Choosing the right hydrocolloid for an application What factors need to be considered?

New product development is a major challenge that manufacturers face on a daily basis. Today’s market demands continuous innovation in food products: new and improved textures, attractive and appetizing appearance, convenient presentation, formats adapted to today’s lifestyle, healthier nutritional compositions, long-lasting products… Food is a very complex matrix, and it is not always easy to meet these demands. The good news is that hydrocolloids can be great allies for this. They behave as texturizing agents capable, in turn, of modifying the behavior of traditional ingredients. However, an inappropriate choice and use of hydrocolloids could ruin all our work and expectations. To prevent this from happening, throughout this article we will explain the most important factors that should be taken into account when selecting the most suitable hydrocolloid for the application we are developing.

The number of hydrocolloids available is very wide and the range of properties they can provide to our products is even wider. However, it must be borne in mind that these properties will depend to a large extent on the matrix in which they are used and the processing, storage and preservation conditions to which the products are subjected. That is why, in the development phase of a product, it is very important to define the following parameters in order to be able to select the best texturizer:

  • FUNCTION we need to achieve the desired appearance, texture and behavior of the product. We may need the product to be gelled, or on the contrary to be very creamy, to make a low-fat product that has good palatability, or to increase its viscosity and be thicker, and we also may need for particles to be kept in suspension, or even for a complex emulsion to be stable. Each texturizer has its own behavior, we will have to select the one that provides what we need.
  • Under what CONDITION the product is going to be STORED. If it is to be kept at room temperature and in which regions or if it is to be refrigerated or even frozen. If the product is to be frozen, it is also necessary to consider whether it will be consumed frozen or whether it will need to be thawed and undergo further treatment before consumption. The stability at different temperature ranges and freeze/thaw processes is not the same for different hydrocolloids.
  • MANUFACTURING PROCESS. There are products that require low processing temperatures in order not to alter their characteristics, as is the case of fresh products such as Aloe Vera. Others need to be subjected to high temperatures, such as baked products. Knowing the temperatures at which you are going to work is important to know which texturizers will adapt to them. Not all hydrocolloids have the same requirements to dissolve and be functional, some need to reach certain temperatures to develop their functionality while others are already cold soluble. Similarly, some will withstand high temperatures such as baking without altering themselves, while others will completely lose their functionality under these conditions.
  • Intrinsic characteristics of THE FOOD MATRIX such as pH, ionic content, whether the matrix is heat sensitive. These parameters are very important, critical in some cases. Pectin, for example, generally needs to work at low pH to be functional, whereas agar may lose its functionality completely under these conditions.
  • Content of OTHER SUBSTANCES such as sugar, salt, oils and alcohols can interfere with functionality. Sugar and salt are components that, like hydrocolloids, have a high affinity for water, which may cause them to compete with each other for water, leaving insufficient free water to dissolve. Oils are not miscible in water, so it is necessary to study whether it will be necessary to use emulsifying agents to prevent the phases from separating. As for alcohols, in many cases they are not compatible with hydrocolloids and cause them to precipitate.
  • Characteristics of the MEANS AVAILABLE FOR MANUFACTURING, such as the power of the agitation equipment and the range and speed of heating and cooling. As mentioned above, hydrocolloids have several critical parameters for their functionality: solubilization temperatures, level of dispersion necessary to dissolve them correctly, etc. To ensure that these critical parameters are achieved, it is necessary to have the appropriate equipment, otherwise it is better to opt for other alternatives. For example, in the case of using agar, it is important to ensure that boiling temperatures can be reached in order to dissolve it.
  • PRODUCT RANGE AND TARGET PRICE. The price of hydrocolloids varies greatly from one to another, and this is an aspect that must also be taken into consideration. If we are designing a low-end application, we must choose economical hydrocolloids that provide us with an optimal use-functionality ratio. If the product to be designed has a higher added value and is intended for the high-end, functionality may be more important.

All this information is resumed in the following frame:

Considering this information, we can more easily choose the hydrocolloid that provides the characteristics we need with a functionality compatible with the available process conditions and the way it will be stored and consumed.

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