharide of a 1,4-D-glucan (a similar backbone to xanthan gum) and its emulsion capacity surpasses that of gum Arabic and pectin. Yellow mustard mucilage also acts synergistically with galactomannans (from locust bean gum or guar gum) to form gels. A bonus is that mucilage also has antioxidant properties, helping to enhance food quality and product shelf life.
Tiny but mighty chia seeds, already enjoying major growth in recent years, are proving to be another excellent emulsifier for food and beverage products. Chia powders are multifunctional, containing up to 56% dietary fiber content, as well as 25% high biological-value vegetable protein and 4% omega-3 fatty acids.
Chia flour, or defatted milled chia, provides four highly valued nutrients: fibers, proteins, omega-3, and calcium. This rich nutrient profile allows food manufacturers to use one ingredient instead of three or four highly processed ingredients, such as soy proteins, inulin or psyllium or polydextrose fibers, or omega-6 oils and calcium concentrates (which are considered food additives).
Chia flour also allows for a clean label and meets the natural ingredient trend. Chia powders are ideal for special diets like keto, raw, vegan, paleo, and gluten-free and are well suited to inclusion in breads, muffins, cookies, nutty cakes, and scones.
RESISTANT STARCH RESURGENCE
For every carb-starved eater out there, the resurgence of resistant starches (RS) is good news ever. The science behind resistant starches dates back to the 1970s, when it was discovered that certain fibers in bananas (underripe), barley, corn (high-amylose), peas, plantains, potatoes, and wheat among other sources contain prebiotic carbohydrate compounds that act metabolically like fibers and are fermented in the colon, yet behave like starches and flours in cooking and baking.
The health benefits of resistant starch are many, including satiety-boosting for healthy weight management, reducing spikes in glucose for healthy blood sugar management, lowering blood cholesterol, and promoting gastrointestinal health by increasing colonic fermentation/short-chain fatty acid production and contributing to positive
modulation of colonic microflora that can act on hormones to decrease appetite and food intake.
New technology continues to be developed in regard to unique prebiotic fibers with enhanced benefits. Patents recently have been issued for galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), noted for cardiometabolic and gut microbiota modulation benefits. And a new prebiotic resistant starch Type 2 (RS2) from potatoes hit the market earlier in the year.
Studies show that RS significantly increases the abundance of Bifidobacteria. The research found that as little as 3.5g of resistant starch (one tenth of the previously documented dosage) allows substantiated structure/function claims that include gastrointestinal health, prebiotic benefits, support for irritable bowel syndrome-related symptoms, regularity, and healthy aging – all independent of a probiotic.
These RS2 ingredients have also been approved as Low FODMAP-certified (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), and will not promote abdominal discomfort and gas during digestion.
The wrinkled pea is another source of resistant starch poised for an increase in use. A study from the Imperial College of London showed that whole seeds or flour made from the wrinkled pea could help mitigate type 2 diabetes. In this study, published in the journal Nature Food, researchers used a type of “super pea,” a wrinkled pea variant with a naturally occurring genetic mutation that produces a greater amount of resistant starch, but a lower overall carbohydrate content. In healthy volunteers who consumed super peas or a wrinkled pea flour, blood sugar levels did not spike after a meal, compared to the smooth peas.
As the science grows to support the health benefits of fibers and gums along with their application value, product developers will have an expanded number of novel ingredients to choose from. We can expect to see novel fibers and gums continue to bring texture, flavor, and good health to a new generation of foods and beverages.