Gums and hydrocolloids are a diverse collection of polysaccharides that create gel-like formations when in contact with moisture. They are extremely versatile, improving texture, mouthfeel, and physical appearance in foods and beverages. Gums can be used to increase viscosity levels or benefit flow. They are especially prized for increasing stability in an ingredient matrix.

In 2020, total global hydrocolloid sales were assessed by Markets and Markets research at $9.7B, and projected to grow by 5.3% CAGR to $12.6B by 2025. Whether arising from the increased use of convenient meal kits, products for home-cooking, reduced eating-out options, or trends such as plant-based eating, the utilization of gums and hydrocolloids continues to increase.

Adding to all of the above is the recognition of health benefits provided by many of these ingredients. To meet this growth trend, manufacturers have resolved supply bottlenecks by diversifying production during 2020, as well as taking advantage of expanded forms and sources of gums plus technology that can increase their functional range.

Pectin is one of several healthful dietary fibers currently authorized as such by the FDA, but it must be included in formulations at higher levels than typically needed for structure and texture, resulting in an associated increase in viscosity. Of similar interest is the tree exudate-derived acacia gum, which holds GRAS food additive status and is supported by proprietary food studies as having prebiotic benefits.

The classification rules for dietary fibers changed on January 1, 2021 in the US. While digestive health benefits remain difficult to document to the satisfaction of regulators, the area is of huge interest among consumers. Although acacia has not currently attained dietary fiber status, dialogue remains open, with the FDA being willing to consider emerging studies. The FDA states that beneficial physiological effects for a dietary fiber include, for example, lowering blood glucose, cholesterol, or calorie intake levels, or increasing frequency of lower g.i. function.

Pectin is one of the most commonly used food gums. It is an excellent thickener, gelling agent, and protein stabilizer. Typically derived from apple and citrus peels, it also is considered among the most label-friendly and versatile gums. Consequently, it is preferred for use in many clean-label formulations, especially in dairy-alternative beverages, including the low-sugar and low-pH variants. Suitable low-pH formulations include jellies, jams, fruit syrups, yogurts, yogurt drinks, and dairy-alternative yogurts. Other applications include more indulgent confectionery chews, gummies, and glazes.

A range of pectins is available, with varying gel strengths, viscosities, setting temperatures, and setting rates to suit different applications. For instance, in acidified smoothie-style dairy-alternative beverages, pectin surrounds and stabilizes proteins that otherwise would tend to precipitate out during processing. In formulations, pectin adds structure, helping create the unique, semi-solid nature of jams and jellies.

Pectin is especially favored for plant-based yogurt analogs, where it helps create a creamy mouthfeel, provides gel formations for a spoonable texture, and prevents liquid separation (syneresis). In reduced-sugar beverages, pectin adds body and mouthfeel back to the formulation. In confectionery gummies, pectin provides structure and syneresis control, helping the product resist melting, especially in hotter climates.

A currently trending hydrocolloid positioned to benefit clear jelly-based applications (including drinkable jellies, jelly beads, and bubble teas) is a new low-acyl gellan gum. Launched last October, it is said to provide much improved solubility in calcium-rich solutions with a gel strength similar to that of traditional gellan gums, while also using 20-25% less ingredient.

Gellan gum also comes in a non-GMO high-acyl option. While low-acyl gellan gums are favored for creating firm, non-elastic, brittle gels, high-acyl gellan is used to make soft, highly elastic gels. Gellan is created by fermentation and functions as an excellent stabilizer in dairy and dairy analogs, plus high-particulate and other beverages. Gellan gum is also classified as a soluble fiber.

High-acyl gellan creates a soft, gel-like structure that is able to hold particles in suspension without negatively affecting mouthfeel. Mitigating sedimentation, the gum also can be used in water-based products such as sports beverages. When it comes to finely tuned textures in product development, combining the two types of gellan in calibrated ratios allows for an endless range of textures.

Another gum ideal for improving appearance and viscosity while keeping suspension and emulsification is carrageenan. Extracted from seaweed, carrageenan works well in neutral-pH formulations containing protein and electrolytes, such as chocolate milk products and ice cream.

Carrageenan keeps fats emulsified in dairy, preventing syneresis. Particularly in high-protein milks, this is key, as the creation of a white film layer on top of the milk is unacceptable. Carrageenan stabilizes the proteins, imparting thickness, creaminess, and enhanced viscosity. 

Carrageenan’s easy spoonability benefits consistency within reduced-fat dairy applications, while its quick melting behavior organoleptically enhances the eating experience. A single hydrocolloid like carrageenan also improves dairy-free or dairy-alternative chocolate beverages, providing an extra-creamy, indulgent mouthfeel. It also maintains suspension of the cocoa particles throughout processing until the end of the shelf-life period. In addition, it combines well with starches to deliver a decadent and luxurious rend-product.

Carrageenan experienced some negative publicity several years ago due to a lack of popular recognition of the gum as a natural product and part of seaweed’s centuries-long history of use. Education about the safety and even the positive health benefits of the ingredient has stemmed misinformation and the majority of consumers now accept the ingredient.

Savory bases and sauces enjoy greater “cling” and stability under harsh processing with the addition of the right gums. Versatile, fermented xanthan gum is well suited to conditions with high solids content, low pH, and/or high salt – all typical of savory sauces and gravies. Xanthan withstands demanding processing conditions, including high shear stress and temperatures. Unique among hydrocolloids, it dissolves readily in either hot or cold water, with no heat requirement.

Xanthan is the only hydrocolloid providing cling, which holds sauces onto pasta or meat surfaces. It also prevents oil separation by stabilizing emulsions and offers excellent freeze/thaw stability, making its use ideal not only for sauces but for dressings, dairy products, and frozen ready-meals.

A blend of xanthan and carrageenan within sour creams or dressings allows those products to reach ideal mouthfeel and stability throughout their shelf life. The cling functionality from xanthan is key in dressings and dips, while carrageenan serves to thicken the product, addressing mouthfeel expectations and facilitating better processing.

In meat alternatives, carrageenan helps gel formation and water retention, creating a firm, sliceable structure and acceptable eating texture. Additionally, it contributes to freeze-thaw stability, helping to bind vegetable pieces together to maintain structure in plant-based patties during cooking.

Products that benefit from cleaner labels, stable oil content, and lower cost-in-use are excellent candidates for acacia gum. Acacia is traditionally an excellent emulsifier for color, flavor and beverage emulsions, as it is pH-stable, withstands pasteurization temperatures and pressures, and imparts desirable clouding.

New, improved acacia gum variants are available with higher emulsification performance and functionality, as well as a lower cost-in-use than traditional forms, which could encourage beverage manufacturers to choose these over synthetic or modified emulsifiers.

One improved acacia gum, launched in late 2020, allows an increase in beverage oil loading from 12% to 24%. It also requires up to 70% lower volume usage levels, without reducing finished product quality. This new acacia can stabilize emulsion concentrates at these higher oil levels, delivering a more stable particle size over time in most environments. This can help lengthen shelf life stability and allow vibrancy in flavors and colors to persist longer in beverage applications that use concentrate syrups.

Proprietary technology in the new acacia formulation means no weighting agents are necessary to increase either specific gravity or the density of the oil phase. Weighting agents add cost and require significant dissolution time, making them unpopular with manufacturers. Dispensing with such added ingredients also reduces water use during production and ingredient transportation costs for beverage producers. Moreover, consumers respond favorably to the resulting shorter and “cleaner” ingredient labels.

Formulators rely on hydrocolloid gums to create appealing textures, but must follow specific steps in their dispersion, hydration, and solubilization. Hydrocolloids are used at extremely low rates in formulations, which minimizes costs and potential viscosity issues. Premixing hydrocolloids with another ingredient can often aid particle dispersion when encountering water. Another option is to add a hydrocolloid mixture slowly while mixing vigorously to avoid clumping. Most hydrocolloids also require heat to ensure dissolution.

Hydrocolloid suppliers can help developers select the right ingredient or customized blend and usage rates, while factoring in various considerations. They also have the technological expertise to help resolve complex formulation challenges, whether sugar reduction, plant-based dairy or meat alternatives, clean-label formulation, and similar challenges, all of which require a total solution-based approach.

Working in partnership, providers understand the technology capabilities, recipe formulations, and ingredient challenges necessary to create added-value opportunities when meeting product formulation development needs.

Deborah Cross, PhD, is a Consultant and Director of ForEden Solutions Ltd., and Associate Managing Consultant for CPL Business Consultants, Ltd, a food ingredients specialist business consultancy. She is based near Oxford in the UK. Trained in monogastric nutrition and microbiology, Cross has extensive experience as a commercial technical nutritionist, global analyst, and in technically-focused business intelligence for the food and feed industries. For more information, go to or contact her at

Natural hydrocolloids are isolated from plants, animals, seaweed, and microorganisms. Used for texture and structure, they may be added singularly or as components of functional texturizing system blends. Ingredient technologists and manufacturers can help craft tailored combinations of hydrocolloids and gums that aid in attaining perfect textures. Such systems might include other functional ingredients. For example, some developers might want to incorporate additional fibers to achieve a reduced-sugar formulation. Customized, convenient, and functional premixes can also offer rapid delivery advantages, such as drop-in bags, saving time during production as well as ensuring an accurate ingredient blend.