Natural emulsifiers are taking a larger share of the market, reports Sarah Houlton, with lecithin cornering the lion’s share. But there are even wider alternatives available to manufacturers sourcing emulsifiers for their products.
Many different food types, from bread to chocolate to beverages, rely on emulsifiers for their texture and stability. According to Arthi V (her full name is much longer), senior research analyst in the chemicals, materials and foods group at Frost & Sullivan, more than 70% of the $663 million European market for emulsifiers consists of one or other form of synthetic emulsifier. However, there has been a resurgence in interest in natural emulsifiers, While less than a third of the market is made up of natural products, this is a substantial rise from the 16% share they had as recently as 2005.
Sources of lecithin
The natural emulsifier market is dominated by lecithin, but this represents a variety of sources, formats and functionalities. It is a mixture of phospholipids, which are present in all cell membranes, and the precise composition depends on the source. Frost & Sullivan estimates about 95% of lecithin is commercially produced by crushing soybeans, and then extracting lecithin from the resulting soy oil. Other commercial sources include palm oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil, as well as milk and eggs.
While many synthetic emulsifiers have been developed over the years, according to Heidi Schmitt, R&D manager at German lecithin specialist Lecico, lecithin remains an important emulsifier for the simple reason that in many cases it works better than the alternatives. “Perhaps the most important food use of lecithin is chocolate. Other emulsifiers are used, but this is mainly in combination with lecithin because no-one has developed an emulsifier with the same functionality as lecithin at the same price ratio,” she says.
Another important application where lecithin still dominates is margarine. “Here, it is commonly used as a co-emulsifier with synthetic lecithins because it prevents spattering when frying,” she explains. “Again, lecithin has not been eliminated from the formulation because nothing else has been found that performs as well. It’s also useful in fat-reduced spreads, even if they are not used for frying, because lecithin helps with flavour development.”
Because of the predominance of soybeans as the source of lecithin, GMO content is a real issue. Frost & Sullivan’s Arthi V indicates that while, as might be expected, the European market is completely dominated by non-GMO lecithin, in the US the genetically modified version is much more common. Traceability and analysis requirements push the price of non-GMO product up, and soya is a potential allergen so it must have a label declaration. This is not the case for other sources such as sunflower.
“Several customers have looked into using sunflower instead, but it’s not comparable to soya, particularly in terms of flavour,” Schmitt explains. There are similar residual taste issues with rapeseed, milk and egg lecithins. “They go back to soya because they have flavour problems in the final product with sunflower as it has a distinct taste. Sunflower lecithin makes white chocolate taste terrible – but it could work in dark chocolate where the chocolate flavour is much stronger.”
The future for lecithin will hold more new sources, and combining technological functionality with physiological functionality, Schmitt believes. “At Fi Europe in Frankfurt last year, many chocolate and beverage industry visitors to our stand were looking for lecithins that could add health aspects to their products,” she says. “Lecithins from milk, egg and marine sources are more expensive, but their phospholiphid composition means they have potential in the health food and food supplement industries.”
Some enzymes and other proteins can have emulsifying properties, and in many industries these products predominate. “Enzymes have made rapid strides in the bakery sector,” claims Arthi V. “Advantages such as crumb softness, volume, advanced technology, increased resistance towards chemical processes and decreased production costs aid in the gradual replacement of emulsifiers by enzymes, especially in the bakery and dairy industries,” she says.
Enzymes are not in themselves emulsifiers – they produce emulsifiers in situ from naturally occurring substances such as the lipids in flour. As they are denatured during baking they are not present in the final product, and thus do not have to be declared on the label as they are not considered additives. The clean label and cost-effectiveness of enzymes has led to a rapid uptake in the bakery sector, where they are now firmly established. “In general, enzymatically derived emulsifiers will allow for lower dosage levels, thereby decreasing handling and storage space,” says Caroline van Benschop, global product application specialist at DSM Food Specialties. “They can be used in all types of applications from steam buns to tin-baked sandwich bread, as well as certain types of French bread.”
Choices for bread
One traditional bakery emulsifier which is being replaced by enzymes is diacetyl tartaric ester of monoglyceride, or Datem. This helps build a strong gluten network, thus strengthening the dough. The enzymes react with the lipids that are naturally present in wheat flour to create molecules with very similar structures and functions to Datem. With the correct ingredient mix and processing, enzymes can give results every bit as good as Datem itself, if not better. One such enzyme is DSM’s Panamore Golden which, according to van Benschop, is cheaper than Datem, and gives improvements in volume, oven spring and shred, and the overall tolerance and shape of the final bread, while keeping the label clean.
Researchers have been comparing the performance of enzymes and non-enzymatic emulsifiers in the lab. A recently published study from scientists at the University of New South Wales (S. Moayedallaie et al, Food Chemistry, published online ahead of print 20.10.09) compared Datem with several different enzymes – Novozymes’ Lipopan 50-BG, F-BG and Xtra-BG, and Danisco’s Gryndamyl Excel 16. They found that with the exception of Lipopan 50-BG, the enzymes all gave the significant increases in rise and volume one would expect with Datem. Additional advantages with enzymes are that, unlike Datem, they do not cake, and much lower volume dosages are needed.
DSM’s latest lipolytic enzyme complex, Panamore Spring, is designed to replace a different class of bakery emulsifiers – calcium and sodium stearoyl lactylates (CSL and SSL). Again, it acts on the lipids naturally present in flour, explains van Benschop. However, its lipase profile has been adapted to generate molecules that are almost identical to SSL/CSL.
“These traditional emulsifiers can be replaced by Panamore Spring without any major changes to the production process,” she says. “As enzymes already enjoy widespread use, they can simply be added in a similar way. Traditionally, this takes place at the beginning of the breadmaking process during the mixing of all ingredients.” She adds that it is particularly useful when variable flour quality is an issue, and can offer cost savings of up to 50%, as well as that all-important clean label.
If there is no suitable enzymatic emulsifier to give a clean label, it’s still possible to meet customer demands for natural ingredients with the new breed of naturally-sourced emulsifiers. This is particularly the case in the beverage sector. “In today’s competitive marketplace, emulsifiers must meet multiple demands,” claims Claudia Fiannaca, National Starch Food Innovation’s business development manager, beverages and flavours. “Consumers are showing a growing preference for products with natural ingredients. Therefore, emulsifiers that combine high functionality with a consumer-friendly or ‘natural’ label are now extremely sought after.”
She adds: “Manufacturers are looking for emulsifiers that are easy to use and neutral tasting. Ingredients that produce specific effects, such as increased turbidity or clear beverage emulsions, are also in demand.”
Newer emulsifiers such as National Starch’s Purity Gum range are effective at lower usage levels than gum Arabic and have higher oil loading properties, while being compatible with many of the other ingredients commonly used in beverages, such as natural colours, flavours, vitamins, nutrients and cloud emulsions.
The company’s latest naturally sourced emulsifier, Q-Naturale, is a sustainable emulsifier derived from the native South American quillaia tree. “It is stable in terms of supply and quality, and performs similarly to gum Arabic in sensory testing,” Fiannaca says. “It has higher emulsification performance that enables extremely low usage levels or high oil load emulsions.” It has applications in a range of beverage products, both carbonated and non-carbonated, and is also able to stabilise nutrients such as omega-3s.
Sustainable and natural
According to DSM’s van Benschop, the key trend she is currently seeing is the demand for sustainably-sourced ingredients and natural solutions. “Our customers have wide-ranging requests, such as finding one enzyme for all applications, or looking for ways to smooth out seasonal differences in raw materials like flour, eggs and milk.”
Fiannaca adds that her customers in the beverage market are also looking for lower cost-in-use ingredients, but there’s a difficult balance that needs to be struck between acceptable cost and meeting customer desires. “Manufacturers need excellent functionality at an affordable price – emulsification solutions must deliver high quality results in conjunction with a cost benefit,” she says.
That at least is one requirement that emulsifiers share with other ingredients.
Source: Ingredients Network