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Emulsifier alternatives may only have niche food and drink appeal

By Jane Byrne , 09-Sep-2011
Last updated the 21-Oct-2011 at 12:12 GMT

Emulsifier replacers or alternatives are likely to be used only in the premium end of food and drink products due to cost concerns, claim UK experts.

For an industry striving to achieve clean labelling, initial research by industry consultants, Campden BRI, shows that it may not be straightforward to eliminate emulsifiers or replace them with alternatives in complex food and drink systems.

“Any alternative clean or cleaner label material may not be cost competitive and could therefore be more likely to deliver benefits in a niche or high value product area,” said Charles Speirs, baking science manager at Campden BRI, speaking to FoodNavigator.com this morning.

He argues that as bread is generally a low-cost product, it leaves that sector, in particular, with little scope to switch to more expensive emulsifier replacers.

Mono and diglycerides

Speirs is lead researcher on a two year project at the Gloucestershire-based centre.

He said that the food scientists are aiming to identify and test materials brand owners could use in order to appeal to the growing desire for 'natural' products, as opposed to the “very effective and very cheap” and thus “very appealing” conventional emulsifiers - mono and diglycerides and their derivatives.

The global food and beverage processing industry relies on an annual supply of some 300,000 tonnes of emulsifier to produce a wide range of multi-component products.

Such products include breads, cakes, spreads, ice cream, dressings, meat products, chocolate and soft drinks, with the biggest application for emulsifiers in food and drink being bakery.

Constituting about 70 per cent of total production, the emulsifier supply industry is dominated by mono and diglycerides and their derivatives - an indicator that these materials are cost effective in use. These traditional emulsifiers account for 26 different food product label declarations or E-numbers in Europe.

Better looking’ labels

Speirs stresses that, following a review of the available scientific literature, the Campden team report that it is nearly impossible to have clean labelling in relation to emulsifier. Essentially, what the industry can hope for is a “better looking” label declaration, he remarks.

“The replacement of emulsifiers with clean label alternatives appears on the face of it to be challenging. Alternative polysaccharide based-emulsifiers such as gum arabic or pectin are classified as additives and not ingredients.

Therefore there is a requirement to declare their addition. This raises the question of degree of cleanliness of the label. There may be occasions where a label declaration of "pectin" is preferred even though this is strictly speaking not clean label,” argues Speirs.

However, the researcher reports that the team were able to identify some materials which could attract ‘softer’ label declarations than a claim of ‘mono and diglycerides and their derivatives’ on the label with proteinaceous materials based on soy, lupin and pea, and lipid based materials from oats known to have emulsification properties, as well as lecithin.

Sugar beet

And Speirs notes that one route to a clean label declaration could be the inclusion of a foodstuff which includes an active component: “For example, the addition of sugar beet pectin requires the label declaration pectin (E440) whereas the raw material, sugar beet, would be viewed as an ingredient.

Emulsifier properties have been attributed to the two major cell wall components of yeast: mannoproteins and beta-glucans. These two materials can constitute over 90 per cent of the yeast cell wall which, if efficacious in its own right, could lead to the clean label declaration of ‘yeast’,” he continued.

Enzyme usage

Moreover, the use of enzymes, seems potentially to be a straight forward route to attain a clean label declaration, comments Speirs. “If enzymes are added to a food formulation and subsequently denatured during processing they can be classified as process aids and do not attract a label declaration.”

The researcher also notes research carried out on Fenugreek gum at the University of Guelph in Canada, which illustrated its emulsifier functionality. The gum has GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status in North America.

Speirs added that the Campden BRI team is aiming to test some of these clean or cleaner label emulsifiers in bakery applications to determine the advantages, if any, to be gained by their take-up within that industry.

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