Looking at the role fibers and gums are playing in everyday foods and beverages reveals that product developers are paying closer attention to these key ingredients for their dual functions as both texturants and nutraceuticals. This has become especially evident where those two functions merge—in plant-based products designed to mimic meat and dairy.

Collectively falling under the title hydrocolloids, gums and fibers are derived from land and sea plants, animals, and microbial sources. They provide functionality including thickening, emulsifying, and water retention. “While traditional methods like extraction are still in place, many next-generation gums and starches are derived from different sources,” notes Anne-marie Ramo, a consulting research and development chef. “These sources include bacterial and microbial fermentation, and upcycled agricultural and manufacturing byproducts.

Gellan gum is an example of a gum created through fermentation, specifically by the Sphingomonas elodea bacterium. The polysaccharide provides smooth viscosity, and aids in particulate suspension in fluid formulations, such as fruit and vegetable drinks and salad dressings. It is prized for lending a velvety mouthfeel and pleasant texture to dairy and plant-based milk beverages as well.

By DAVID FEDER, RDN, Executive Editor–Technical

Fibers and gums are seen in a new light for texture and health.

Fiber Optics


Old-favorite fibers, such as dextrin, are getting a new lease as health benefits such as digestive resistance are being revealed. Photo courtesy of: BioNeutra North America, Inc.  

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Available in two forms, gellan also is highly popular for use in candies and other confections. The low-acyl form of gellan gum creates firm, non-elastic, brittle gels, while the high-acyl form creates soft, highly elastic gels.

Welcome Revivals

Gum acacia is an historical favorite for its function in formulations that is gaining renewed attention for health benefits. While decades of studies have supported its cholesterol-balancing capacity⁠, studies in the past five years have pointed to acacia’s ability to help reduce body fat. Furthermore, a randomized controlled trial published earlier this year found acacia helpful in relieving throat soreness and symptoms of dry mouth.

Acacia blends are gaining more ground as processors increasingly need to fine-tune better-for-you products that rely heavily on texture. Highly competitive products like analogs of meat and poultry, as well as dairy-free “cream” sauces and dressings are primary applications for such blends. Acacia works especially well at helping to preserve freeze/thaw integrity, both in aggregations (like ground or shredded mock meats) and in viscous liquids like dressings, sauces, and gravy. Acacia blends also support particle suspension, increase fluid thickness, and prevent component separation.


Even the best gums need a little help. A new sodium malate-based ingredient stabilizes pH at exactly the right range for gelling pectin in gummies. Photo courtesy of: Bartek Ingredients, Inc.  

Tapioca is another classic revival. Although not a high-fiber ingredient, the unmodified native starch of the cassava root is prized for its fiber-like ability to act as a highly effective thickener, filler, binder and stabilizer. It works especially well as a texturizer in baked goods, extruded products, frozen items, soups, and sauces. Organic native tapioca starch offers a non-GMO clean-label and a versatility that's perfect for allergen-free/grain-free formulations.

With the Grain

Fibers and gums from plants remain the most typical sources found in food and beverage production. However, until recently, many were not able to compete on the clean-label playing field. This was especially true of fibers from corn, still a largely GMO crop in the US. In recent years, however, organic and non-GMO corn crops have been cultivated to fill the need.

Recently, one supplier took it an extra step, launching a new, multifunctional corn fiber that not only is non-GMO and provides a clean label, but it’s also derived from upcycled sources. Through conserving the natural interplay between cellulose and hemicelluloses within corn bran, the new fiber boasts superior water-holding capacity—up to 30X its weight. Plus, once hydrated, its viscous characteristics add mouthfeel and texture to dairy and other applications.


Today’s fibers and gums are focused not only on function and health but on adding a clean label and sustainability. Photo courtesy of: Agrifiber Solutions, LLC  

The new corn fiber even can help restore desirable mouthfeel in reduced-fat meat products when used as a binder and extender. It performs in the same manner for plant-based meat alternatives, while enhancing yield and juiciness through its ability to hold both oil and water within the protein matrix.

A similar fiber, derived from non-GMO oats, is available as well. It is produced through the same conservative process and upcycling as the corn fiber to preserve the natural functionality within oat hull residues. Although the water-holding capability is only about 40% that of the aforementioned new corn fiber, it retains all the nutritional benefits of oat fiber. It has proven to be especially effective at controlling moisture within bakery and snack applications.

Important Imports

Fiber from the stems of white button mushrooms brings a third function to the fiber and gum table. In addition to texture attributes, the flavorless, colorless fiber has been found to act as a natural preservative, improving shelf life by protecting against spoilage. It can be readily incorporated into meat analogs, plant-based dairy replacers, sauces, and salad dressings.

The South American chia seed has become a popular ingredient for its high protein and omega oils. Lately, processors have taken notice of its functional fiber capacity. Chia fiber can replace up to 25% of wheat flour in bread, muffin, cookie, cake, and scone formulas without impacting the rest of the recipe.

Although well-known in the Middle East and Africa, sago—produced from the trunk of the true sago palm (Metroxylon sagu)—is being recognized on this side of the world as a an ideal clean-label, gluten-free thickener. It imparts a particularly smooth mouthfeel and easy viscosity.

From further east, lotus root is a recognized source of fiber and starch that blends well with hydrocolloids such as xanthan, carrageenan, gum Arabic, and guar gum to create moist, marshmallow-style structures in confectionery products.

Plants, especially tropical plants, will continue to be plumbed for sources of unique functional fibers. Previously reported sources—such as jackfruit, mango seed, green bananas (high in resistant starch), various tubers, and other sustainable plants—are rich in natural gums and fibers waiting to be brought into the mainstream of food ingredients. PF

December 2021

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