Making fiber user-friendly

by Allison Gibeson
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With increased con-sumer demand for fiber to address digestive health issues, there has been a clear need for an easy-to-use fiber source. This has boosted the use of inulin in end products, and now companies are looking at other health benefits inulin provides and how it may be used in combination with different ingredients to meet additional consumer needs.

“There is an overall consumer interest in health, there is a desire for fiber,” said Deborah Schulz, product manager for Minneapolis-based Cargill’s Oliggo-Fiber inulin product. “In addition, there is an emerging interest in the specific benefits of fiber. Consumers know that fiber is generally good for you. Now there are consumers and customers saying, ‘What is special about fiber? What specific benefits does it bring?’”

While most consumers asso-ciate digestive health benefits with fiber, bone health, weight management and calorie re-duction are areas where inulin also has effectiveness. Beneo, Inc., Morris Plains, N.J., for example, has developed an inulin product that increases calcium absorption and reg-ulates appetite.

Ms. Schulz said inulin goes in food systems well and allows the manufacturer to maintain quality while delivering benefits. She said inulin may be used as a bulking agent when a manufacturer is replacing sugar with a high-intensity sweetener. Additionally, inulin also may be used in fat replacement applications because it helps manage water, especially in dairy systems, and helps main-tain mouthfeel, she said.

Overall, Ms. Schulz said inulin is easy to work with because it’s clear in a beverage and has a slightly sweet taste. In contrast, other sources of fiber such as bran have limitations on how much may be used in food systems and which foods work well with them. For example, wheat bran cannot be used in a beverage because it would yield a brown sludge at the bottom.

“The biggest challenge with inulin is that it is acid sensitive,” Ms. Schulz said. “If you put it into an acidic beverage like a carbonated beverage or juice, the acid can actually break down the fiber and therefore you lose the fiber component over time.”

Ms. Schulz said this occurs primarily in shelf-stable beve-rages, and a way to overcome this challenge is to develop a refrigerated beverage as refrigeration stabilizes the fiber.

When used to help with sugar replacement, manufacturers must remember this does change product consistency. If a company is developing a cookie with inulin to reduce sugar levels, the company may have to modify the amount of flour used, and in bread looking at the order ingredients are being added is important. In addition, foods don’t brown as well with inulin so help with color might be needed, Ms. Schulz said.

But overall, any barriers in using inulin are generally manageable.

“Inulin and oligofructose are available in powder and in liquid forms, either of which is easy to incorporate into the production chain, typically with no major changes needed during the production process,” said Joseph O’Neill, executive vice-president of sales and marketing for Beneo. “It is true that the combination of long shelf life, acid conditions and ambient temperature make it difficult to incorporate inulin in acidic soft drinks. But this is a minor limitation when you consider all the other food and beverage applications for these ingredients.”

Mr. O’Neill said manu-facturers need to keep in mind that inulin offers multiple benefits and supports multiple claims, a specific amount is required to reach a desired effect, the benefits actually may be felt by the consumer, ingredients are easy to incorporate in production, and studies show consumers are willing to pay price premiums for the added health benefits.

Going forward, Ms. Schulz said Cargill is looking to blend inulin with other ingredients such as probiotics. As inulin is a prebiotic, the idea is to see if there may be additional benefits to combining probiotics and prebiotics, with the hope this may yield enhanced shelf life or more digestive health benefits.

Retail products with inulin include various products in the Fiber One line from General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis; FiberPlus and Special K bars from Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich.; the Dark Chocolate Chip Walnut Fiber Bar from Odwalla, Inc., Half Moon Bay, Calif.; Alpina Restart Vanilla Fat Free Yogurt and Granola from Alpina Foods L.L.C., Miami; and Banana Nut Soft Baked Oatmeal Cookies and Quaker Chewy Smashbar: Pretzel Berry from Quaker Oats Co., Chicago.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products database, there were 111 products introduced with inulin listed on the label in 2010, which compared with 87 in 2009. The top categories were snacks, dairy and bakery. So far in 2011 through Sept. 21, there have been 71 such products introduced.

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