Where do we go from here? That’s the big question formulators ask about the unsure supply and volatile price of key food gums, especially bakery-friendly guar and xanthan. Answers emerging now involve both new materials from seeds and familiar ingredients from cellulosic sources, with many offered as blends that partially extend or wholly replace these gums.

For the past year, cost issues dominated use of food gums. “In 2012, many food manufacturers scrambled  for guar gum replacements,” said Laurie Kronenberg, new product leader, nutrition specialties, Ashland Specialty Ingredients, Wilmington, DE.

Yet cost uncertainty is only one trend affecting gum usage, according to Wendy Erickson, technical services manager, Texturizing Solutions, Cargill, Minneapolis. “Consumer demand affects use of food gums, too. Taste is still No. 1 with consumers,” she explained. “Freshness is next.

“The perception of freshness is related to texture,” Ms. Erickson continued. “We’ve heard that a lot in the context of consumer acceptance. The Holy Grail for bread is to provide the experience of a freshly baked product with a crispy exterior and chewy interior and to have those qualities last two weeks without moisture migration.”

It’s no secret that gums, also known as hydrocolloids, support the shelf life of baked foods — and stabilize icings and glazes — by managing moisture and inhibiting crystallization. They add dietary fiber, form gels and build viscosity to improve the texture of reduced-sugar and low-sodium products. In gluten-free products, they mimic the structure-building effect of wheat gluten.

“Gluten-free products are on everyone’s radar,” said Mary O’Brien, senior product manager, Batory Foods, Des Plaines, IL, “and vegan, vegetarian, non-GMO and organic products are now being mainstreamed onto market shelves.” Gums play a key role in these applications.

Going for gluten-free

Consider the problem of replacing the structure that gluten gives to baked foods when removing it from them. “Gums can mimic some of the functions of gluten and prevent gluten-free foods from falling apart,” said Harold Nicoll, marketing manager, TIC Gums, White Marsh, MD. “Substituting gums and gum systems is a way to manage moisture and, therefore, texture and appeal of gluten-free bread and improve ­texture and volume in gluten-free bakery products.”

Viscoelastic gels stand in for the strength lost when wheat gluten is removed, according to Mr. Nicoll, who cited combinations of konjac, xanthan and others. “Gums help trap air produced during the fermentation and baking of bread,” he continued. “Trapped air bubbles are what help give bread its form and structure. Gums can also help replace the elasticity and cohesiveness lost without gluten.”

The current round of gluten-free formulating is all about texture. “We’re trying to match the gold standard of the full-gluten product,” Ms. Erickson explained. “Texture plays a big role, and hydrocolloids help deliver chewy texture in breads and proper spread in cookies.”

Many suppliers report a significant rise in requests for stabilizers that assist gluten-free applications. For example, Daniel Bailey, R&D scientist, Gum Technology Corp., Tucson, AZ, reported work to properly mimic gluten’s properties of structure, viscosity and bonding. Extensive testing and analysis resulted in the company’s preparation of a blend of functional flours and citrus fiber with xanthan and tara gums, Coyote Brand GumPlete SXCT-GF-707. “This synergistic blend works well to mimic gluten bonds and provides the structure, texture and moisture retention often absent in gluten-free applications,” he said.

Gums combat dryness, too. “The flour used in gluten-free formulations can often dry out the finished products,” explained Marilyn Stieve, business development manager, flax, Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, WI. “Gums or hydrocolloid systems that help manage moisture content are, therefore, essential.”

Working the health angles

Gluten-free may dominate current new product buzz, but there’s a rising tide of reduced-calorie applications hitting the market as well. They take their place alongside reduced-fat items in the “healthier for you” category. Gums are responsible for much of the success of these products because they aid satiation, noted Rodger Jonas, ­director of national sales, PL Thomas, Morristown, NJ.

For example, take the fat- and sugar-restricted cookies favored by new rules for school feeding programs. Hydrocolloids enable such cuts, according to Ms. Erickson. “When formulating — and reformulating — for better health-and-wellness qualities, gums have a key role,” she said. Cargill offers Satialgine alginates, Viscogum locust bean gum, Unipectine pectin and Satiaxane xanthan gum, plus carrageenan under the Satiagel, Satiagum and Aubygel brands.

“And with trans fat removal and reduction of saturated fats, some starch and hydrocolloid combinations help,” Ms. Erickson continued.

Sugar reduction can be challenging for baked foods. Besides its sweet flavor, sugar supports textural characteristics, especially in glazes and icings. “Artificial sweeteners like stevia or aspartame can replace the sweetness of traditional sugar but not the texture,” Mr. Nicoll ­observed. “There are hydrocolloid systems that can replace the cling and film forming in products such as granola bars that is lost when the solids in dissolved sugar are lost. Hydrocolloids can be used to replace the texture in baked foods and, even, syrups.”

Such properties enabled TIC Gums to develop Add-Here 3200, a hydrocolloid system that replaces the binding normally supplied by sweeteners. “Traditionally, sugar, honey or high-fructose corn syrup is used for tying together ingredients like oats, shredded coconut, seeds, nuts and dried fruits into ­cereal clusters and granola,” Mr. Nicoll said. Reducing the sugar content of these foods can complicate texture. The company identified hydrocolloids that could substitute for the texture otherwise lost.

What’s with guar?

Let’s talk guar. Right now, the highest demand for guar comes from the oil drilling industry, and these customers willingly pay a price higher than any food processor will swallow. Tight supply conditions are easing but not quickly. And that leaves food manufacturers at a loss.

“Guar’s popularity was not only related to a previous low cost but also to its natural status,” Ms. O’Brien explained.

Many food processors adjusted by cutting guar’s inclusion rate or by using blends of guar and other gums. Continued use has its attractions, according to Mr. Jonas. He recommended optimizing formulations to more precisely match guar viscosity with the application or to use a blend when more appropriate. “Even the use level versus guar specification needs to be re-evaluated,” he said. “Quite often, a specific type of guar is spread into use in other formulations, whether appropriate or not, because it is already used and approved by the company.”

Ingredient suppliers responded by quickly developing replacement products. Cargill’s Ms. Erickson advised, “When looking at guar, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You have to look at other hydrocolloids in blends. It helps to be ­flexible, so when things change, you’ll have options to help mitigate problems such as guar has now.”

Price fluctuations are, unhappily, more common than ever. “The current status quo reflects a complex market, and hydrocolloids are no exception,” Gum Technology’s Mr. Bailey said. “With the guar situation now well understood to be in constant fluctuation, we see that other hydrocolloids such as xanthan and gelatin may soon follow this trend.”

Ingredient suppliers are taking preemptive steps to develop replacements and substitutes, and often the new products are more functional than the original gum in given ­applications, Mr. Bailey observed.

Catch-22 conundrum

“The primary bakery solution to the guar problem is xanthan,” Ms. Erickson said. “It’s a workhorse, and because xanthan is more viscous, you can actually use less of it than guar and still maintain the desired results.” She noted that xanthan easily replaces guar because both are cold-water soluble and manage product moisture similarly.

Yet the bakery-friendly hydrocolloid is caught up in a hostile situation involving international trade, explained Michael Eliasen, regional product manager, hydrocolloids, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, KS. In June 2012, CP Kelco filed an antidumping suit against Chinese and Austrian producers of xanthan gum. The US Department of Commerce handed down a preliminary decision in early January supporting the Atlanta-based company’s complaint, and in February, it scheduled the final phase of its investigation. This situation complicates import of xanthan and may significantly increase the customs duties paid in 2013 by importers and, thus, by US buyers of the gum.

“The market for xanthan is expected to see price increases,” Mr. Bailey said. Active development of substitutes for xanthan is under way, and he reported Gum Technology’s work on Hydro-Fi TC-1123, a combination of carboxymethylcellulose (CMC, a cellulose gum) and tara that builds viscosity, binds moisture, suspends particulates, prevents separation and aerates both wet and dry applications including baked foods. A second product, Hydro-Fi CXA-0823, reduces the cost of xanthan by blending it with citrus fiber and acacia gum.

There’s another hydrocolloid commonly used either alone or as a substitute for guar: locust bean gum (LBG). “The increase in demand for LBG is due to the guar situation combined with a less-than-normal harvest volume in 2012,” Mr. Eliasen said. These conditions have caused speculation about future availability and pricing, he noted.

When gum specialists at J. Rettenmaier USA LP, Schoolcraft, MI, analyzed guar replacement, they looked at the water-holding capacity of guar to design a new approach. “After initial hydration, guar will slowly release the water,” said Dan Inman, Rettenmaier’s director of R&D. “This release results in reduced viscosity over time, and after approximately 72 hours, there is a total release of water that renders the guar gum nonfunctional.” Thus, guar users seeking the ­benefit of adding water will lose it over time.

The company turned to plant fibers from apple, bamboo, oat, orange, pea, potato, sugarcane, wheat and other natural sources. “We have a variety of specially designed insoluble fibers that have high water-holding capacity that can increase moisture without increasing calories,” Mr. Inman said. “While these Vitacel insoluble fiber products may not initially replace guar, their addition can have a longer lasting effect with multiple benefits.”

Familiar stalwarts

Cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls, is the raw material for CMC, hydroxypropyl cellulose, hydropopyl methylcellulose (HPMC), methylcellulose (MC) and microcrystalline cellulose (MCC). These ingredients have long been used in food and now attract interest as alternatives to guar and xanthan.

When mixed with water under high shear conditions, MCC forms a gel system stable to heat, pH and freeze-thaw cycling. “The gels display fully reversible thixotropic properties — shear thinning — to improve pumping or flow of products,” Mr. Inman reported about the company’s Vitapur line, which ­includes MCC, MC and HPMC. Some like HPMC foster improved adhesion of batters and breadings.

The cellulose gums make cost-effective replacements for typical hydrocolloids used in stabilizer blends, according to Ashland’s Ms. Kronenberg, describing the company’s Aquacel, Aqualon, Aquasorb, Benecel, Blanose and Bondwell gums. “Improved water retention means delayed staling, longer shelf life and crumb stabilization,” she said. Cellulose gums thicken bakery fillings ranging from fluid to creamy and prevent phase separation by controlling syneresis within the filling. They also reduce moisture ­migration into the dough.

“Using cellulose gums in bakery applications is not new,” Ms. Kronenberg said, “but our new grades of Aquasorb and Aquacel give options for xanthan gum ­replacement. They show benefits in softness, volume and appearance when comparing products with and without cellulose gum, which aligns with consumer demands for more sensory indulgence.”

Some reformulation work will be required to replace guar with CMC. “It’s not 1:1,” DuPont’s Mr. Eliasen explained. “But CMC does have the added benefit that it improves bread quality.” The company markets CMC and MCC under its Grindsted brand, which encompasses alginate, guar, LBG, pectin and xanthan.

Seed mucilage

Supply challenges can prompt researchers to look for new sources, and such is the case with flaxseed. Because fenugreek, guar, locust bean, psyllium and tara seeds are rich in mucilage, a thick gluey substance composed of a polar glycoprotein and an exopolysaccharide, they have long been sources for food gums. And now, flaxseed.

Glanbia turned to flaxseed, with its fibrous hydrocolloid mucilage and protein network, to develop OptiSol 5300 for flatbreads, gluten-free baked goods, bakery mixes, breadings and batters. “It has the ability to bind both fat and water for improved texture and crumb structure, increased volume and extended shelf life,” Ms. Stieve said. “Nutritionally, it’s high in both fiber and protein, with 32% and 34% composition, respectively. We have found it fairly easy to replace guar in bakery applications.”

Typically substituted 1:1 for guar, Alpha Gum from Thymley Products is made by milling all-natural flaxseed into a powder. “This product has a very stable price and, even in the worst case scenarios, has only fluctuated a few cents, not the ­dollar range of guar,” said Trey Muller-Thym, vice-president, Thymly Products, Inc., Colora, MD.

“The blend is bland in taste,” he continued. “Product characteristics include enhanced textural attributes, better structure and viscosity, and increased moisture. This product is also high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.” He cited special opportunities in the growing better-for-you market.

Taste, as noted earlier, is crucial when making ingredient substitutions. A national burger chain ­recently switched from guar to Alpha Gum for its buns. “The taste panel could not tell any difference,” Mr. Muller-Thym reported.

Flaxseed gums contribute volume to fresh bread, reduce oil take-up during frying, improve sheetability of doughs and contribute longer shelf life, according to Ms. Stieve. “Work with fresh breads in particular has shown that the volume can consistently increase to as much as 15%.” With sheeted doughs, it can increase the dough area by 7%.

In the end

Formulators must be careful to match the functional characteristics of food gums with the needs of the application. “Such factors should be built into the development of the product,” Mr. Jonas cautioned, “and considered before, not after, production starts.”

In the final evaluation, it’s the consumer’s experience with the finished product that counts most of all. “The good news is that consumers are increasingly seeking out more sensual eating experiences and remain willing to spend more if given the justification in terms of benefits,” Ms. Kronenberg said. It’s up to the formulator to work out how gums and hydrocolloids can be best used to deliver texture and mouthfeel, often boosting health-and-wellness appeal as well.