According to Frost & Sullivan, the total European food starch market was worth some $3.65bn in revenue terms in 2007, and 4.6m tonnes in volume. However the volume growth rate was less than one per cent, and this is being compounded by high prices putting the squeeze on margins. But Chandrasekhar Shankaar, an analyst with the consultancy, said in a new briefing entitled Starch - The inevitable ingredient, that the market is "mature and concentrated". Moreover, there has been considerable price pressure as a result of greater demand for greats on the back of the biofuels boom. Poor harvests as a result of wet weather in Europe have also compounded the situation, leading Shankaar to say that starch manufacturers are "suffocating" between raw material pressures and the increased bargaining power gained by manufacturers over ingredient suppliers over the last few years, as a result of consolidation in the sector. However given the wide application base of starch across the sector - as stabilisers, thickeners, binding agents, fat replacers, or sweeteners, amongst other uses - and especially the focus on healthier foods, the analyst sees some good opportunities for product development. "Most low-calorie food products lack taste and mouth-feel, due to the removal of fats," said Shankaar. "Starches, and especially modified starches, are increasingly used by food manufacturers for their positive impact on organoleptic parameters that should enhance the overall food experience of the end-consumers." The message is that, to tap into these opportunities, food starch-makers should introduce strategies such as differentiation over price, and focusing on their customers' precise wants and needs. The main sources of starch in Europe are cited as being maize, wheat and potato. Figures from the Association des Amidonniers and Feculiers (AFF) that each year the industry process around 12.5m tonnes of cereals and 10m tonnes of potatoes. The result is a total of 9m tonnes of starch (native or modified) or starch derivatives. Some recent research in the field of starch has contributed to understanding of its use in foods, and particularly how it can be used to make food more appealing to consumers. For instance, this month the Journal of Food Science (doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00645.x) reported that the release of aroma from a starch-containing food appears to be dictated by interactions of the volatile compound with the carbohydrate. The researchers, led by Nathalie Cayot, investigated the role of food structure and texture on the release of model aromas, linalool and isoamyl acetate. Cayot and co-workers report that the release of linalool appeared to be controlled by interactions with starch, noting that the strength of the bonds between starch and aroma increased when extra-sheared starch was used. A link between temperature and binding strength was also observed, with increasing temperature linked to lower bond strengths. On the other hand, the release of isoamyl acetate changed according to the structure of the starch dispersion, with the aroma compound reportedly less mobile in the extra-sheared matrix than in the non-sheared matrix." A similar observation as for linalool was reported with regards to temperature, with greater release observed for higher temperatures. Another study published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry last month (Tapanapunnitikul et al, Volume 56, Pages 220-226) found that flavour compounds with a low solubility may form complexes with high-amylose maize starch, offering innovative encapsulation and cost-saving benefits. The combination of starch and flavours is not new, but has mostly focussed on amylose- and lipid-free starch preparations, explained the researcher from Kasetsart University (Bangkok) and Pennsylvania State University. They said it would be interesting to find a way to encapsulate flavours using a commercial native starch because the material cost would be less than for prepared amylase.