Inulin is both, although experts agree that its fiber functionality far outweighs the mild sweetness it brings to finished baked foods and snacks.

Inulin, most often extracted from chicory root but present in other plants, conveys at most about 65% the sweetness of sucrose; however, it shares many of the functional properties of invert sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, explained Scott Turowski, technical sales, Sensus America, Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J. It can serve as a direct replacement for these sugars in most bakery uses.

“A key reason is its humectancy, which allows developers to reduce sugar without affecting the texture of the finished product,” he said.

Although low in sweetness, inulin supplies good bulking properties, noted Deborah Schulz, specialty carbohydrates product line manager, Cargill, Wayzata, Minn.

“If the original sweetness level is desired when reducing the sugar, high-intensity sweeteners need to be used,” she explained.

Joe O’Neill, president and general manager, Beneo, Inc., Morris Plains, N.J., said inulin’s low calorie content — half that of sucrose — and prebiotic nature enable preparation of lighter versions of traditionally indulgent foods that use fully available, high-glycemic carbohydrates. These are exactly the aspects “consumers don’t want to sacrifice when following a healthier diet,” he observed. It also may replace fat in bakery systems.

But inulin really excels in its considerable health benefits.

“Thanks to their high solubility, these prebiotic fibers can be easily formulated in all kinds of snack food products to enhance their digestive health benefits,” Mr. O’Neill said.