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Fibre as a Functional Ingredient (with Free Checklist)

Fibre is growing in importance as a food ingredient as many consumers are looking to reduce or eliminate carbohydrates and fats in their diet. This is driving food manufacturers to look at cost-effective replacement solutions using ingredients like fibres (i.e. naturally occurring polysaccharides). This change in the recipe needs to be implemented while maintaining the mouthfeel, texture and taste of the products that are being reformulated.

Ingredient suppliers offer a wide range of functional fibres that fulfil different aspects of product development and formulation. There are many options and selecting the right type of fibre(s) for your formulation is critical for success.

There is no “one-size fits all” when it comes to reformulation with fibres. Product developers will need to be aware of the different fibre sources, their applications and what they are looking to achieve with their product. As fibres tend to absorb larger amounts of water and could interact with other ingredients, the impact of adding fibre on the entire recipe must be evaluated and processing parameters may need to be adjusted accordingly to suit the reformulated recipe.

The sources of dietary fibre are diverse and varied, each of them has specific characteristics. A non-exhaustive list of generic names and key ingredients described as fibre can be summarised as follows: tapioca, corn, oat, pea, rice, chicory, barley, wheat, potato, carrot, lactose, inulin, resistant starch or dextrins, apple, cellulose, sugar beet, indigestible dextrin, polydextrose, buckwheat, polydextrose, psyllium, or gums (acacia, guar, locust bean gum, xanthan, konjac, pectin, carboxymethyl cellulose). These can be used on their own or in combination. It may be necessary to use a mixture of fibre ingredients to achieve a specific functionality (i.e. shelf life, texture or taste). From a label perspective, note that all the raw materials used may have to be declared individually in the ingredient list.

Nutritional and health benefits of foods are communicated to the consumer by nutrition claims and health claims. Health claims are messages authorised by specialised agencies (e.g. FDA, EFSA) that inform consumers about currently recognized links between nutrition and disease prevention. For example, fibres from eligible sources may “reduce the risk of coronary heart disease”, contribute to the “maintenance of normal blood cholesterol concentrations”, the “reduction of post prandial glycemic responses” or other communications related to the improvement of gastrointestinal health. Nutrition claims for dietary fibre have scientifically been proven to have beneficial nutritional properties. You may choose to make a nutrition claim which is linked to the source of fibre and quantity of fibre added.  You will need to check your local regulations to determine what your food product must meet for use of these permitted claims (i.e. these are referred to as ‘conditions of use’). In some countries, manufacturers can make a “Source of fibre” nutrition claim once the product contains specific quantity of fibre (In Europe for example, product must contain at least 3g of fibre per 100g or at least 1.5g of fibre per 100kcal). Note that local regulatory/legal advice should be sought to ensure compliance with local regulatory laws before placing claims on the market.

Depending on the process and the product category involved, product developers will assess and rank the overall functionality of different fibres against clear set of clearly defined criteria before making a final decision on the adjustment of the recipe. A free checklist of the key attributes that will characterise and differentiate fibres in food applications is available. This document will assist you in your choice and aid your discussions with ingredient suppliers.

Suppliers are typically knowledgeable on their ingredients and applications, they can provide valuable guidance on formulations and regulations. Product developers will ultimately have to make the educated decision of choosing the most suitable ingredient or combination thereof to suit the manufacturing process and still meet consumers expectations until the end of shelf-life.

For additional information on Dietary fibre, check out our reference document

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