Bakers knew about inulin long before other food categories adopted this natural form of soluble dietary fiber. They put it into low-carb bread to boost fiber content and, thus, lower glycemic index, but bakers kept using it way after that trend died. They sought it for not only its fiber but, more importantly, its functional benefits: its humectant properties, its talent to mask the bitter notes of bran and high-intensity sweeteners and its performance as a “less sweet” sweetener.
Now new applications in sports and nutrition bars, cookies, brownies, muffins and sweet goods are teaching bakery users about inulin’s ability to act as a drop-in substitute for sugar alcohols, a rice syrup replacer and a fat mimetic, according to Scott Turowski, technical sales, Sensus America, Inc., Lawrenceville, NJ, which markets inulin under the Frutafit and Frutalose brands.
“Historically, inulin has given baked foods the fiber content of whole wheat without the need to use whole wheat itself,” Mr. Turowski said. Also, it comes as a white powder or colorless liquid, important when adding fiber to light-colored foods such as pasta.
The focus on functional as well as nutritional properties drives inulin’s new applications, according to Fred Kaper, president, Sensus America.
Inulin consists of two to 60 fructose units. Its degree of polymerization determines performance characteristics. For example, shorter chains are sweeter and more soluble while longer chains have a creamier mouthfeel. These qualities cue use as sugar replacers and fat mimetics, respectively. Its ß1-2 bonds make inulin indigestible.
Sensus derives its inulin from chicory plants, a non-GM source. The large chicory roots, which resemble overgrown parsnips, store energy in the form of inulin (chains of fructose units) instead of starch (chains of glucose units). Inulin is extracted by water and refined using physical processes only. “No chemicals are involved other than water,” Mr. Turowski said. Inulin does not crystalize like sugar from sugar beets, so a variety of concentration and spray-drying techniques produce the liquid and powdered forms.
The process yields an ingredient considered to be all-natural. Because no organic solvents are involved, the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program allows use of inulin as a non-organic ingredient.
The company markets inulin as four powders (Frutafit HD, IQ, CLR and TEX) and two liquids (Frutalose L90 and SF75). The newest, Frutalose SF75, can replace sugar and polyols. It has a clean sweetness similar to that of glucose and 65% that of sucrose, plus high solubility and humectant properties. It works well in high-fiber bars, enhances fruit flavors and provides synergy with high-intensity sweeteners. It consists of 75% fiber and has 65% sweetness of sugar, contributing just 2 Cal per g — half that of traditional sweeteners. “And it has the all-natural halo,” Mr. Turowski observed.
For sugar replacement, the liquid forms are optimal, according to Connie Lin, applications manager, Sensus America. It fits the neutral pH environment of doughs and batters. “The spread of cookies improves, and inulin is a reducing sugar, supporting the browning reaction,” she added.
Application work is the primary assignment for Sensus’ Lawrenceville lab, and recent projects explored options in cookies, brownies and muffins. Ms. Lin and AIB International worked together on sugar replacement in oatmeal raisin cookies. “We were able to take out one-third of the added sugars, removing invert and HFCS, and to reduce the amount of fat by 20%,” she said. “The finished cookies have 5 g of fiber per serving, making them an ‘excellent’ source of fiber.”
Inulin can be found in foods lining nearly every aisle of the supermarket. Mr. Turowski said that food companies around the world launch 20 to 30 new products each week containing inulin. “Each region has a different approach,” he noted. “In Asia, inulin got its start in infant foods and as a prebiotic. In Latin America, it’s in yogurt and prebiotics. In Europe, it’s in baked goods, meats and confections.”
The Food and Drug Admini-stration accepted Sensus’ filing of inulin as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). The Sensus inulin ingredients are kosher, halal and ISO 22000 certified. On packaging ingredient statements, it is labeled as inulin or chicory root fiber.
Plenty of science supports inulin’s nutritional benefits. “Inulin is the most researched fiber in the world, the subject of a wide range of studies,” Mr. Turowski said. Consumption of inulin is linked positively to digestive health because it adds fiber content and has prebiotic effects. It enables weight management because of its low caloric value and low glycemic response as well as its ability to enhance satiety. It helps increase calcium absorption to support bone health.
Sensus publishes a series of booklets named “The Science Behind” to summarize current clinical studies that explore inulin and its health benefits. The most recent examined research linking inulin with infection resistance and immune health.