Thickening & Gelling agents (Hydrocolloids)

Hydrocolloids are functional carbohydrates used in many foods to enhance their texture and quality. Hydrocolloids add viscosity, texture or mouth feel to food products like ice cream, sauces and dressings, processed meat, dairy desserts, bakery products, confectionery and beverages.

Different types of hydrocolloids

One of the primary uses for hydrocolloids in food is to act as a thickening agent. Depending on the type and concentration of hydrocolloid used, the thickening effect will be determined by the pH and processing temperature of the food system. For instance, gum arabic is a low viscosity gum that is used in beverages while xanthan gum is highly viscous and is ideal for products like ice cream and cake batter.

In order to achieve a cutable or scoopeable gel, the hydrocolloid needs to be combined in many cases with other components, such as ions, in the formulation.

Specific hydrocolloids are used for trends in specific applications; some hydrocolloids can support fat reduction in dairy and ice cream and others are essential in gluten free bakery products.

Some foods require edible skins, like coatings, films, or casings. Hydrocolloids can be used to create these thin, edible layers that allow moisture, gas, lipids, and aromas of the food to migrate. And last but not least hydrocolloids are used in multi-phase-systems such as suspensions, emulsions and foams. Many of our food products are multi-phase systems, and the hydrocolloids are used to execute multiple functionalities.

What do hydrocolloids do in food?

The texturizing properties of hydrocolloids are very wide and cover a range of different functions within food: thickening, gelling, generating mouth-feel, film-forming, foaming, improving bake-stability, improving freeze-thaw stability, preventing crystal growth, stabilizing suspensions or emulsions, and encapsulation.

Functionality and applications of thickening and gelling agents in food product

Most hydrocolloids are supplied as powders. To become functional (generate viscosity or gel), the hydrocolloid must be in solution. When dissolving a hydrocolloid, the applied temperature as well as the presence of other ingredients will have an effect (potentially both positive and negative).

Many different types of hydrocolloids can be found in a variety of foods — in all cases providing texturizing properties, but also:

  • Dairy & Ice Cream: protein protection in acidified dairy products and ice crystal growth control in ice cream
  • Bakery & Bread: providing stability of the batter and therefore increased volume and retaining moisture in the final product beneficial for keeping freshness.
  • Beverages: adjust mouthfeel and specific hydrocolloids have emulsification properties in flavor emulsions or encapsulation.
  • Meat, Poultry & Fish: support fat reduction and improve slice-ability in processed meat.
  • Fruit preparations: used as gelling and thickening agent in combination to achieve best result without damaging the product.

Get in touch

Contact our Food experts at Brenntag Food & Nutrition to learn more about our thickening and gelling agents and the solutions we can offer you for your product.

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