Starches as alternative to some additives

Consumers expect organic products to contain additives as little as possible or none at all. The organic standards allow for using a limited number of additives but in most cases it is worth considering if even those could be avoided. Also manufacturers of conventional food are increasingly meeting the same challenges as consumers are more carefully checking ingredient lists and becoming critical towards E codes and not understandable ingredient names. Clearly ”Clean label” is one of the most topical trends in the food sector and many manufacturers are reviewing their ingredient lists in order to clean them up.

Generally speaking there are three ways to approach the question: by eliminating, modifying or replacing the existing additives in a product. Elimination is in question if an additive is made unnessary by changes in the manufaturing process – for example using an aseptic process, hot bottling or fermentation instead of preservatives. However below we are mainly talking of modifying and replacing existing additives.

Starches are functional ingredients in the sense that they have a function in the food manufacturing process (so this has nothing to do with health claims). The main functions of potato starch are water binding, thickening, anti caking, filling and gluing. In terms of water binding and thickening potato starch is far superior compared to other native starches. In conventional food manufacturing it is common to use chemically modified starches which have been manufactured by modifying native starch using chemicals, f.ex different acids. Thus the modified starches become more stable towards excessive heat, acid, shear, time, cooling, freezing or long shelf-life and other phenomens of modern food culture like micro-waving, instant preparations and high temperatures etc. However chemically modified starches have E-codes and are considered additives and they are not allowed in organic products and are  not a part of any ”Clean label” concept.

However physical modifications are possible and a physically or enzymatically modified starch can still be declared as ”starch”. As an example cold-swelling (pregelatinated) potato starch can be declared as ”potato starch” or ”starch”. In the case of cold-swelling potato starch physical modification means that the starch solution is heated to optimal temperature for viscosity and at the same time dried back to powder on a drum. The resulting powder swells in cold water. Cold swelling potato starch can be used when water binding or thickening is required but the process does not include heating or the heating is excessive for native starch or the process includes for example too high mechanical shear for native starch. In such a case it might be possible to add cold swelling starch to the product after it has been cooled down. Because of the manufacturing process (heating & drying) of cold swelling starch it is sterile and therefore it can be added even after the product has been pasteurized.

Other physical starch modifications are launched now that industry is striving to develop new ”Clean Label” products. Obvisously for them to be usabe in organic products they also need to be certified organic.

Thickeners, stabilizers and emulsifiers include also other additives than modified starches (E400-499). Many of them are allowed in organic processing and all of those that are allowed derive from natural algae or plants. In some cases these could be replaced with physically modified starches enabling an even cleaner label in terms of allowed additives and non-organic materials. For example guargum can in many cases be replaced totally or partly by cold swelling potato starch in dry blends and sometimes also in short shelf-life liquid products. Functional starch is also much more cost-efective.

Each product and manufacturing process is different and the interactions between different factors are complex. Only considering the functionality of starches, the other ingredients, pH, mechanical shear in the process, temperature and time among others have an effect on the results. All recipes must be tested in practise in test-kitchen and industrial scale. As a supplier we can offer help to manufacturers with product development questions as we have in-house test-kitchens. If you have any questions related to potato starch applications please feel free to contact us.


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