KANSAS CITY — Count plant-based, non-GMO and naturally sourced as ways hydrocolloids and gums may add to the clean label attributes of foods and beverages. Even carrageenan, which was being removed from formulations several years ago, may claim clean label credentials since it is sourced from red seaweed.

“Cleaner ingredients are typically recognizable and considered to be natural or minimally processed by consumers,” said Corie Williams, strategic marketing manager, food systems for Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. “Although there is a learning curve for consumers at times around the natural sources of many gums and hydrocolloids, these highly functional ingredients have very low usage levels in application and are gluten-free, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and do not contain artificial colors or flavors. Many are also available in non-GMO, Non-GMO Project verified and organic versions as well.”

MarketsandMarkets, Inc., Northbrook, Ill., valued the global hydrocolloids market at $9.7 billion in 2020 and forecast it to reach $13.36 billion by 2026. Hydrocolloids such as xanthan and gum arabic (also known as acacia gum) act as stabilizers to add viscosity to enhance flavor and give body to beverages.

Sustainable seaweed

Seaweed-derived hydrocolloids mainly include alginate, carrageenan and agar, according to MarketsandMarkets.

Straits Research, Maharashtra, India, valued the global carrageenan market at $817.3 million in 2021 and projected it to reach $1.36 billion by 2030 through a CAGR of 5.8%. Demand for natural food additives, gelling and emulsifying agents across the food and beverage industry should drive growth.

Carrageenan survived bad publicity about a decade ago. The Cornucopia Institute, Cornucopia, Wis., in March 2013 issued a report about animal studies indicating food-grade carrageenan caused gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations and malignant tumors in the animals. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, said large amounts of carrageenan have harmed test animals’ colons but added the US Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization concluded food-grade carrageenan does not pose a direct or indirect cancer risk. The CSPI gives carrageenan a “caution” rating.

During that time the WhiteWave Foods Co. removed carrageenan from its Silk and Horizon Organic products, saying carrageenan was safe but customers wanted it removed from the products.

In 2023, carrageenan’s image among consumers may be improving since it is sourced from seaweed, which has sustainability benefits in that it requires no land and no fertilizers to grow.

“Carrageenan has a long, rich history as a nature-based food ingredient that we wish more consumers were aware of, dating back to 400 AD in Ireland and perhaps 600 BC in China,” said Neil Morrison, head of global sales technical service for CP Kelco, Atlanta. “As manufacturers set ambitious goals to reduce their carbon footprint and move away from petrol-based stabilizers, carrageenan may be the answer again. It shows promising functional benefits in formulating meat alternatives, egg alternatives and cheese alternatives.”

He added CP Kelco works with communities in Zanzibar, teaching locals how to grow and harvest seaweed, a renewable and sustainable raw material.

“This has provided numerous employment opportunities, especially for women,” Mr. Morrison said. “We have also restored schools and improved learning conditions.”

More consumers understanding carrageenan’s seaweed origins likely would improve its image, said Iliana Nava, senior technical service specialist for Minneapolis-based Cargill.

“Still, while the ingredient is unfamiliar to many consumers, its unique functional properties bring significant benefits to applications like chocolate beverages, where it contributes a rich, creamy mouthfeel, stability and cocoa suspension,” she said.

Carrageenan works as a thickener, emulsifier and gelling agent, said Ms. Williams of Ingredion.

“It helps prevent the separation of ingredients, which can positively impact freshness and extend the shelf life of products,” she said. “It can be used to create a smooth and creamy texture in dairy products such as ice cream, yogurt, and cheese. It is also often used as a thickener and stabilizer in meat and alternative meat products. It is a natural, plant-based ingredient that is a great alternative to artificial thickeners and stabilizers.”

Additional clean label options

Acacia gum and pectin are two other hydrocolloids with clean label characteristics.

Acacia gum is a natural, water-soluble dietary fiber extracted from the sap of the acacia tree, Ms. Williams said. It is used in a variety of food, pharmaceutical, and personal care products.

Coherent Market Insights, Pune, India, valued the global acacia gum market at $344.6 million in 2021 and forecast it to have a CAGR of 5.2% from 2022-2030. North America accounted for the largest share of the market at 32% in 2021.

ISC Gums, Edison, NJ, offers gum arabic that is non-GMO, gluten-free, free of pesticides and allergens, halal, kosher, and a source of fiber, said Matthew Berliner, vice president. Certified organic gum arabic is also available.

“It is the definition of clean label,” he said.

The gum works as a thickener, emulsifier and stabilizer, he added.

“One of the main benefits of acacia gum is its ability to act as a stabilizing agent without drastically impacting viscosity,” Ms. Williams said. “It can help to improve the texture and consistency of products, making them easier to handle and more pleasant to consume. Acacia is also a natural emulsifier, which means it can help to prevent ingredients from separating, ensuring a smooth and uniform product.”

Pectin received the highest health perception score among hydrocolloids in Cargill’s IngredienTracker survey, Ms. Nava said. Half of the respondents said they were very or somewhat familiar with the ingredient.

“Pectin is considered the gold standard as a label-friendly, nature-based ingredient,” Mr. Morrison said. “As a pantry staple, it is probably one of the easiest for consumers to recognize.”

Pectin is made from the leftovers of juice production: apple pomace and citrus peels, Ms. Navi said.

“Couple these renewable, upcycled roots with consumers’ positive perceptions and it easily checks the label-friendly box coveted by many food and beverage manufacturers,” she said.

Multiple gums and hydrocolloids may be leveraged together, Ms. Williams said.

“Many gums have natural synergistic properties and others complement the building blocks within a formulation to bring an application to the next level,” she said. “These gums are derived from natural sources, minimally processed and GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) certified by the FDA, making them valuable additions to any manufacturer’s ingredient list.”