Hydrocolloid Properties Against Supply Chain Instability
The current supply chain disruption and instability make sourcing many hydrocolloids difficult. However, hydrocolloids possess a wide range of functionalities for food formulators in the clean label space. As such, it is nearly impossible to remove them completely, said Nesha Zalesny, MBA, partner at IMR International*, a market research firm specializing in food hydrocolloids.
Zalesny presented a talk at Global Food Forums’ 2022 Clean Label Conference titled “Understanding Hydrocolloid Properties to Tackle Supply Chain Instability.” Understanding the current market and the basic properties of hydrocolloids may help formulators make better strategic decisions when formulating.
Hydrocolloids are long-chain polysaccharides generally comprised of a repeating backbone with side chains. The side chains can be a simple methoxy or carboxy group or could also be a single sugar or group of sugars. The exception would be gelatin, which is a protein. Understanding the origins of the hydrocolloid helps with grouping functionality and understanding the supply-chain disruptions currently affecting many ingredients.
Source of Hydrocolloids
There are six sources of hydrocolloids: biogums, cellulosics, exudates, plant/seed, seaweed and animal. Nearly every category is facing major supply chain disruptions. Increasing transportation, energy and labor costs for all hydrocolloids are forcing manufacturers to increase their prices.
Almost every hydrocolloid has seen at least double-digit price increases; some, like locust bean gum, tara gum and starches have seen triple-digit price increases, noted Zalesny. Chinese hydrocolloid manufacturers face a double-energy control policy that limits the energy consumed and the intensity of use. This affects hydrocolloids, such as xanthan gum, and cellulosics, like CMC. Of all the hydrocolloids available, only pectin and guar are not experiencing significant instability [at the time of this presentation].
Zalesny offered the following advice for formulators: source material as they develop the product and pick the right tool for the job. If formulators work with purchasing agents to determine availability, they may eliminate problems in the long run. To choose the right tool, formulators should ask themselves what functionality is needed to bring the desired texture and stability to the product. Hydrocolloids can be loosely grouped as viscosifiers, or gelling agents. Viscosifiers can be further broken into hydrocolloids that can suspend, stabilize emulsions, protect proteins and stabilize foam. (See chart “Examples of Viscosifier Functionalities”)
Most gelling hydrocolloids require a gelling cation, such as calcium, to be fully functional. Ensure that the proper amount of cations is added for full functionality of the hydrocolloid, advised Zalesny. Gelling hydrocolloids also have multiple functionalities. The gels themselves can be shear-reversible, thermal-reversible and thermal-gelling, and can also stabilize foam. (See chart “Examples of Gelling Hydrocolloid Multifunctionalities.”) Zalesny advised that these charts are not necessarily exhaustive lists but will hopefully assist formulators in getting started with a new texturizing agent.
Zalesny also recommended taking advantage of synergistic reactions between hydrocolloids. Synergistic hydrocolloids can be blended to create novel textures or a viscosity higher than either single component. A blend of xanthan and locust bean gum is a great example. Xanthan or locust bean gum each adds viscosity to a food system. But, if blended at a 50:50 ratio and heated, they will form a gel. The galactomannans, such as locust bean gum or tara gum, are synergistic with several other hydrocolloids, like carrageenan or agar. When blended, these hydrocolloids will modify or strengthen gels. This property may enable formulators to reduce the total amount of hydrocolloid added to the formulation.
Finally, processing hydrocolloids properly is crucial to achieving full functionality. Most hydrocolloids are either hot- or cold-soluble. Cold-soluble hydrocolloids can be more challenging to work with on industrial-scale production lines. Adding a 50lb bag of xanthan gum directly to water will most likely result in industrial-sized lumps of unhydrated gum, Zalesny wryly pointed out.
Examples of hot-soluble hydrocolloids include agar, carrageenan, cassia, curdlan, gelatin, HA gellan, locust bean gum, pectin, starch and tara gum. Cold water-soluble hydrocolloids include alginates, acacia gum, CMC, LA gellan*, guar gum*, MC/HPMC, microcrystalline cellulose, pectin*, starch (instant) and tara gum*. (Zalesny noted that the asterisked ingredients had an additional requirement and/or heat application was helpful.)
Blend cold-soluble hydrocolloids with dispersing aids, such as sugar, salt or other dry ingredients. A simple rule of thumb is 10 parts dispersing agent to one part gum. If oil is available, hydrocolloids can be dispersed at five parts oil to one part gum.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a massive breakdown of the supply chain. Hydrocolloid users face shortages and delays. If strategies such as sourcing while developing a new formulation; picking the right tool for the job; processing correctly; optimizing use level; and using synergistic hydrocolloids are still not enough, alternatives such as fibers may also be helpful. Fibers sourced from citrus, seaweed flour or rice flours may aid formulators when dealing with shortages. Formulators should be aware that there are rarely drop-in solutions; long-term shelflife may be impacted; and cost-in-use will change.
“Understanding Hydrocolloid Properties to Tackle Supply Chain Instability,” Nesha Zalesny, MBA, partner at IMR International, a market research firm specializing in food hydrocolloids. *IMR publishes a Quarterly Review of Hydrocolloids that offers current market data for all hydrocolloids from agar to xanthan gum.